By Mark Williamson

THE number of businesses in Scotland has increased by around 10,000 to a record high amid uncertainty about Bexit and the outlook for the economy with small firms leading the way, official figures show.

The Scottish Government said an estimated 356,550 private sector businesses were operating in Scotland in March this year, up 2.8 per cent, 9,775, on the same point last year.

The number of firms was the highest since current records began in 2000.

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The figures underline the importance of the small and medium sized enterprise sector to Scotland’s economy.

There were 354,125 SMEs operating in the country in the year to March, representing 99.3% of all private sector businesses.

The SMES concerned accounted for 55.4% of private sector employment, and 41.5% of private sector turnover.

The increase in the business stock during the year was driven by a rise in the number of micro-businesses.

The Scottish Government highlighted a 7,270, 4.3%, increase in the number of unregistered firms, to 177,770.

It said unregistered enterprises do not have employees besides their owners. They have an annual turnover below the £85,000 VAT threshold in force since 2017.

The Federation of Small Businesses said the figures were a welcome tonic following the recent “economic and political rollercoaster” ride.

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“The statistics show the resilience of Scotland’s established business community and its vital start-up scene,” said its Scotland policy chair Andrew McRae. “We need to build on this success, ensuring that everyone with willing gets the right help to set up on their own.”

The rise in business numbers was recorded during a period in which the labour market was in good shape.

Scotland’s unemployment rate fell to a record low of 3.3% in the three months to February. A total of 93,000 people in Scotland were jobless, down 8,000 on the previous quarter

The number of people in work in Scotland rose to a record 2.69 million, up from 2.67m.

Minister for Business Jamie Hepburn said initiatives such as the Small Business Bonus rates relief scheme had helped to mitigate the increasingly challenging economic circumstances caused by the continuing uncertainty regarding Brexit. The scheme was introduced in 2008 and expanded in 2017.

The number of registered firms rose by 2,485, 1.4%, to 178,780 in the year to March.