The UK’s post-industrial economy

Which types of industry are growing in the UK?

A post-industrial economy is one that replaces manufacturing with service industries (also known as tertiary industries). A new sector, the quaternary industry, is now developing in the twenty-first century UK. The quaternary industry is sometimes referred to as the ‘knowledge economy’ because it involves research and development. This sector includes IT, new creative industries and biotechnology. Estimates suggest 10-15% of the UK workforce is employed in quaternary sectors, though it is hard to determine because it overlaps with the service sector.

The development of information technology

The development of information technology has transformed lives in the UK and has encouraged economic growth. Examples of the impact of information technology on lives and economic development include:

  • 1.3 million people are employed in IT
  • Homeworking and self-employment due to the development of the internet
  • The UK is viewed as one of the top IT countries in the world and receives overseas investment as a result. Investment in technology companies totalled £6.3bn during 2018
  • Technological developments have led to the growth of specialist manufacturing services along with service and research
  • Information can be accessed anywhere using mobile devices
  • The turnover of digital technology companies grew by 4.5% between 2016 and 2017, compared with 1.7% growth in UK GDP (this is 2.6 times faster than the overall economy)
  • London-based technology businesses raised £9bn between 2015 and 2018; in second place, Cambridge picked up £583m of funding over the same period.
  • Already, the UK represents a global centre of technology talent, accounting for 5 per cent of all high-growth technology workers employed globally. Only Germany, amongst the UK’s European rivals, employs more people in the technology sector.

The development of service industries

Services provide support rather than manufacturing products. The service industry is the largest sector in the UK economy both in terms of the number of people employed and economic output.

Financial services employ over 2 million people and account for 10% of the UK’s GDP. The UK is a leading financial centre, with London at its centre. Financial services are the most significant contributor to job creation in the service industry, with insurance technology and financial technology employers accounting for 24 per cent and 18 per cent of the high-growth workforce, respectively.

The development of research

Research and development is part of the rapidly expanding quaternary sector. It contributes over £3 billion to the UK economy and employs over 60,000 educated people. Research and development involve biomedical, computer and environmental sectors and are linked to UK universities. Research is conducted by the UK government and private companies. Cyber, artificial intelligence and cleantech businesses are now employing substantial numbers. All three sectors are attracting growing amounts of investment, suggesting they may generate even more jobs in the coming months and years.

Science and business parks in the UK

The development and growth of science and business parks have been an important aspect of developing the UK’s post-industrial policy.

Cambridge Science Park

Cambridge Science Park

Science parks

Science parks are typically located on the edge of university cities. They can be found in Cambridge, Oxford and Southampton. They have good transport links and usually have attractive environments. Sometimes, science parks are located close to, or within, university grounds. An example of this is the Newlands Science Park at Hull University.

Graduates are often employed to apply their knowledge and experience to innovative businesses. Businesses often have close links to local universities and tap into their research and development.

There are over 100 science parks in the UK, employing around 75,000 people. The map below shows the location of science parks across the UK.

The location of the UK science parks that are members of the UK Science Park Association

Cambridge Science Park

Explore the map below to investigate the main features of Cambridge Science Park.

Business parks

Business parks are areas with a small group of businesses in the same area of land. There are many hundreds of business parks across the UK. Business parks are often located on the edge of major urban areas where there are good communications and the land is cheap.

Business parks can contain a range of businesses from small-scale manufacturing to research and development. Businesses can benefit from supplying goods and services to each other.




Geography Infographics Set 1
Internet Geography Plus
Holderness Coast CPD 25th October




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