THE number of businesses in Scotland has reached its highest level since records began 17 years ago.

Official figures show there were an estimated 365,600 private sector enterprises operating north of the border in March this year.

The total has increased by more than 52 per cent since 239,970 enterprises were recorded in the year 2000. Ministers said the statistics show that Scotland’s business scene is “thriving”.

The figures reveal the estimated number of businesses rose by 3.1 per cent (11,110) between March last year and the same point in 2017.

The increase over the latest year was driven by a rise in the number of unregistered businesses (the smallest firms with an annual turnover below the VAT threshold and without employees) from 180,500 to 189,200 over the 12-month period.

The number of VAT and PAYE registered businesses has also increased, up 1.4 per cent in a year to 176,400 – similarly the highest figure since the records began.

The vast majority of the 365,600 enterprises were small, supporting up to 49 employees. Some 3,855 (1.1 per cent) were medium-sized and 2,365 (0.6 per cent) were large, with 250 or more workers.

Business Minister Paul Wheelhouse said: “These figures show Scotland’s business scene is thriving, and the rise has been driven in particular by the success of our small business start-ups. But it is very encouraging to see the growth in the number of VAT registered businesses too."