Business Data for Research (BDR) 2021

Business Data for Research (BDR) 2021

1. Introduction

1.1 Administrative Data Research in Northern Ireland (ADR NI)

Since 2013 the UK Government, through the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), has funded NISRA (in partnership with the Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University) to host an Administrative Data Research Centre in Northern Ireland (known as the ADR NI and which is part of the wider ADR UK).  The directive of the initiative has been to provide a secure and accredited research environment to enable agreed, ethically approved and cross-cutting research to be conducted using administrative data sets that are routinely collected and analysed by NICS departments and other bodies. The ultimate aims of the joined-up approach are to inform the development and monitoring of public policy and to help ensure that decision making is evidence based and the research provides a benefit to society. The ADR NI makes it possible for trained and accredited researchers to use de-identified administrative data for social and economic research, while making sure the data remain safe and the privacy of individuals and businesses are protected.


1.2 Business Data for Research (BDR) 2021

The Business Data for Research (BDR) 2021 is a de-identified database comprised of survey data from the Business Register and Employment Survey (BRES) and the Northern Ireland Annual Business Inquiry (NIABI) (including the Northern Ireland Economic Trade Statistics (NIETS)) for the period of 2014 to 2021. The BDR was developed by NISRA’s Economic and Labour Market Statistics (ELMS) working collaboratively with ADR NI and and the Department for the Economy (DfE).


2. Background

2.1 Business Data for Research (BDR) Data sources

2.1.1 Business Register and Employment Survey (BRES)

The BDR contains data spanning 2014 to 2021 from the Business Register and Employment Survey (BRES). The BRES gathers information about business structure and employee jobs across Northern Ireland. The information is used to maintain a register of businesses that supports statistical enquiries across Government and provides the most accurate employee job figures for Northern Ireland, on an annual basis.

The BRES sample varies from year to year. A ‘big’ BRES has a sample size of approximately 30,000+ businesses, while for a ‘small’ sample approximately 12,000 businesses are surveyed. Approximate sample sizes for NI BRES for 2014-2021 is provided in the table below. A full census was due to be conducted in 2019. However, resources were not available to process the large volume of data so a ‘big’ BRES was conducted.

Sample size
Year Referred to as: Sample size (approx)
2021 Big 33,000
2020 Small 16,000
2019 Big 33,000
2018 Small 12,000
2017 Big 30,000
2016 Small 12,000
2015 Full Census 55,000
2014 Small 12,000









2.1.2 Northern Ireland Annual Business Inquiry (NIABI) (including the Northern Ireland Economic Trade Statistics (NIETS))

The Northern Ireland Annual Business Inquiry (NIABI) is conducted on a statutory basis under the Statistics of Trade and Employment (Northern Ireland) Order 1988 (Article 8). It collects both financial and employment information from businesses and other establishments and covers about two thirds of the economy. This includes the production, construction, distribution and service industries in Northern Ireland but excludes public sector activity for the most part.

The NIABI is a National Statistic[1] dataset and surveys all businesses with 50 or more employees; all multi-site businesses with 20-49 employees; all manufacturing businesses with more than 5 employees; and a representative sample of other smaller businesses. In all, the ABI samples about 20% of the eligible business population each year.

The NIABI provides a number of high-level indicators of economic activity such as the total value of sales and work completed by businesses (Turnover), the value of the purchase of goods, materials and services and total employment costs. The contribution of different industries to the overall value of economic activity can be assessed and because estimates of employment are collected at the same time it is also possible to get a measure of value added and costs per head to allow better comparison between different sized industrial sectors.

The Northern Ireland Economic Trade Statistics (NIETS), formerly known as the Broad Economy Sales and Exports Statistics (BESES), is a National Statistic dataset and provides an annual measure of local businesses’ purchases and sales, to and from markets outside Northern Ireland (NI).

NIETS data is gathered through the Northern Ireland Annual Business Inquiry. In survey year 2011, questions relating to the value of trade were added to the NIABI questionnaire.


2.2 Areas of research interest

The BDR has been developed in order to advance research across a range of themes. The BDR can offer an evidence base for policy development and decision making as well as the monitoring of public policy in Northern Ireland. It can do this by allowing a number of research questions to be considered. The BDR is relevant to a number of key research themes and policy interests including:


2.3 Linkage method

The BDR tables are linkable via an anonymised unique business reference number at Reporting Unit level (the main business site or headquarters of a business). Researchers can link longitudinally (where data is available) and across each of the datasets. The datasets cannot be linked to other data sources.


3. The data

3.1 Variables included in the BDR

Please see the BDR Metadata and Data Dictionary for a full list of the variables contained within the BDR. This should be read in conjunction with the BDR Guidance for Researchers which provides background information on the BDR datasets, how the data are collected and quality assured, and links to other useful information sources.


3.2 Accessing the BDR data

Access to the BDR dataset is limited to researchers and research teams with accredited researcher status under the Digital Economy Act 2017 (DEA) and subject to approval by each of the data providers and the UK Statistics Authority Research Accreditation Panel (RAP). In the first instance, researchers should complete the Themed Datasets Initial Research Proposal Form and submit this to The proposal form asks researchers to summarise the main aim and objectives of the proposed project as well as the methodological approach that they are intending to use. Researchers must also include details of the data required (including a variable list with justification) and cohort required. Details of any public engagement activities planned as part of their project must also be included. RSU, in consultation with the data providers, will determine the feasibility of the project prior to the completion of a full application by the researcher(s). Further information on how to apply for approval is available here.

The BDR dataset may be accessed in the RSU secure research environment or via the Office of National Statistics (ONS) Secure Research Service (SRS) subject to data owner and RAP approval.


4. Completed Research

As part of the beta testing phase of the BDR datasets seven research teams were granted access as early users of the datasets. These teams undertook research exploring a number of themes such as the drivers to productivity and the impact of trade and technology on growth in Northern Ireland.

Early findings from these projects can be found on the ADR UK website as follows:

Data Insights

Beta testing of the Northern Ireland Annual Business Inquiry and Broad Economy Sales and Exports Statistics datasets, with a focus on spatial and sectoral analysis of Northern Ireland trade from 2014 to 2020

Characteristics of exporting firms in Northern Ireland

Impact of technology investment on Northern Ireland's economy

Productivity differences in Northern Ireland

Exporting, importing and Northern Ireland firm performance: Which pathway to internationalisation?

Spatial analysis of Northern Ireland trade over the period 2014 to 2020

Analysis of NI trade by sector: A focus on the 10X priority clusters

External sales behaviour of Northern Ireland businesses: A focus on 10X sectors

Firm-level analysis of NI trade: A focus on 10X priority clusters

Data explained

Exporting, importing and Northern Ireland firm performance and strategies

Data Explained: Spatial sectoral analysis NI trade

Data Explained: Productivity differences within Northern Ireland

Data Explained: Technology and productivity

Other projects

Statisticians within the Analytical Services Division of DfE have been using NISRA business data for research in support of department policy development and monitoring. Some of that work is included below:

Northern Irish Trade Performance and External Sales Activity 2014–2020

Characteristics and performance of businesses reporting research and development expenditure | Department for the Economy (

Research Bulletin 20/7 - external selling of goods and services: rewards and risks (

Subsidies and Businesses in Northern Ireland | Department for the Economy (


5. Other useful information

5.1 Organisation name

Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA)

ADR UK - Administrative Data Research UK


5.2 Quality/background documentation

Background to NI BRES

Background to NIABI


5.3 Related data

NISRA has also developed the Earnings and Employees Study (EES) 2011. The Earnings and Employees Study (EES) 2011 links together variables from the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) 2011 with aggregated variables from the Census of Population and Housing 2011, and Capital Value data from the Land and Property Service. The EES takes the form of one pre-linked table. Further information about the EES may be found here.


Contact the team

Research Support Unit
Colby House
Stranmillis Court

Telephone: +44(0) 28 90 388488


Web page: Research Support Unit


[1] National Statistics status means that our statistics meet the highest standards of trustworthiness, quality, and public value, and it is our responsibility to maintain compliance with these standards. National Statistics accreditation is granted by the UK statistics Authority following comprehensive and independent assessment of the statistics.