ECONOMICS: More small firms closing

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The number of small businesses in Britain shrank unexpectedly last year as more firms closed operations than started them up, according to the Bank of England's latest report on the sector, which is often seen as the engine behind economic recovery.

This surprising statistic suggests that small firms lost out in growth to larger companies in 1996. The Bank said one possible explanation was that single-person businesses were closing as their owners return to paid employment.

Finance for Small Firms, Bank of England, Threadneedle Street, London EC2R 8AH.