1. Main points

  • Total UK public sector employment in December 2016 was 5.436 million, 1,000 less than for the previous quarter and 8,000 less than the previous year.

  • Central government employment was up 27,000 on the previous quarter at 2.975 million, the highest since comparable records began in 1999.

  • Local government employment was down 24,000 at 2.153 million, the lowest since comparable records began in 1999.

  • Employment continued to shift from local government to central government as a result of local authority maintained schools converting to academy status.

  • NHS employment continued to rise, reaching 1.604 million, the highest since comparable records began in 1999.

  • Private sector employment was up 93,000 on the previous quarter at 26.418 million, the highest since comparable records began in 1999.

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2. Things you need to know about this release

This bulletin presents the latest quarterly estimates of UK public sector employment. The public sector comprises central government, local government and public corporations as defined for the UK National Accounts.

These statistics are mainly used to monitor changes in the number of people employed in the UK public and private sector and to inform policy making across government. They are the official measure of UK public sector employment (PSE).

Estimates of PSE are presented by sector classification, industry and region. Civil Service employment is shown by government department and agency. Employment in executive non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) is aggregated by sponsoring department.

Whilst this bulletin focuses on headcount estimates of PSE, full-time equivalent estimates (based on the number of hours worked divided by the standard full-time hours) are available in the accompanying datasets.

The PSE estimates are point-in-time employment estimates and relate to a specific day in the published month.

The main source of PSE is the Quarterly Public Sector Employment Survey, which aims to obtain complete coverage of local authorities and the Civil Service, and coverage of all public bodies with 20 or more employees. It is difficult to achieve complete coverage for local and central government, for example, in the education sector. Further information can be found in the Quality and Methodology Information report.

All time series in this release, except for the regional series, are seasonally adjusted to aid interpretation. Relationships that hold in the unadjusted series do not necessarily hold for the seasonally adjusted series. For example, total public sector employment equals the sum total of all public sector industry estimates before seasonal adjustment, but this is not necessarily true after seasonal adjustment.

Comparisons of public and private sector employment over time are complicated by a number of major reclassifications, where bodies employing large numbers of people have moved between the public and private sectors. We produce estimates of public and private sector employment excluding the effects of major reclassifications to help you understand underlying trends in employment. We publish these alongside estimates of total public and private sector employment in Tables 5, 6a and 7a of the PSE datasets.

Consistent with the revisions policy for public sector employment statistics, the statistics are subject to revisions. Revisions can be made for a variety of reasons, the most common include:

  • to account for late information from respondents

  • to account for recent classifications to the public sector

  • to update seasonal factors (updated quarterly and reviewed annually)

Tables 1R to 5R in the public sector employment dataset illustrate the size of the revisions in each category.

The UK Statistics Authority has designated these statistics as National Statistics, in accordance with the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 and signifying compliance with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics.

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3. Public sector employment falls slightly

UK PSE in December 2016 was little changed compared with September 2016 and was down on December 2015. There were 5.436 million employees in the public sector, 1,000 (0.0%) fewer than for the previous quarter and 8,000 (0.1%) fewer than for the previous year.

Of all people in work, 17.1% were employed in the public sector, the joint lowest percentage since comparable records began in 1999.

Looking longer-term, PSE has been generally falling for the last 7 years, as shown in Figure 1. There are now around 1 million fewer employees in the public sector compared with the peak level of 6.440 million in September 2009.

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4. A rise in employment in central government was offset by falls in local government and public corporations

Central government employment continued to rise in December 2016, as shown in Figure 2. At 2.975 million, it was up 27,000 (0.9%) on the quarter and 83,000 (2.9%) on the year. An increase in employment in academies and the NHS contributed to the rise. Over the last 4 years, it has risen steadily and the latest level is the highest shown since comparable records began in 1999.

Local government employment fell for the 13th consecutive quarter. It decreased by 24,000 (1.1%) on the quarter and 80,000 (3.6%) on the year to reach 2.153 million. Academy conversions account for much of the decrease. Since June 2010, local government employment has been falling and at December 2016 is the lowest since comparable records began in 1999.

Academies

Academy conversions in England continue to affect central and local government employment. Employees move from local government to central government when local authority schools become academies. In December 2016, this accounted for around 14,000 employees over the quarter and 50,000 over the year.

Employment in public corporations fell to the lowest level since the series began in 1999. At 308,000, it was down 4,000 (1.3%) on the quarter and 11,000 (3.4%) on the year.

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5. NHS, “other public sector” and “other health and social work” show record employment levels

Looking at PSE by industry, the NHS, “other public sector” and “other health and social work” showed the largest quarterly and annual changes in employment level. Figure 3 shows the change on year by industry.

NHS employment has reached a record high in December 2016 , rising for the 14th consecutive quarter. At 1.604 million, it rose 12,000 (0.8%) on the quarter and 38,000 (2.4%) on the year.

Employment in the category “other public sector” was the lowest since the start of the series. It fell by 8,000 (1.3%) on the quarter and 17,000 (2.7%) on the year to reach 604,000.

Employment in “other health and social work” fell for the 20th consecutive quarter to its lowest level since comparable records began in 1999. At 263,000, it was down 5,000 (1.9%) on the quarter and 20,000 (7.1%) on the previous year.

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6. Private sector employment continues to rise

Private sector employment reached a record high level in December 2016. At 26.418 million, it was up 93,000 (0.4%) on the quarter and 324,000 (1.2%) on the year. Private sector employment has been increasing strongly for nearly 7 years, as shown in Figure 4.

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7. Civil Service employment remains unchanged

At 416,000, employment in the Home Civil Service in December 2016 was unchanged on the previous quarter and down 1,000 (0.2%) on the previous year.

Civil Service employment last peaked at 566,000 in June 2005. Since then it has been generally falling and more recently the rate of decrease has lessened, as shown in Figure 5. The December 2016 level is the joint lowest since the start of the series in 1999.

Machinery of government changes in the period since 1 January 2016 are listed in Table 1.

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9. What’s changed in this release?

Improvements have been made to this bulletin and its contents, to provide a more concise summary of the main statistics. We welcome your feedback on this new bulletin style via our short survey.

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10. Upcoming changes to this bulletin

Housing associations in England were reclassified from the private sector to the public sector on 30 October 2015. Subsequently, the date from which this classification applies was amended in the September 2016 public sector classification guide update and now applies from 24 July 1996. In addition, registered providers of social housing in the devolved administrations were reclassified from the private to public sector at this time. Further work will be required to determine if it is possible to implement the full decision for England and how this should be implemented for the devolved administrations. More information on the classification decision for registered providers of social housing in the devolved administrations can be found in the Statistical classification of registered providers of social housing in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland: September 2016 report.

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11. Quality and methodology

The Public sector employment Quality and Methodology Information document contains important information on:

  • the strengths and limitations of the data and how it compares with related data

  • uses and users of the data

  • how the output was created

  • the quality of the output including the accuracy of the data

Response rates

The primary source of the PSE statistics is the Quarterly Public Sector Employment Survey (QPSES) which comprises 3 separate data collections: local authorities in England and Wales, public corporations and non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) in Great Britain and the home Civil Service. Our targets for response before the results are compiled are 90% for Local Authorities and Public Bodies QPSES and 100% for Civil Service QPSES. Response rates for the latest period are shown in Table 2.

So that estimates of total public sector employment can be made, it is necessary for further information to be gathered from external sources, listed in Table 3.

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