Public sector employment, UK: December 2018

Estimates of people employed in the public and private sectors in the UK.

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This is an accredited national statistic.

Contact:
Email Richard Clegg

Release date:
19 March 2019

Next release:
11 June 2019

1. Main points

  • For December 2018, there were an estimated 5.37 million people employed in the public sector, 13,000 more than for September 2018.

  • 16.4% of all people in paid work were employed in the public sector for December 2018, the lowest percentage since the start of the series in 1999.

  • Between December 2017 and December 2018, public sector employment increased by an estimated 32,000; this change is affected by the transfer of Welsh and Scottish housing associations to the private sector.

  • Excluding the housing associations transfers, the estimated number of people employed in the public sector increased by 61,000 between December 2017 and December 2018.

  • For December 2018, 27.34 million people were estimated to be working in the private sector, 441,000 more than for a year earlier; excluding the housing associations transfers the estimated annual increase in private sector employment was 412,000.

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2. Things you need to know about this release

For this month’s release, there have been revisions to estimates derived from the Labour Force Survey – total employment and private sector employment – back to September 2011, resulting from taking on board the latest population estimates and from a review of the seasonal adjustment process.

Estimates of public sector employment (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. The PSE estimates are point-in-time employment estimates and relate to a specific day in the published month.

While 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 PSE datasets.

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.

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 PSE equals the 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.

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3. Public sector employment increases in every quarter in 2018

There were an estimated 5.37 million employees in the public sector for December 2018. This was:

  • up 13,000 (0.2%) compared with September 2018

  • up 32,000 (0.6%) compared with December 2017

The annual movement in public sector employment has been affected by the transfer of housing associations in Wales (in June 2018) and in Scotland (in September 2018) to the private sector. Excluding the effects of these housing associations transfers, public sector employment increased by 61,000 (1.2%) between December 2017 and December 2018.

Of all people in paid work, 16.4% were employed in the public sector for December 2018. This was the lowest percentage since the start of the series in March 1999.

Figure 1 shows trends in total public sector employment and in public sector employment excluding major reclassifications since comparable records began in 1999.

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4. Central government employment continues to rise, while local government employment continues to fall

The latest estimates show a continuing trend of more people employed in central government and fewer people employed in local government, due mainly to some local authority schools in England converting to academy status.

The estimated number of people employed in central government continues to increase to reach a new record high of 3.17 million for December 2018. It is up 24,000 (0.8%) compared with September 2018 and up 104,000 (3.4%) compared with December 2017, as shown in Figure 2. In addition to academy conversions, increases in employment in the National Health Service and the Civil Service contributed to this rise in employment.

The estimated number of people employed in local government continues to fall to reach a new record low of 2.04 million for December 2018. It is down 10,000 (0.5%) compared with September 2018 and down 44,000 (2.1%) compared with December 2017, as shown in Figure 2.

The estimated number of people employed in public corporations showed a small fall of 1,000 (0.6%) between September 2018 and December 2018 to reach 163,000. Between December 2017 and December 2018, employment in public corporations fell by 28,000 (14.7%), due mainly to the transfer of Welsh and Scottish housing associations to the private sector.

The academies impact

The composition of the public sector is changing due to academy conversions in England. Employees move from local government to central government when local authority schools become academies. In December 2018, academy conversions accounted for 11,000 employees over the quarter and 57,000 over the year, as shown in Table 1. A full time series of employment in academies is available in Table 11 of the public sector employment dataset.

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5. Employment in the National Health Service and public administration rises

For December 2018, there were 1.67 million people employed in the National Health Service. This was:

  • 5,000 more than for September 2018

  • 32,000 more than for a year earlier

  • the highest figure on record

For December 2018, the National Health Service accounted for 31.1% of all people employed in the public sector and 5.1% of all people in paid work in the UK.

For December 2018, there were 1.04 million people employed in public administration. This was:

  • 6,000 more than for September 2018

  • 22,000 more than for a year earlier

Public administration has increased every quarter since December 2016.

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6. Private sector employment continues to increase

Private sector employment estimates are derived as the difference between total employment estimates, sourced from the Labour Force Survey, and public sector employment estimates collected from public sector organisations.

The estimates for December 2018 show that there were 27.34 million people employed in the private sector. This was:

  • 209,000 (0.8%) more than the estimate for September 2018

  • 441,000 (1.6%) more than the estimate for a year earlier

The transfer of Welsh and Scottish housing associations to the private sector has contributed to the annual increase in private sector employment. Excluding the effects of these housing association transfers, private sector employment increased by 412,000 (1.5%) between December 2017 and December 2018.

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7. Civil Service employment shows increase on the quarter and the year

For December 2018, there were 440,000 people employed in the Home Civil Service (8.2% of total public sector employment). This was:

  • 4,000 (0.9%) more compared with September 2018

  • 13,000 (3.0%) more than for December 2017

As shown in Figure 5, the Home Civil Service has seen a steady increase in employment since the record low of 416,000 recorded for June, September and December 2016.

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9. Quality and methodology

The Public sector employment (PSE) Quality and Methodology Information report contains important information on:

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

  • uses and the 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 three 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.

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Contact details for this Statistical bulletin

Richard Clegg
pse@ons.gov.uk
Telephone: +44 (0)1633 455400