Public sector employment, UK: December 2019

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

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3 April 2020

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic presents a significant challenge to the UK. We are working to ensure that the UK has the vital information needed to respond to the impact of this pandemic on our economy and society.

The effects of the pandemic on ONS capacity and capability during this period means we have reviewed the existing labour market releases. As a result all data tables will continue to be available and any commentary will be added to the Jobs and vacancies bulletin.

This action will protect the delivery and quality of our remaining outputs as well as ensuring we can respond to new demands as a direct result of COVID-19. More details about the impact on labour market outputs can be found in our statement.

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Contact:
Email Laura Caldwell

Release date:
17 March 2020

Next release:
Discontinued

1. Main points

  • There were an estimated 5.44 million people employed in the public sector for December 2019, which was 79,000 more than for December 2018 and an increase of 15,000 from September 2019.

  • 16.5% of all people in paid work were estimated to be employed in the public sector for December 2019, unchanged from September 2019.

  • 27.55 million people were estimated to be working in the private sector for December 2019, which was 192,000 more than for a year earlier.

  • 1.73 million people were estimated to be working in the National Health Service, the highest on record, which accounted for 31.7% of all people employed in the public sector and 5.2% of all people in paid work in the UK.

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2. Public sector employment

There were an estimated 5.44 million employees in the public sector for December 2019. This was:

  • up 15,000 (0.3%) compared with September 2019

  • up 79,000 (1.5%) compared with December 2018

Of all people in paid work, 16.5% were estimated to be employed in the public sector for December 2019. This is unchanged from September 2019 and 0.1 percentage points higher than December 2018.

The latest estimates show a continuing trend of more people employed in central government and fewer people employed in local government, mainly because of 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 3.27 million for December 2019. It is up 22,000 (0.7%) compared with September 2019 and up 108,000 (3.4%) compared with December 2018, as shown in Figure 2.

The estimated number of people employed in local government decreased by 7,000 (0.3%) between September 2019 and December 2019. It is down 28,000 (1.4%) compared with December 2018, as shown in Figure 2.

Estimated increases of 14,000 employees in the National Health Service and 9,000 employees in public administration in December contributed to the rise in public sector employment.

For December 2019, there were an estimated 1.73 million people employed in the National Health Service, the highest figure on record. This was:

  • 14,000 (0.8%) more than for September 2019

  • 55,000 (3.3%) more than for a year earlier

For December 2019, the National Health Service accounted for an estimated 31.7% of all people employed in the public sector and 5.2% of all people in paid work in the UK.

There were an estimated 1.07 million people employed in public administration for December 2019. This was:

  • 9,000 (0.9%) more than for September 2019

  • 25,000 (2.4%) more than for a year earlier

Employment in public administration has increased every quarter since December 2016.

The composition of the public sector is changing because of academy conversions in England. Employees move from local government to central government when local authority schools become academies.

In December 2019, academy conversions accounted for 6,000 employees over the quarter and 38,000 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.

The estimated number of people employed in public corporations is unchanged between September 2019 and December 2019 at 155,000. Between December 2018 and December 2019, employment in public corporations fell by 1,000 (0.6%).

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 2019 show that there were 27.55 million people employed in the private sector. This was:

  • 169,000 (0.6%) more than the estimate for September 2019

  • 192,000 (0.7%) more than the estimate for a year earlier

For December 2019, there were an estimated 453,000 people employed in the Home Civil Service (8.3% of total public sector employment). This was:

  • 2,000 (0.4%) more compared with September 2019

  • 13,000 (3.0%) more than for December 2018

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

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3. Public sector employment data

Public sector employment
Dataset | Released 17 March 2020
Quarterly estimates of UK and regional public sector employment, made up of central government (including Civil Service), local government and public corporations. The estimates also include an industrial breakdown.

Public sector employment time series
Dataset | Dataset ID: PSE | Released 17 March 2020
Seasonally adjusted and non-seasonally adjusted quarterly time series of UK public sector employment, containing the latest estimates.

EMP13: Employment by industry
Dataset | Released 18 February 2020
Estimates of public and private sector employment from the Labour Force Survey. This table is updated four times a year in February, May, August and November.

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4. Glossary

Central government

Central government includes all administrative departments of government and other central agencies and non- departmental public bodies (NDPBs); as such, it is wider than the "Civil Service". This sector also includes HM Forces and the National Health Service. Within education, academies are classified to central government.

Civil Service

A civil servant is a person employed in the public sector on behalf of a central government department, agency or non-departmental government body (NDPB). The UK Home Civil Service excludes the Northern Ireland Civil Service, other Crown servants and employees of the wider public sector; there are Home Civil Service employees based in Northern Ireland and overseas.

Employment

Employment measures the number of people in paid work and differs from the number of jobs because some people have more than one job.

Local government

Local government covers those types of public administration that only cover a locality and any bodies controlled and mainly financed by them. It includes police forces and their civilian staff for England and Wales, excluding the British Transport Police.

Private sector

All people in employment are classified to the private sector except those employed by central government, local government and public corporations.

Public corporations

Public corporations are companies or quasi-corporations controlled by government. These companies receive more than half their income from sales of goods or services into the marketplace.

Public sector

The public sector comprises central government, local government and public corporations as defined for the UK National Accounts. The national accounts are compiled based on an internationally comparable accounting framework and describe the activities in a national economy.

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5. Measuring the data

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

These statistics are used mainly to monitor changes in the number of people employed in the UK public and private sectors and to inform policy-making across government.

After EU withdrawal

As the UK leaves the EU, it is important that our statistics continue to be of high quality and are internationally comparable. During the transition period, those UK statistics that align with EU practice and rules will continue to do so in the same way as before 31 January 2020.

After the transition period, we will continue to produce our labour market statistics in line with the UK Statistics Authority's Code of Practice for Statistics and in accordance with International Labour Organization (ILO) definitions and agreed international statistical guidance.

Estimates

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.

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

Seasonal adjustment of time series

All time series in this release, with the exception of 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.

Comparison public and private sector employment

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.

Revisions

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)

Data sources

The main source of PSE is the Quarterly Public Sector Employment Survey (QPSES), 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.

The QPSES comprises three separate data collections: the home Civil Service, local authorities in England and Wales, and Great Britain public corporations and non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs).

The public sector employment estimates also rely on:

  • HM Forces statistics, which are provided by the Ministry of Defence

  • the Northern Ireland Quarterly Employment Survey, which provides estimates for public sector employment for Northern Ireland

  • National Health Service (NHS) figures, which are provided for England by NHS Digital, for Scotland by the Scottish Government and for Wales by NHS Wales Informatics Service

  • police workforce estimates, which are provided for England and Wales by the Home Office and for Scotland by the Scottish Government

  • local authority figures for Scotland, which are provided by the Joint Staffing Watch Survey conducted by the Scottish Government

  • figures for academies in England, which are sourced from the Department for Education; there are no academies in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland

While our headline estimates of public sector employment are derived from the QPSES, estimates of public and private sector employment from the Labour Force Survey (a survey of households) are available at Dataset EMP13. While the QPSES estimates follow national accounts definitions of public and private sector employment, the estimates from the Labour Force Survey are based on survey respondents' perceptions of whether they are employed in the public or private sector and they provide higher estimates of public sector employment than the QPSES survey.

Quality and methodology information

More quality and methodology information on strengths, limitations, appropriate uses, and how the data were created is available in the Public sector employment QMI.

Response rates

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6. Strengths and limitations

Public sector employment estimates are based on a complete census of local government and Civil Service and cover all public bodies with 20 or more employees. The usual sampling and estimation techniques applicable to our business surveys are therefore not applicable (for instance, it is not possible for sampling errors or confidence intervals to be produced).

Our targets for response to the Local Authorities and Public Bodies Quarterly Public Sector Employment Survey (QPSES) before the results are compiled are 90% (number of respondents) and 90% (of total employment). In addition, each survey has a list of critical respondents (usually those with the largest employment) for which special efforts are made to achieve 100% response and clearance of test failures. For the Civil Service QPSES, the targets for response before the results are compiled are 100% (number of respondents) and 100% (of total employment).

Data for non-responders are imputed based on previous returns and known annual changes in seasonality. It is extremely rare for a local authority, public body or Civil Service department to non-respond for two consecutive quarters. The data collection is statutory for local authorities and public bodies (Statistics of Trade Act 1947) and positive action is taken to address non-response issues as and when they occur.

Non-sampling error, or bias, is the variation that occurs by chance from the true values for the population and is not because of sampling. This type of error averages close to zero over a large number of repeats of the survey.

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Contact details for this Statistical bulletin

Laura Caldwell
pse@ons.gov.uk
Telephone: +44 (0)1633 455955