1. Main points

  • Total UK public sector employment in September 2017 was 5.492 million, up 19,000 on the previous quarter and up 21,000 on the previous year.

  • Central government employment was 3.050 million, up 29,000 on the previous quarter and 101,000 on the previous year, the highest since comparable records began in 1999.

  • Local government employment was down 9,000 this quarter at 2.104 million, the lowest since comparable records began in 1999.

  • Private sector employment was 26.588 million, down 75,000 on the previous quarter but up 304,000 on the previous year.

  • Of all people in work, 17.1% were employed in the public sector, an increase of 0.1 percentage points over the quarter.

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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 (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. They are the official measure of UK public sector employment.

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 PSE 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 PSE 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 rises

In September 2017, total UK public sector employment (PSE) increased compared with the previous quarter and the previous year. There were 5.492 million employees in the public sector, up 19,000 (0.3%) on June 2017 and 21,000 (0.4%) on September 2016.

Looking longer-term, PSE has been generally falling for the last seven years, as shown in Figure 1. There are now just short of 1 million fewer employees in the public sector compared with the peak level of 6.459 million in September 2009.

Of all people in work, 17.1% were employed in the public sector. Over time we have seen a steady decrease from its peak level of 22.2% in March 2010.

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4. A rise in central government employment but falls in local government and public corporations

Central government employment continued to rise in September 2017, as shown in Figure 2. At 3.050 million, it was up 29,000 (1.0%) on the quarter and 101,000 (3.4%) on the year. Further schools converting to academy status and an increase in NHS employment contributed to the rise. The latest level is the highest shown since comparable records began in 1999.

Local government employment has continued to fall for another quarter. In September 2017, it decreased by 9,000 (0.4%) on the quarter and 74,000 (3.4%) on the year to reach 2.104 million. Academy conversions accounted for most of the decrease. September 2017 has seen local government employment at its lowest since comparable records began in 1999.

Employment in public corporations, at 338,000, was down 1,000 (0.3%) on the quarter and 6,000 (1.7%) on the year. This is the sixth consecutive fall and the lowest level since comparable records began in 1999.

The impact of academies

There is an ongoing shift of employment from local government to central government, as a result of local authority maintained schools converting to academy status. Academies are classified to central government, whereas local authority maintained schools are classified to local government. As a result, whenever a local authority maintained school becomes an academy, its employees move from local government to central government.

In September 2017, around 19,000 employees for the quarter and 63,000 for the year transferred over to academies.

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5. NHS employment continues to rise

NHS employment increased by 8,000 (0.5%) on the quarter and 33,000 (2.1%) on the year. At 1.629 million it is the highest level since comparable records began and accounts for 30% of total public sector employment (PSE).

Public administration has seen an increase for the fourth consecutive quarter. In September 2017, it increased by 4,000 (0.4%) on the quarter and 15,000 (1.5%) on the year to reach 1.017 million.

Employment in the police increased for the third consecutive quarter. In September 2017, it increased by 2,000 (0.8%) on the quarter and 5,000 (2.0%) on the year to reach 250,000.

Employment in “other health and social work” has fallen every quarter since December 2011. This is down 2,000 (0.7%) on the quarter and 12,000 (4.3%) on the previous year. At 268,000 it’s the lowest figure since comparable records began in 1999.

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6. Private sector employment falls

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

Figure 4 shows private sector employment at 26.588 million, decreasing 75,000 (0.3%) on the quarter but up 304,000 (1.2%) on the year.

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7. Civil Service employment remains unchanged

At September 2017, employment in the Home Civil Service remains unchanged on the quarter at 423,000 but up 7,000 (1.7%) on the previous year.

Civil Service employment last peaked in June 2005 at 566,000. Since then it has generally been falling steadily, although has shown a slight increase in recent periods as shown in Figure 5.

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

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9. What’s changed in this release?

On 29 September 2016, registered providers of social housing in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (referred to as “housing associations” in this release) were reclassified from the private sector to the public sector. We have implemented this classification decision in this release and therefore the series have been revised from March 1999 onwards for Wales and Northern Ireland and from September 2001 for Scotland. More information 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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10. 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 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.

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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