1. Main points

  • Total UK public sector employment in March 2017 was 5.424 million, down 7,000 on the previous quarter and 20,000 on the previous year.
  • Local government employment was down 25,000 at 2.123 million, the lowest since comparable records began in 1999.
  • Central government employment was up 20,000 on the previous quarter at 2.995 million, the highest since comparable records began in 1999.
  • Civil Service employment was up 3,000 on the previous quarter at 419,000.
  • Private sector employment was up 115,000 on the previous quarter at 26.530 million, the highest since comparable records began in 1999.
  • Of all people in work, 17.0% were employed in the public sector, the lowest percentage 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 used mainly 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 continues to fall

In March 2017, total UK public sector employment (PSE) decreased compared with the previous quarter and the previous year. There were 5.424 million employees in the public sector, down 7,000 (0.1%) on December 2016 and 20,000 (0.4%) on March 2016.

Of all people in work, 17.0% were employed in the public sector, a fall of 0.1 percentage points on the previous quarter and the 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. Employment rose in central government and fell in local government and public corporations

Central government employment continued to rise in March 2017, as shown in Figure 2. At 2.995 million, it was up 20,000 (0.7%) on the quarter and 83,000 (2.9%) on the year. An increase in employment in academies and the NHS contributed to the rise. The latest level is the highest shown since comparable records began in 1999.

Local government employment fell for the 14th consecutive quarter. It decreased by 25,000 (1.2%) on the quarter and 90,000 (4.1%) on the year to reach 2.123 million. Academy conversions account for some of the decrease. Since June 2010, local government employment has been falling and at March 2017 is the lowest since comparable records began in 1999.

Employment in public corporations fell to the lowest level since the series began in 1999. At 306,000, it was down 2,000 (0.6%) on the quarter and 13,000 (4.1%) on the year.

The academies impact

For the last 5 years, the composition of the public sector has been changing; central government employment has been rising whilst local government employment has been falling. Academy conversions in England are the main factor behind this – employees move from local to central government when local authority schools become academies.

In March 2017, academy conversions accounted for around 12,000 employees over the quarter and 56,000 over the year moving from local to central government.

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5. “Other public sector” shows largest quarterly employment level fall

Looking at public sector employment (PSE) by industry for March 2017, the largest quarterly change in employment level was seen in “other public sector”, a fall of 6,000 (1.0%). It fell by 27,000 (4.3%) on the year to reach 597,000, the lowest since the start of the series.

The other industries showed small quarterly changes.

The largest annual changes in employment level were in the NHS, “other public sector” and “other health and social work”. Figure 3 shows the change on year by industry.

NHS employment has increased every quarter since June 2013. In March 2017, it increased by 1,000 (0.1%) on the previous quarter and 31,000 (2.0%) on the previous year to reach 1.604 million.

Employment in “other health and social work” has fallen every quarter for 5 years. At 261,000, it was down 1,000 (0.4%) on the quarter and 17,000 (6.1%) on the previous year.

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6. Private sector employment continues to rise

Private sector employment reached a record high level in March 2017. At 26.530 million, it was up 115,000 (0.4%) on the quarter and 391,000 (1.5%) 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 increases over the quarter

In March 2017, employment in the Home Civil Service was 419,000, up 3,000 (0.7%) on the previous quarter but unchanged 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.

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

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9. What’s changed in this release?

There have been revisions to estimates derived from the Labour Force Survey (affecting estimates of total employment and private sector employment) back to June 2012, resulting from taking on board the latest population estimates and a review of the seasonal adjustment process.

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10. 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 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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