1. Main points

  • Total UK public sector employment in June 2017 was 5.440 million, up 15,000 on the previous quarter and 14,000 on the previous year.

  • Central government employment was up 28,000 on the previous quarter at 3.021 million, the highest since comparable records began in 1999.

  • Local government employment was down 12,000 at 2.115 million, the lowest since comparable records began in 1999.

  • Civil Service employment was up 4,000 on the previous quarter at 423,000.

  • Private sector employment was up 167,000 on the previous quarter at 26.696 million, the highest since comparable records began in 1999.

  • Of all people in work, 16.9% 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 (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 sector 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

June 2017 has seen a growth in total UK public sector employment (PSE) compared with the previous quarter and the previous year. There were 5.440 million employees in the public sector, up 15,000 (0.3%) on March 2017 and 14,000 (0.3%) on June 2016.

Of all people in work, 16.9% 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 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. Central government employment continues to rise whilst employment in local government and public corporations falls

Central government employment continued to rise in June 2017, as shown in Figure 2. At 3.021 million, it was up 28,000 (0.9%) on the quarter and 108,000 (3.7%) on the year. Academy conversions and increases in the NHS and the Civil Service contributed to the rise. The latest level is the highest shown since comparable records began in 1999.

Local government employment fell for the 15th consecutive quarter. It decreased by 12,000 (0.6%) on the quarter and 82,000 (3.7%) on the year to reach 2.115 million. Academy conversions account for the majority of the decrease. June 2017 has seen local government employment at its lowest since comparable records began in 1999.

Public corporations employment has fallen to its lowest level of 304,000. It decreased 1,000 (0.3%) on the quarter and 12,000 (3.8%) on the year.

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 June 2017 around 18,000 employees for the quarter and 65,000 for the year transferred over to academies.

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5. NHS employment continues to rise

NHS employment increased by 14,000 (0.9%) on the quarter and 37,000 (2.3%) on the year. At 1.621 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 third consecutive quarter. In June 2017, it increased by 7,000 (0.7%) on the quarter and 10,000 (1.0%) on the year to reach 1.013 million.

Employment in “other health and social work” has fallen every quarter for 5 years. It was down 4,000 (1.5%) on the quarter and 19,000 (6.9%) on the previous year. At 257,000 it’s the lowest figure shown since the series began.

Employment in the category “other public sector” fell this quarter to its lowest level since comparable records began in 1999. At 594,000 it was down 3,000 (0.5%) on the quarter and 20,000 (3.3%) on the previous year.

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6. Private sector employment reaches record high

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 reached a new record high in June 2017. At 26.696 million, it was up 167,000 (0.6%) on the quarter and 365,000 (1.4%) on the year.

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7. Civil Service employment increases over the quarter

At June 2017, employment in the Home Civil Service increased by 4,000 (1.0%) on the quarter and 7,000 (1.7%) on the previous year taking it to 423,000 in total.

Civil Service employment last peaked at 566,000 in June 2005. Since then it has generally been falling steadily although it has increased in the two most recent quarters, as shown in Figure 5.

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

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9. 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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Contact details for this Statistical bulletin

Debra Leaker
pse@ons.gsi.gov.uk
Telephone: +44 (0)1633 455874