1. Main points for September 2016

Total UK public sector employment was 5.442 million. This was 12,000 higher than at June 2016 and 10,000 lower than at September 2015.

Employment in UK local government, at 2.180 million, was 16,000 lower than at June 2016. This is the lowest recorded level since comparable records began in March 1999.

Employment in UK central government, at 2.950 million, was 32,000 higher than at June 2016. This is the highest recorded level since comparable records began in March 1999.

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.

Employment in UK public corporations, at 312,000, was 4,000 lower than at June 2016. This is the lowest recorded level since comparable records began in March 1999.

Private sector employment, at 26.320 million, was 17,000 lower than at June 2016 and 352,000 higher than at September 2015.

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2. In this bulletin

Public sector employment (PSE) figures are derived from a range of sources. The main source is the Quarterly Public Sector Employment Survey which comprises 3 separate data collections: local authorities in England and Wales, the home Civil Service, and public bodies in Great Britain. The survey aims to obtain complete coverage of local government 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. Information on quality can be found in the Quality and Methodology Information for Public Sector Employment report.

Headcount 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) has been aggregated by sponsoring department.

Reclassifications between the public and private sectors, which affect the trends, are also addressed. Full-time equivalent estimates of PSE are available in the accompanying datasets.

Revisions have been made to the series in line with the public sector employment revisions policy (background notes 1 and 3 have further details).

Summary PSE statistics from this release are also published in the monthly UK labour market statistical release. The UK labour market release provides a comprehensive picture of the structure and size of the UK labour market each month. The quarterly PSE statistics are published on the same day as the UK labour market figures each quarter.

It is important to note that the public sector employment estimates are point-in-time employment estimates and relate to a specific day in the published month.

These statistics are mainly used to monitor changes in the number of people employed in the UK public and private sector. They are the official measure of UK public sector employment.

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3. Total UK public sector employment

In September 2016, total UK public sector employment (PSE) was 5.442 million, 998,000 (15.5%) lower than the peak level of 6.440 million seen in September 2009. This represents an increase of 12,000 (0.2%) on the previous quarter and a fall of 10,000 (0.2%) on the previous year.

Figure 1 shows that there has been a downward trend in total UK PSE since its peak in September 2009.

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4. Public sector employment by sector classification

The public sector comprises central government, local government and public corporations as defined for the UK National Accounts.

Local government

In September 2016, employment in local government was 2.180 million, which represents a fall of 16,000 (0.7%) on the previous quarter and 68,000 (3.0%) on the previous year. Figure 2 shows the decreasing trend in local government employment since June 2010. The September 2016 level is the lowest shown since the series began in March 1999.

Central government

In September 2016, employment in central government, at 2.950 million, increased by 32,000 (1.1%) on the previous quarter and 67,000 (2.3%) on the previous year. The change is mainly due to an increase in NHS employment and academy conversions (see Factors affecting employment in local and central government). The September 2016 level is the highest shown since the series began in March 1999.

Factors affecting employment in local and central government

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 2016, employment shifted from local government to central government by 20,000 on the quarter and 43,000 on the year, due to academy conversions.

In June 2012, English further education colleges were reclassified and an approximate 176,000 employees moved from central government to the private sector. English sixth-form college corporations were also reclassified from local government to the private sector; there was a transfer of employees with an approximate headcount of 20,000. In March 2015, Welsh further education colleges were reclassified and an approximate 12,000 employees moved from central government to the private sector.

UK public corporations

In September 2016, employment in UK public corporations was 312,000. This is a decrease of 4,000 (1.3%) on the previous quarter and 9,000 (2.8%) on the previous year.

Civil Service

In September 2016, Civil Service employment was 416,000. This was unchanged compared with the previous quarter and 3,000 (0.7%) lower than for the previous year.

Figure 3 shows the downward trend in Civil Service employment since June 2005, when it was at its joint highest level of 566,000. The September 2016 level is the joint lowest since the start of the series in 1999.

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5. Public sector employment by industry

NHS

In September 2016, employment in the NHS was 1.590 million. This represents a rise of 6,000 (0.4%) on the previous quarter and 32,000 (2.1%) on the previous year. This is the highest level shown since the series began in March 1999.

Since March 2014, the NHS has employed the largest number of public sector workers. At September 2016, the NHS accounted for around 29% of all public sector employment (PSE).

Education

In September 2016, employment in public sector education was 1.525 million. This was 5,000 (0.3%) higher than for the previous quarter and 10,000 (0.7%) higher than the previous year.

Figure 4 shows the significant fall in public sector education in June 2012, as a result of the reclassification of English further education colleges and sixth form college corporations into the private sector.

Public administration

Public administration includes all administrative duties of local and central government.

In September 2016, employment in public administration decreased by 1,000 (0.1%) on the previous quarter to 1.002 million. On the same period a year ago, it decreased by 14,000 (1.4%).

Figure 4 shows the general downward trend in employment in public administration since September 2009.

Other public sector

The category “other public sector” covers all industries that have not been specified elsewhere, such as financial institutions.

In September 2016, employment in the category “other public sector” was 613,000. This was unchanged compared with the previous quarter and 11,000 (1.8%) lower than for the previous year.

Other health and social work

This category covers all health and social work not covered by the NHS.

In September 2016, employment in “other health and social work” was 269,000. This was 7,000 (2.5%) lower than at June 2016 and 17,000 (5.9%) lower than the previous year.

Police

In September 2016, employment in the police, at 245,000, was 1,000 (0.4%) lower than at June 2016 and 7,000 (2.8%) lower than a year earlier. Employment in the police has seen a decreasing trend since September 2009, as shown in Figure 5.

HM Forces

In September 2016, employment in HM Forces was 158,000. This was unchanged compared with June 2016 and 1,000 (0.6%) lower than at September 2015. Figure 5 shows the steady fall in employment in HM Forces since March 2010, though recently the rate of decrease has lessened.

Construction

In September 2016, employment in public sector construction, at 33,000, was 1,000 (2.9%) lower compared with the previous quarter. In the year to September 2016, it also fell by 1,000 (2.9%).

Figure 5 shows the downward trend in employment in public sector construction from the beginning of the series in March 1999.

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6. Public and private sector employment

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.

Between June and September 2016, total employment in the public sector increased, whilst total private sector employment fell. Of all people in work, 17.1% were employed in the public sector; this is the joint lowest percentage since the series began in 1999.

Total UK public and private sector employment

The number of people employed in the private sector in September 2016 is estimated to be 26.320 million. This is a decrease of 17,000 (0.1%) on June 2016 but an increase of 352,000 (1.4%) on September 2015. Total UK public sector employment increased by 12,000 (0.2%) compared with June 2016 and decreased by 10,000 (0.2%) compared with September 2015.

The public and private sector employment series have been affected by a number of major reclassifications where bodies employing large numbers of people have moved between public and private sectors. Figure 6 shows the series excluding the effect of major reclassifications.

With the effect of major reclassifications removed, total UK private sector employment decreased by 7,000 (0.0%) on the previous quarter and increased by 340,000 (1.3%) on the previous year. On this basis, total UK public sector employment increased by 2,000 (0.0%) on the previous quarter and 2,000 (0.0%) on the previous year.

Public and private sector employment by UK region

Seasonally adjusted series are not available when public and private sector employment is split by region. Therefore, any differences between quarters in the published regional tables may be due to seasonal effects and changes should be calculated from the previous year. Each series begins at March 2008.

Public sector employment by UK region

In the year to September 2016, the largest level falls in regional public sector employment (PSE) were shown in Northern Ireland (5,000; 2.5%), North East (4,000; 1.7%), followed by Scotland (3,000; 0.5%) and the South East (3,000; 0.5%). The largest level increases were in the East of England (4,000; 1.0 %) and the South West (4,000; 0.8%). This is shown in Figure 7.

Private sector employment by UK region

In the year to September 2016, private sector employment increased in 9 of the 12 UK regions, as seen in Figure 8. The largest increases in employment level were in London (138,000; 3.3%) and the West Midlands (81,000; 3.8%). The largest decrease was shown in Scotland (26,000; 1.2%).

Proportion of total employment employed by the public sector

Figure 9 shows the proportion of all those in employment employed in the public sector for each UK region at September 2016.

Northern Ireland (24.8%), Scotland (21.0%) and Wales (20.8%) showed the highest public sector employment proportions.

At September 2016, the North East (20.2%) remains the English region with the highest public sector employment proportion. London (14.5%) had the lowest proportion.

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7. Employment in the Civil Service and executive non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs)

Civil Service

At September 2016, total employment in the UK Home Civil Service remained unchanged compared with June 2016.

The largest decreases were reported by the Department for Work and Pensions (560), HM Courts and Tribunals Service (280), the Home Office (230) and the Legal Aid Agency (210). The largest increases were reported by HM Revenue and Customs (excluding agencies) (460), Defence Equipment and Support (320), the Cabinet Office (excluding agencies) (250) and the Department for Education (excluding agencies) (230).

Executive NDPBs

These bodies usually deliver a particular public service and are overseen by a board rather than ministers. Employment in executive non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) has been aggregated by sponsoring department.

Between June and September 2016, total employment in executive NDPBs increased by 170 to 79,760.

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8. 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

  • users and uses of the data

  • how the output was created

  • the quality of the output including the accuracy of the data

In 2005, we collaborated with other government departments and the devolved administrations to implement major improvements to public sector employment (PSE) estimates. Standard definitions for public sector employment across all departmental statistics were agreed and a single definitive set of quarterly PSE estimates introduced. A new Quarterly Public Sector Employment Survey (QPSES) was established. We publish official PSE estimates each quarter as National Statistics, in the form of a statistical bulletin, approximately 11 weeks after the period to which they refer.

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9 .Background notes

  1. This quarter’s release

    This quarter revised data for the NHS in England have been included in our public sector employment statistics from March 1999 onwards, as a result there have been revisions to the series that include this data. These revisions result from improvements made to their data collection and the consultation held in 2015. These revisions bring the figures used for our PSE statistics in line with the figures published by NHS Digital.

    Private registered providers (PRPs) of social housing (referred to as housing associations in this bulletin and related datasets) in England were reclassified from the private to public sector on 30 October 2015. In this release we have implemented this classification decision and therefore the series have been revised from September 2008 onwards. More information can be found in the Classification announcement: “Private registered providers” of social housing in England report.

  2. Relevance to users

    The PSE estimates and data produced for the quarterly publication are used across government and feed into a number of wider publications and outputs. Some government departments use the total figures to facilitate policy making, whereas others use specific components of the data collection. The main users are as follows:

    • Cabinet Office
    • HM Treasury
    • Scottish Government
    • Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG)
    • Local Government Association (LGA)
  3. Revisions

    Public sector employment statistics have previously been published for all periods from 1999 up to and including June 2016. In line with the published revisions policy for public sector employment statistics, the statistics have been revised, to take account of late information from respondents.

    Tables 1R to 5R in the public sector employment dataset illustrate the size of the revisions in each category.

  4. Concepts and definitions

    The public sector comprises central government, local government and public corporations as defined for the UK National Accounts. We publish the Public sector classification guide monthly, and provide information on the classification of organisations and institutions in the National Accounts.

    The public sector employment estimates relate to the number of people employed according to returns from relevant organisations, but they include a number of workers with a second job in the public sector whose main job is in the private sector or in a separate public sector organisation. The private sector estimate, which is obtained by taking the difference between the Labour Force Survey estimate of people employed in the whole economy and the public sector total, will therefore tend to be correspondingly understated by a small percentage.

    Headcount estimates are based on the number of employees with an employment contract who are being paid by the organisation. Employees can be permanent, on a fixed-term contract or employed on a casual basis. Self-employed, contract workers and agency workers are excluded.

    Permanent employees, as defined in the public sector employment dataset Tables 8 and 10, are employees with a contract with no agreed expiry date or a fixed-term contract of more than 12 months. Temporary or casual employees are those with a fixed-term contract of 12 months or less or employed on a casual basis.

    As well as the headcount estimates, estimates have also been produced for the number of employees in full-time equivalents (FTE) back to 1999. This is based on converting part-time employees’ hours into a full-time employees’ equivalent and provides a better indication of total labour input than a simple headcount.

    Central government includes all administrative departments of government and other central agencies and non-departmental public bodies. As such it is wider than the Civil Service. This sector also includes HM Forces and the National Health Service (NHS). Within education, academies and free schools are classified to central government. It also includes the British Transport Police in England and Wales and, from June 2013, the Police Service of Scotland.

    Local government covers those types of public administration that only cover a locality and any bodies controlled and mainly financed by them. The sub-sector includes all areas of administrative authorities including parish councils, though these units are not covered by the current estimates for local authorities. It includes police forces and their civilian staff for England and Wales, excluding British Transport Police. Until June 2013 it included the Police Service of Scotland. All functions of local authorities are classified to the sub-sector, although trading activities that produce market output (for example, housing and municipally owned markets) are regarded as quasi-corporations and appear under public corporations. Local education authorities are part of local government, as are voluntary aided schools, county schools and, from September 1999, foundation schools (formerly grant-maintained). Public corporations are companies or quasi-corporations controlled by government, for example London Underground Ltd. These companies receive more than half their income from sales of goods or services into the market place.

    The estimates of Civil Service employees count all home Civil Service employees. Civil Service employees can be classified to central government or public corporations. Examples of public corporations include the UK Intellectual Property Office and the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency. Civil Service estimates exclude the Northern Ireland Civil Service and other Crown servants. Employees in these groups are included in estimates of central government employment.

  5. Accuracy

    Response rates:

    PSE statistics are compiled from a range of sources. The primary source is the Quarterly Public Sector Employment Survey (QPSES). The QPSES comprises 3 separate data collections; the home Civil Service, Local Authorities in England and Wales, and Great Britain public corporations and non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs). Returned questionnaires go through a series of automated validation tests to check for completeness and consistency and to identify any significant movements compared with the previous period reported (and the same period the previous year). The automated checks are followed up with respondents where errors are detected or further explanation is required. The target is to clear 95% of test failures prior to processing results. Our targets for response to Local Authorities and Public Bodies 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 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 2 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.

    So that estimates of total public sector employment can be made, it is necessary for further information to be gathered from external sources.

    We also produce regional estimates of PSE based on returns from public sector organisations (Table 6). These supersede those produced using the Labour Force Survey (LFS) which previously had been used in conjunction with national PSE estimates to produce estimates by region.

  6. Coherence

    Estimates of public sector employment are based partly on projections for some sources. As part of the development programme to improve the quality of public sector employment estimates, public sector organisations are working towards the production of timely quarterly estimates. Until this development programme is completed, there remains a requirement to include estimates for certain sources:

    i. Police workforce estimates (including Special Constables) for England and Wales are published every 6 months (for 2 quarters ) by the Home Office. These quarterly estimates are therefore based on projections, and may be subject to revisions when new data are published.

    ii. NHS workforce statistics for England are derived from a pay system which covers all but 2 English NHS organisations. This produces very good estimates of staff numbers. Figures for the 2 other organisations are estimated based on quarterly NHS Workforce figures.

    iii. Estimates of employment in housing associations in England are derived using data provided by the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) and data from the Inter- Departmental Business Register (IDBR) . The latest period of actual data from HCA relates to March 2015, after this the estimates are based on forecasts and will be subject to revisions in the next revisions round (September 2017) when the series will be revised based on the 2016 HCA data.

    All time series in the public sector employment release, except for the regional series, are seasonally adjusted to aid interpretation. As seasonal adjustment does not preserve additivity within aggregation structures, 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.

    The estimates of public sector employment in education (SIC division 85) differ from the school workforce estimates published by the Department for Education (DfE) mainly as a result of differences in coverage and data sources. DfE estimates focus on the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) teachers and support staff for England only. By comparison, our estimates are derived by allocating local authority employees to education using the IDBR and the QPSES in England and Wales. The DfE School Workforce Census school level estimates are used to estimate employment in academies in England. PSE estimates include all employees reported by local authorities as working in primary, secondary and adult education establishments including some groups who are not covered by the DfE statistics, such as adult education staff and certain categories of support staff. Employment estimates for education in Scotland and Northern Ireland are also included to give a wider UK coverage. The different coverage of the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and DfE education statistics serve the needs of different users. Those who require information on the workforce in England who are directly involved in pupils' teaching and learning should use DfE published statistics. Users should also refer to DfE published statistics to gauge trends in education employment. Those who seek data on UK public sector employment in education, in its widest sense, should use our data in this release. For further information on the differences between DfE and ONS data on education please see pages 44 to 46 of the Public Sector Employment Trends 2005 article, published in October 2005.

    Our estimates for the NHS also differ from the headline figure produced by NHS Digital. Again, this reflects the wider UK coverage (NHS Digital figures are for England only) plus our exclusion of general practitioners (GPs). In accordance with National Accounts practice, we classify GPs as part of the private sector. When these factors are allowed for, ONS and NHS data can be shown to be identical.

    Machinery of government changes in the period since 1 October 2015 are listed here:

  7. Methods

    Improvements to the way employment in public sector education in England is estimated were first implemented as part of the PSE, Quarter 3 2012 release. Revisions to the estimates caused by these improvements were at that time incorporated into the revised PSE series, in line with the revisions policy for public sector employment statistics. Further details of the change in method and the impact on estimates of PSE are available in Public Sector Employment Statistics - Change in Method for Estimating Employment in Education in England, published as part of the Public Sector Employment, Quarter 3 2012 release.

    Estimates of employment in housing associations in England are derived using data provided by the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) and data from the IDBR. HCA provide annual full-time equivalent (FTE) data for large housing associations with more than 1,000 properties. The large housing associations have been matched to the IDBR, the IDBR organisation structures are used to calculate industry and regional estimates. The ratio between headcount and FTE for the other public corporations is used to gross the FTE estimates up to give headcount estimates. A quarterly path has been derived from the annual data.

    The estimates for large housing associations, with more than 1,000 properties, are supplemented by estimates for the remaining small housing associations to create a total estimate. The estimates for small housing associations were calculated from the available IDBR matches. The small housing associations were stratified and estimates were created based on the known employment distributions within each stratum. To create a time series this estimate has been modelled back based on the known movements of the large housing associations.

    The HCA data are only available annually and therefore some forecasting is required to produce timely employment estimates. The latest period of actual data from HCA relates to March 2015, after this the estimates are based on forecasts and will be subject to revisions in the next revisions round (September 2017) when the series will be revised based on the 2016 HCA data.

  8. Reclassifications

    In recent years, the public and private sector employment series have been affected by a number of major reclassifications, where bodies employing large numbers of people have moved between the public and private sectors. These major reclassifications are as follows.

    Further education corporations and sixth form college corporations in England are included in the private sector from June 2012 but in the public sector for earlier time periods. More information on this decision can be found in the Reclassification of Further Education Corporations and Sixth Form Colleges in England article, published on 31 May 2012.

    Royal Mail plc is included in the private sector from December 2013 but in the public sector for earlier time periods.

    Lloyds Banking Group plc is included in the public sector from December 2008 to December 2013 but in the private sector for earlier and subsequent periods.

    Royal Bank of Scotland plc is included in the public sector from December 2008 but in the private sector for earlier time periods.

    Network Rail is included in the private sector before December 2002. From December 2002 onwards it is included in the public sector (except for the period from June 2003 to March 2004, when it is included in the private sector). More information can be found in the Classification of Network Rail under European System of Accounts 2010, published in December 2013.

    Northern Rock is included in the public sector from December 2007 until December 2011 but in the private sector for earlier and later time periods.

    Bradford and Bingley is included in the public sector from September 2008 but in the private sector for earlier time periods.

    Welsh further education colleges were reclassified to the private sector on 27 January 2015. They are included in the private sector from March 2015 but in the public sector for earlier time periods.

    Private registered providers (PRPs) of social housing (referred to as housing associations in this bulletin and related datasets) in England were reclassified from the private sector to the public sector on 30 October 2015. In this release we have implemented this classification decision and therefore the series have been revised from September 2008 onwards. More information can be found in the Classification announcement: “Private registered providers” of social housing in England report, published in October 2015.

    Subsequently the date this classification applies from was amended in the September 2016 public sector classification guide update and now applies from 24 July 1996. In addition, registered providers of social housing in the devolved administrations were reclassified from the private to public sector at this time. Further work will be required to determine if it is possible to implement the full decision for England and how this should be implemented for the devolved administrations. More information on the classification decision for registered providers of social housing in the devolved administrations can be found in the Statistical classification of registered providers of social housing in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland: September 2016 report.

    Comparisons of public and private sector employment over time are complicated by a number of changes to the composition of these sectors over this period with several large employers moving between the public and private sectors. We therefore publish estimates of public and private sector employment, excluding the effects of major reclassifications, alongside estimates of total public and private sector employment in Tables 5, 6a and 7a of the PSE release.

    On 13 October 2010, we announced the reclassification of further education colleges and sixth form college corporations to the public sector. As part of the December 2010 publication, we took on employment estimates for further education colleges back to 1993 or their inception if later.

    On 31 May 2012, we announced the reclassification of English further education colleges and sixth form college corporations to the private sector, as non-profit institutions serving households (NPISH), effective from 1 April 2012. As such, employment estimates for English further education colleges and sixth form college corporations are included in our estimates of public sector employment from 1993 or their inception if later, up to and including March 2012.

    English further education colleges and English sixth form college corporations estimates of employment are not included in public sector employment estimates from June 2012 onwards.

  9. Publication policy

    The complete run of public sector employment data in the tables of this statistical bulletin is also available to view and download in other electronic formats free of charge using our Time Series Data website service. You can download the complete Public sector employment time series in a choice of zipped formats, or view and download their own selections of individual series.

    A list of the job titles of those given pre-release access to the contents of this statistical bulletin is available on our website.

  10. Details of the policy governing the release of new data are available by visiting the UK Statistics Authority website.

    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.

    Designation can be broadly interpreted to mean that the statistics:

    • meet identified user needs
    • are well explained and readily accessible
    • are produced according to sound methods
    • are managed impartially and objectively in the public interest

    Once statistics have been designated as National Statistics it is a statutory requirement that the Code of Practice shall continue to be observed.

  11. As stated earlier in the bulletin, the employment figures provided are point-in-time estimates and for this reason, we have introduced a new naming convention for the releases, whereby the latest month of measurement is highlighted rather than the quarter.

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Contact details for this Statistical bulletin

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