ONS data shows civil service headcount continues to rise

Written by Jim Dunton on 13 December 2018 in News
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Latest figures show 2.8% year-on-year increase to September

The civil service’s headcount rose by 12,000 in the year to September – a 2.8% hike over the period, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Its latest public sector employment dataset puts Home Civil Service staffing at 435,000 in September, its highest level for exactly four years, and an increase of 4,000 employees in the three months since June.

Headcount at departments and their agencies has been steadily increasing since hitting a low of 416,000 in 2016, but the current level of staffing is still massively below June 2005’s pre-crash peak of 566,000


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Despite the bolstered numbers, a survey of senior civil servants conduced by the FDA union last week revealed a picture of increasingly unmanageable workloads challenging health and wellbeing among Whitehall staff against the backdrop of Brexit preparations.

Assistant general secretary Amy Leversidge called on Whitehall leaders to make sure civil servants had the resources necessary to do their jobs, with a focus on recruitment and retention to ensure there were enough staff to complete work and meet deadlines.

“The government is taking advantage of civil servants’ commitment to their work, and gaining many extra hours of work for free but this is a false economy,” she said.

“Increasing workloads are increasing the strain on civil servants who have been trusted with implementing government policy at a time of national upheaval.”

Employment in the Home Civil Servce from March 1999 to September 2018

Employment in the Home Civil Service from March 1999 to September 2018 Credit: ONS

The latest ONS figures suggest civil service headcount has grown at a greater rate in the 12 months to September than it did in the 12 months to March.

Its more detailed annual snapshot of the civil service earlier this year gave a growth rate of 2.5% over the period.

One department growing at a particularly rapid rate is the recently renamed Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. Data it published in August, and which will have contributed to the ONS’s latest tally, suggested it had increased in size by 17% over the year.

Central government’s response to last year’s Grenfell Tower tragedy and a focus on ramping up UK housebuilding levels have been cited as two drivers of the department’s growth. 

More broadly the ONS said total public sector headcount had fallen to 5.36m over the 12 months to September because of the transfer of 120,000 housing association staff in England, Scotland and Wales to the private sector.

Excluding the housing associations transfers, the ONS said the estimated number of people employed in the public sector increased by 51,000 in the year to September, due mainly to more people working for the National Health Service and the civil service.

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