Civil servants leaving at highest rate for 10 years despite headcount rise

Probation renationalisation propels civil service join-rate to 47-year high, generating a 25,000 rise in officials despite exodus
Civil service departures reached a decade-high this year. Photo: Adobe Stock

By Tevye Markson

27 Jul 2022

The civil service continued to grow last year despite more people leaving than in any other year in the last decade.

There were 478,090 civil servants as of March, up from 452,830 the year before, the latest civil service statistics published by the Cabinet Office show.

But 44,220 people left the civil service during 2021-22 – a massive increase compared to the previous year, when 27,830 left.

This is the highest number of leavers since 2011-12, when 46,110 officials departed the civil service.

But greater numbers have joined, with 69,400 entering the civil service compared to 57,200 in 2021-21. This is the highest join-rate since 1975, according to the Cabinet Office.

The big increase is partly explained by the 7,000 Community Rehabilitation Company staff that were transferred to HM Prison and Probation Service as part of the renationalisation of privatised probation services.

Even without this transfer, the join-rate would still be the highest in the last decade.

This headcount surge of around 25,000 happened in a year when ministers pledged to cut an ever-increasing proportion of the civil service, culminating in the latest plan to cut 91,000 jobs.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said the figures "reflect the growth in the civil service since 2016, which in turn naturally means more people are likely to leave as a matter of course”.

"While a number of roles linked to leaving the EU and coordinating the government's pandemic response have been phased out, staff turnover remains lower than it was in 2015,” they said.

Staff turnover in 2021-22 was 8.9%, compared to 9.5% in 2015.

They also attributed the increase in resignations – which accounted for more than half of the departures in 2021-22 – compared to the year before to people putting off decisions about work during the pandemic, as seen elsewhere in the labour market.

MoJ sees biggest staff turnover

The Ministry of Justice has had the biggest churn in staff, with around 18,180 joining the department (around a quarter of total recruits) and its agencies and 9,780 leaving.

This net increase of around 7,500 is the largest among government departments, but the transferred probation officers account for a significant proportion of the increase. UK Export Finance grew by 26% – the biggest proportional increase in staff – from 390 to 490.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities – rebranded last September – also had a significant increase of 23%, going up from 3,260 officials in the old Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to 4,000 in DLUHC.

The Treasury and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs had the next highest expansions – 19% and 16% respectively.

The rising headcount across government continues the upward trend since 2016, with ministers promising earlier this year to bring the civil service back down to pre-Brexit numbers within the next three years.

Amid those 20% reduction plans, only the Foreign Office and Cabinet Office shrank last year, by 600 and 380 officials respectively.

The most common reason for leaving the civil service this year was resignation, accounting for 23,870 exits. The second most common reason for leaving was retirement (10,450).

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