The civil service’s London-based workforce has continued to expand at a time when some less-affluent parts of the country have seen their share of departmental jobs decline – flying in the face of ministerial pledges to move more jobs out of the capital, new statistics show.
According to the Cabinet Office’s latest annual dataset on the civil service workforce, the number of staff based in London increased by 2.9% between 2019 and 2020 and means the capital became home to an additional 2,560 civil servants over the period. The headcount for the South East region increased by 2.2%, or an extra 860 staff.
Meanwhile, the number of civil servants based in the North East decreased by 1.4 % to 28,970 while the East of England count dipped by 1.2% to 21,160. The UK civil service's headcount in Northern Ireland dropped by 0.3% to 3,680.
The figures come more than three years after then-prime minister Theresa May pledged to relocate “significant numbers” of public servants to new administrative centres outside of the capital. They also follow successor Boris Johnson’s pledges to “level up” disadvantaged parts of the nation.
However the data does identify headcount growth in nine of the 12 UK regions, with the South West undergoing the greatest proportional increase in numbers – up 5.4% with 2,150 additional staff.
Nevertheless, London is the far and away the biggest base region for departmental and agency staff, with a headcount of 91,660 – one in five UK civil servants. And it saw the biggest increase in staff numbers over the year.
Overall, the latest civil service statistics show headcount increased year-on-year by 10,930 staff – or 2.4% – to 456,410 as of March 31 this year. Expressed in full-time equivalent terms, the civil service’s headcount is 423,770, up by 9,860 on the previous year, numbers that also round to 2.4%.
The Cabinet Office insisted it was making progress in the drive to rebalance the civil service away from the capital.
“Decision makers should be close to the people they serve and we want to see opportunity fairly distributed across the country,” a departmental spokesperson said.
“These statistics show there are now more civil servants than last year in Scotland, Wales, the Midlands, the South West, the North West and Yorkshire and Humberside.
“But we are not complacent and will continue our work to make sure the civil service represents the whole of the UK which is why we’ve committed to relocating civil service roles out of central London.
“This is good for the Union, good for equal opportunity and good for levelling up.”
Elsewhere, the figures show that the civil service is getting younger, collectively at least, with 36.1% aged under 40. Last year’s proportion was 35.8%.
As average age goes down, grades are going up. The 2020 figures show a continued contraction in staff numbers at the lowest pay grades and an increase of staff higher up. As of the end of March, 67.8% of civil servants were working at executive officer grade or above, up from 66.4% in 2019 and 53.2% in 2010.
At the top end of the pay scale, the latest figures give a headcount of 6,450 for the Senior Civil Service – an increase of 8.0% on last year’s figure of 5,970. Immediately below the SCS, the number of civil servants at Grade 7 and Grade 6 -increased by an even bigger proporion, up by 9.9% to 55,310.
According to the data, 13.2% of civil servants now describe themselves as being from an ethnic minority background, up from 12.7% the previous year. The move is another step in the right direction for the civil service’s goal of reflecting the ethnic make up of the nation. The 2011 census showed ethnic minority residents made up 13.0% of the population, however the figure had risen to 13.8% by 2018 according to the Diversity UK think tank.
The Cabinet Office said the BAME figures reflected a “welcome increase in diversity” among civil servants and noted that the proportion of staff who declared themselves to be disabled had also increased to 12.8%.
The spokesperson said the civil service would “continue to work hard to improve the diversity of our workforce at all grades across all departments”.