Allegations that more than 6,000 civil service jobs have been cut in Scotland since 2011 have been dismissed as “misleading” by the UK government.
The figures were touted by the Scottish National Party as evidence that civil service jobs had been slashed “disproportionately” north of the border. But the Cabinet Office said the numbers failed to take into account roles that were transferred between the UK government and the Scottish Government.
Civil service headcount was at a high of around 490,000 when the coalition government came to power in Westminster in 2010 and embarked on a programme of staff reduction that was only turned around by the dual pressures of Brexit and dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
Full-time-equivalent headcount in the UK civil service was just under 453,000 at the end of last March, according to official statistics.
The SNP said 6,310 UK civil service jobs were axed in Scotland between 2011 and 2021, amounting to around a fifth of the workforce. Over the same timeframe, the Scottish Government's headcount had increased by 5,070.
The party's deputy Westminster leader, Kirsten Oswald, said the figures showed "the Scottish Government has safeguarded public service jobs whilst the Westminster government slashed Scottish public service jobs left, right and centre, exposing precisely where their priorities lie".
However, the UK government has taken issue with the claims. It also disputed the suggestion that staff reductions in so-called “reserved UK departments” in Scotland, such as the Ministry of Defence, the Department for Work and Pensions and HM Revenue and Customs, had been made at a rate that was proportionally double that of UK-wide figures.
The UK government said the number of civil servants based in Scotland, including those working for the Scottish Government and its agencies, fell by 2.5% between 2011 and 2021, compared with a fall of 2.7% in civil service employment in England, Wales and Northern Ireland over the same period.
It said a number of officials from the home civil service had transferred to the Scottish Government over the past decade to fulfil similar roles. The UK government cited Social Security Scotland – which was formed in 2018 – as one example of an arm of the Scottish Government that had taken on staff from DWP and HMRC.
A UK government spokesperson also referred to plans announced last year to move 1,000 UK civil service jobs to Scotland as part of the Places for Growth programme to move 22,000 roles out of London and the southeast, which will not have featured in March 2021’s headcount figures.
“Scotland has a higher percentage of its population in civil service roles than England. Nearly 50,000 people, equating to 10% of all UK civil servants, are based in Scotland, with Scotland making up 8% of the UK’s total population,” the spokesperson said.
“In certain reserved departments, some jobs have been transferred to the Scottish Government and it is misleading to suggest these have been cut.
“We are increasing civil service headcount in Scotland through our Places for Growth programme and, in addition to the new UK government office in Edinburgh, we are delivering the relocation of more than a thousand jobs to the Cabinet Office’s second HQ in Glasgow and the Foreign Office's joint-HQ in East Kilbride.”
CSW asked the SNP whether it stood by the figures released earlier in the week. The party had not responded at the time of publication.