Civil service headcount hits five-year high

The steady rise in civil servants continues, with growth concentrated in departments with the highest Brexit workloads

The Home Office (above) was among the departments that gained staff. Photo: PA

The steady increase in the number of people employed in the civil service has shown no signs of stopping, with the latest quarterly statistics showing the number of civil servants is now at its highest level in five years.

Overall staff numbers hit 435,520 in December, a 0.9% increase on three months earlier, figures published by the Office for National Statistics show. The quarterly increase means the civil service’s headcount has risen by 13,000, or 3%, over the course of the year, and continues a steady rise from a record low of 416,000 three years earlier.

The numbers include all full and part-time civil servants. There was the full-time equivalent of 408,800 staff in the same year, with women accounting for 52% of that figure.


The biggest increase in staff was at the Ministry of Justice, which gained 1,010 employees in the three months leading up to December. The number includes HM Prisons and Probation Service, which is in the midst of a recruitment drive for prison officers.

Many of the other big increases in staff were seen at departments most affected by Brexit. The Home Office gained 700 full-time equivalent staff, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs gained 490 and the Cabinet Office gained 470.

An in-depth look at the Whitehall spending and staffing levels by CSW earlier this year revealed the extent to which the preparations for the UK to leave the EU is reshaping some government departments. Among other things, found the typical monthly paybill for Defra, 80% of whose work is affected by Brexit, had more than doubled compared to before the referendum.

The home civil service accounted for 8.2% of all public servants in December, the statistics show. Staff numbers are now at their highest since December 2013, but are still considerably below the peak of 566,000 recorded in June 2005.

An analysis of changing civil service demographics by the Institute for Government showed growth has been highest at Senior Civil Service grades, while the number of posts at the most junior grade has fallen.

But although the post-Brexit intake of civil servants has been concentrated at the more senior grades, the overall civil service is also younger, with 13% now under 30, the IfG found. 

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