Civil service headcount rises to 511,000

Chancellor's plan to reduce workforce to pre-Covid levels would now mean job cuts of around 86,000
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By Tevye Markson

11 Jun 2024

Civil service headcount has risen again and is now at its highest level since September 2006.

Full-time equivalent staff numbers have reached 511,000, as of March 2024, up by 8,000 from December’s figures, according to new Office for National Statistics data. 

Published this morning, the statistics show the biggest increases have taken place in the Department for Work and Pensions, which has increased its workforce by 2,595, and the Home Office, whose headcount has risen by 2,220. The Ministry of Justice has the next biggest rise – 1,065 – and remains the largest department.  

The statistics also now more accurately reflect the size of the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, after 810 staff were moved onto its payroll from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. DSIT’s headcount has risen by 985, while DCMS’s has dropped by 810.

The continued headcount rise over the last seven years comes despite successive Conservative governments promising huge cutbacks to the size of the civil service workforce in recent years.

The latest commitment, made by chancellor Jeremy Hunt in October, was to cap civil service numbers and reduce the headcount to pre-Covid levels. At the time, this would have meant reductions of around 66,000. Since then, the headcount has risen by more than 20,000, meaning reaching the target would now necessitate cutbacks of around 86,000. 

The Conservative Party’s election manifesto, launched today, includes this commitment, saying a Tory government will return the civil service to its pre-pandemic size to pay for the party's commitment to increase defence spending to 2.5% of GDP.

Hunt elaborated on the plan in the Autumn Statement, saying government departments would be asked to produce plans to reduce the size of the civil service to pre-pandemic levels by the end of the next spending review period, which will cover budgets beyond 2024-25. 

The chancellor's plan was preceded by Boris Johnson’s announcement in May 2022 – just a few months before he resigned as prime minister – that he would cut 91,000 civil service jobs, with the aim of bringing the headcount back to 2016 levels, reversing increases that followed Brexit and Covid.

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