THE BLOG

Civil Service Staff Numbers Q2 2015: Down, But Not as Much as Expected

21/09/2015 11:55 BST | Updated 21/09/2016 10:12 BST

Today the government announced a fall of almost 8,000 in the number of civil servants (full-time equivalent - FTE) in the last quarter (March to June), although many of them may well still be doing the same job in a government-owned or private company. In our final analysis of civil service staff numbers before the spending review is published, Emily Andrews of the Institute for Government looks at the latest numbers.

There are now 397,850 civil servants (FTE), down 7,920 from the previous quarter.

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The government is reporting a reduction of 7,920 in the number of civil servants in the last quarter. This large reduction has brought the government closer to the aspiration set out in the 2012 Civil Service Reform plan - that there would be a 23% reduction by 2015 (to around 380,000 civil servants FTE). However, they remain 17,850 away, with only two reporting periods left.

The bulk of the reductions come from four organisations whose staff have moved out of the civil service:

• The Defence Support Group was sold to a private company - Babcock International - in April 2015; this sale included the transfer of 2,000 former civil servants.

• 1,030 staff (FTE) from the National Offender Management Service (part of MoJ) moved into the private sector.

• The Highways Agency (formerly 3,610 FTE), is now 'Highways England', a government-owned company.

• The Ordnance Survey (formerly 1,200 FTE) has also become a government-owned company.

'Government owned, contractor operated' organisations have not been privatised: they are funded by government money, but run by private organisations. However, their employees no longer count as civil servants - creating reductions in the overall headcount figures.

With ambitious efficiency targets recently announced, the Institute for Government has said that further staff cuts are 'inevitable'. Transforming agencies into government-owned companies can reduce the number of people classed as civil servants, but this does not translate directly into savings to the department. These companies have the power to make their own staffing decisions, leaving the efficiencies made by staff reductions under their control, but these changes will no longer be visible in the Public Sector Employment data.

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In our analysis, we distinguish between:

• the department: civil servants directly under the control of ministers and the permanent secretary, which sometimes includes other bodies (like the National Offender Management Service at MoJ, or Education Funding Agency at DfE)

• other organisations: arm's-length bodies which the department is responsible for but doesn't manage as directly (such as the DVLA at DfT).

After losing the Highways Agency, DfT has now dropped below BIS to become the seventh-largest departmental group in government. DWP remains the largest, employing 80,510 FTE; DCMS is the smallest, at just 570.

Four departments (HMT, HMRC, DfT and FCO) now have more civil servants than in the previous quarter.

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There were staff increases in four departments (HMT, HMRC, DfT and FCO) in the last quarter - not including the other organisations within the department's responsibility that they do not directly manage. This analysis discounts civil servants (such as the 1,030 people from the National Offender Management Service in MoJ) who have been reclassified.

HMT saw an increase of 4.4%, or 50 FTE, taking their modest total up to 1,190. By contrast, a 2.9% rise at HMRC took their total up to 58,830, an increase of 1,690. BIS and DfE both made reductions of 90, around 3% of their respective workforces. DWP saw the greatest reductions in numbers - 790 FTE - but this represents only 1% of their 78,000-strong staff.

The picture of change since 2010 remains largely the same: but big challenges lie ahead.

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Overall, events in the last quarter have made little difference to the overall pattern of reductions since the 2010 spending review. DECC, DfID and CO remain the only departments which are larger than they were in 2010 - although the Home Office is now only 3% smaller.

This is the last civil service staff numbers data release before the spending review settlements are announced. In November, we will find out just how much each department is going to have to try to reduce their spending. There may also be a new headcount 'aspiration'. December's release will not reflect any of these changes, but it will give us a sense of just how far departments will have to go over the next five years.