Civil Service staff numbers under the Coalition government, 2010 to 2015

17 June 2015
The latest numbers from the Office for National Statistics show the number of civil servants as of March 2015. Emily Andrews and Gavin Freeguard look at how the size of the Civil Service changed under the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition.

There are now 406,140 civil servants, up from 405,400 in the previous quarter – a rise of 740.

Civil service staff numbers, March 2009 to March 2015

The number of civil servants (full time equivalent) saw a net increase of 740 from 405,400 in December 2014 (Q4 2014) to 406,140 in March 2015 (Q1 2015). Overall, this represents a fall of 71,990 or 15% since the spending review in 2010, when there were 478,130 civil servants.

In the Civil Service Reform Plan of 2012, the government said it expected there would be a 23% reduction by 2015 (to around 380,000 civil servants FTE). With the increase in this quarter, the government is now 26,140 away from that expected level.

A recent report from the National Audit Office found that many of these staff reductions came through minimising recruitment rather than redundancy. One side effect was this ‘resulting in older staff comprising a greater proportion of the workforce’ – something we’ve found in our previous analysis – which ‘might increase the risk of a shortage of talent and skills in future’.

The NAO also warned that:

“not enough planning has gone into making sure that, over the longer term, the reductions already made and any required in future are sustainable and do not damage the delivery of public services.”

With further spending cuts announced, the IfG has said that further staff cuts are ‘inevitable’ and will need to be accompanied by reforms to how Whitehall goes about its business.

Of course, there is significant variation in the number of civil servants employed by individual Whitehall departments.

DWP and its associated organisations employ 81,310 civil servants; DCMS only employs 570.
Number of Civil Servants in UK Government Departments March 2015 (Q1)

DWP, MoJ, HMRC and MoD remain the largest departments – all of them are ultimately responsible for over 50,000 civil servants.

In our analysis, we distinguish between:

  • The department: The 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: Other arm’s-length bodies which the department is responsible for – e.g. to parliament – but doesn’t manage as directly (such as the DVLA at DfT).

(The civil service numbers published by the ONS do not include every employee the department is in some way responsible for – there are separate releases for other arm’s-length bodies and the wider public sector.)

Reductions in some of the arm’s-length bodies reporting to BIS – particularly Companies House and the Land Registry – have seen it fall below DfT to become the seventh-largest departmental group, with 12,140 civil servants in total. Other than this, the relative size of departments has remained unchanged since Q4 2014.

Since the spending review in 2010, all but three departments have reduced their staff numbers, DCLG having reduced by the most…
Staff reductions since the spending review in 2010

14 departments have decreased in size since the spending review in 2010, with DCLG shrinking the most. Some of these departments – such as DCLG, DWP, MoJ and HMRC – have seen steady, ongoing reductions in the last five years. No departments have seen reductions in every single quarter, but numbers at HMRC, MoJ and DWP have only risen once.

Others have had a bumpier ride. At the end of 2012, the Home Office was 15% smaller than it was at the spending review. But numbers have steadily increased since then: even when machinery of government changes are accounted for, the Home Office now only employs 3% fewer people than in 2010.

DECC, DfID and CO have seen an increase in staff numbers since 2010. At DECC and DfID, this rise has mostly levelled off. However, at Cabinet Office – where there have been moves to build central government capacity – numbers have risen every quarter since mid-2013.

…but over the last quarter, eight departments increased in size.
Percentage change civil service numbers by department Q1 2015

Just six departments have lost staff in the last quarter. Headcount at the FCO has fallen the most, down 3% since the end of last year. This quarter saw DCLG shrink for the first time since early 2014.

Eight departments have increased in size over the last quarter. DfT has seen the greatest percentage increase, taking on an extra 60 people to bring its total to 1,790. In absolute terms , MoJ has seen the greatest increase: 880 people joined the department to work within the National Offender Management service, which accounts for the bulk of civil servants employed by the MoJ (44,080 out of 65,370). However, this is the first time MoJ has increased in size since 2010.

These figures take us up to the immediate pre-election period when attentions were turned towards preparing for an uncertain future. What is clear is that most departments have managed to significantly reduce their staff numbers since 2010. As Whitehall prepares for the spending review in the autumn, the question is how much further they will be required to go.

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