There are around 430,000 people employed in the civil service. Of these, 83,500 are based in London – an increase of more than 5,000 since 2017. The capital remains the region with by far the most civil servants, now by a margin of over 30,000.
There are more civil servants in Scotland and Wales working for Whitehall departments than for the Scottish and Welsh governments. The East Midlands has the fewest civil servants, with around a quarter of London’s numbers.
Northern Ireland, Wales and the North East have particularly high concentrations of civil servants compared to other UK regions. These regions also have weaker economies than other regions, possibly explaining the greater reliance on public sector employment.
The vast majority (67%) of senior civil servants are based in London; this has changed very little since 2010. London has over 10 times more senior civil servants than Scotland and the South West (the regions with the next highest numbers of senior civil servants). The regional distribution of civil servants in Grades 6 and 7 is marked by a similar concentration in the capital.
Civil servants at lower grades (in Administrative Officer/Administrative Assistant and Executive Officer roles) are more evenly distributed across the UK. This reflects the enduring status of the capital as the nerve centre of the civil service. Previous efforts at workforce relocation have tended to focus on staff in junior, operational roles.
The mix of different civil service professions also varies by region.
Cross-departmental specialist roles – including policy, economics and human resources – make up at least one in five civil service jobs, but they constitute 40% of the London-based civil service work force. London is the most policy-focused, with 15% of its civil servants working in policy roles. The region with the next highest proportion of policy workers is Wales, where 5% of civil servants are in policy roles.
Throughout the northern regions of England – the North West, North East, and Yorkshire and The Humber – and in the Midlands, around half of the civil service workforce is focused on operational delivery. A significant portion of DWP civil servants handle operational delivery work – such as the running of tax and benefits offices and job centres – and are accordingly well represented throughout the regions in on-the-ground administrative roles.
DCMS and DExEU are extremely London-centric, while others have their staff quite evenly spread across the regions (e.g. DWP, MoJ, HMRC). Some departments have a concentration of staff in certain regions, such as DfID in Scotland, CO and DfT in Wales, and MoD in the South West. Nearly half of the civil servants in the South West work for the MoD, partially because of the concentration of GCHQ staff in this region. In this breakdown, ‘departments’ include the staff of the core department and associated civil service-staffed public bodies.
The Government has said it wants the civil service to become less London-centric. This reflects a pledge made in the 2004 Lyons Review and refreshed in the 2015 and 2017 Conservative manifestos. Most recently, this agenda has been set out in the foreword to the 2018 Government Estate Strategy.
But it is regions outside of London that have experienced the deepest staff cuts since 2010, with numbers falling by 35% in the East of England and 32% in the South East.
By contrast, the number of civil servants working in London has decreased by only 9% since 2010. (Numbers in the capital rose again after their 2015 low point, which marked a 13% reduction since 2010.) Of the devolved nations Wales has seen the smallest percentage reduction in staff numbers, while Northern Ireland’s home civil service workforce is 21% smaller than it was in 2010.
It is important to note that some organisations have moved in or out of the civil service over the time period charted, meaning that these figures may reflect transfers between the civil service and the wider public sector, rather than a conscious reduction or increase in staff numbers.
Civil servants in Wales are the most satisfied on five of the nine engagement themes and overall engagement index in the Civil Service People Survey, including on ‘Pay and Benefits’ where its score is five percentage points higher than the next most satisfied region. By contrast, civil servants in the South East had the lowest or joint lowest engagement scores on six themes, making it the region with the lowest scores on more themes than any other.
Civil service definition
The UK civil service includes those who work for central government departments, some public bodies (executive agencies and non-ministerial departments), and the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales. It does not include public servants and those who those who work in the wider public sector such as the NHS, the police and local government.
The Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) – which serves the Northern Ireland Executive – is independent of the wider UK civil service. In some cases, we have included NICS in the charts in this explainer, marking clearly where we have done so.