Census 2011: public sector jobs rise despite austerity

Some 1.5m people now work in the public sector – but data shows this is lower in percentage terms than in 1951

Census figures show that public sector employment has increased in the past decade, despite budget cuts.

The survey, which uses data collected in 2011, reveals that the number of people working in public administration and defence has risen from 1.3 million to 1.5 million since 2001. However, it also shows that the sector is shrinking in the long term, and now employs a lower proportion of the population than it did in 1951 – 7.9% compared to just 6% in 2011.

Simon Dennis, central government director at business analytics firm SAS, which collected the data, said this is just a snapshot of the full picture and that the results must be combined with further datasets scheduled for release throughout 2013, for “really interesting insights to be uncovered”.

The census data also shows that the population as a whole is rising, which Dennis believes will increase the public sector’s reliance on real-time data to make decisions about public services policy, based on up-to-the-minute evidence. As the government pursues its own open data and digital by default initiatives, the public sector should focus its efforts on making better and more frequent use of population data available internally in order to increase efficiency, he said.

A similar situation applies to data sharing across government. “When it comes to the collection of citizen information across government, much of this data remains siloed, overprotected and under-utilised,” he said. “As with the census, without a holistic view of the needs and make-up of the UK population, we might perpetuate a situation where policy decisions are based on gut-feel, rather than real-world evidence.”

With austerity measures now set to continue until 2018, the public sector needs to ensure it is maximising what it does have as well as retaining a workforce with the right balance of individuals to deliver the public services required by the UK population, he added.

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