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Public sector employment at record low

Public sector employment has fallen to its lowest figure since comparable records began, according to the latest labour market statistics.

Overall figures show that Britain’s employment rate is at the joint highest level since records began in 1971, however in contrast public sector employment is shrinking. There were 5.41 million people employed in the public sector for September 2014. This was 302,000 fewer than the same month in 2013, and the lowest figure since comparable records began in 1999.

The statistics also highlighted a stark difference in pay between sectors. On average public sector pay rose at just 0.6% in the year to November, while private sector pay was up 2.1%, with the strongest growth, 2.6%, seen in finance and business services.

A PCS spokesman said: "This government's spending cuts have seriously damaged our public services, with the frontline affected by closures and delays despite the pre-election promises made by David Cameron. For example, last summer's passports crisis was entirely avoidable and now the Passport Office, which had previously ignored all our warnings, is hurriedly recruiting to fill gaps left by staff made redundant since 2010."

However Geraint Johnes, director of Lancaster University’s Work Foundation, has warned that the raw figures can be misleading.

“The number of employees in the public sector is, at 5412000, the lowest since the series began in 1999. There have been many changes to the way the data are calculated, however,” he said.

“Importantly, there was a major increase in public sector employment during the financial crisis, with employees of some banks then coming under public sector coverage. In the case of Northern Rock and the Lloyds Banking Group, subsequent sales have allowed employees once more to be classified as private sector. Likewise, in the second quarter of 2012, further education colleges were reclassified and workers in this sector are now considered to be in the private sector – this removed around 180,000 workers from the public sector.”

He also pointed out that a further transfer of workers from the public to the private sector occurred with the privatisation of Royal Mail.

“The crude data suggest a 15% fall in the number of public sector workers since the turn of the decade, but much of this fall is artificial,” he added.

“In addressing the public sector deficit, there have certainly been reductions in public sector employment over and above those due to transfers of ownership into the private sector. Over the last two years these reductions have become more modest – and indeed public sector employment in health and in education has increased.”

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