From the TUC

Are all the new public servants pen-pushers?

10 Feb 2010, by in Labour market, Public services

The IFS data – which I looked at yesterday – also has a useful table showing which sectors have seen growth in public sector staff since 1997, and by how much.

The small-state right would like us to think that these were all pen-pushers – somewhat oddly as I doubt that many people in either the private or public sector have a pen as their main workplace tool any more.

And of course efficient public services need their share of administrators and managers too. I suspect most people would prefer to get a renewed passport on time, rather than be told we’ve shut the passport service down as it was full of bureaucrats.

But what the figures show is that by far the biggest growth in public sector staff has been in the health service. There are half as many doctors again working in the NHS as in 1997, and a 28 per cent growth in the number of nurses.  I’ve added the final two columns to the IFS table, but they are simply another way of presenting the data. This shows that more than half the increase in public sector staff is in the NHS – and that fully 7 per cent of the growth in staff is made up of doctors. Given that they are pretty near the top of the earnings tree, it is not surprising that the cost per head of the public sector has increased.  

After the NHS comes education who contribute 44 per cent of the increase.

Some sectors have shrunk, and others barely changed.

I guess that public administration is the category most likely to contain jobs likely to be considered pen-pushers, but the civil service has seen just one per cent growth – and public administration as a whole, which I assume includes local government, has grown by a modest 7 per cent.  

The IFS rightly say that in the long term a lower cost public sector comes from a reduced headcount. These figures show just how painful that is likely to be.


  1997 2008 % change actual increase % of increase  
National Health Service 1,190,000 1,510,000 27% 320,000 53%  
Of which:            
Doctors (England) 89,619 133,662 49% 44,043 7%  
Nurses (England) 318,856 408,160 28% 89,304 15%  
Police 230,000 285,000 24% 55,000 9%  
Of which:            
Police community support officers 15,683 15,683 3%  
Education 1,131,000 1,393,000 23% 262,000 44%  
Of which:            
Teachers (England &Wales) 437,980 476,410 9% 38,430 6%  
Teaching assistants (England) 34,800 125,200 260% 90,400 15%  
Public administration 1,139,000 1,224,000 7% 85,000 14%  
Of which:            
Civil service 516,000 522,000 1% 6,000 1%  
Other public sector 708,000 738,000 4% 30,000 5%  
HM Forces 220,000 193,000 –12% -27,000 -5%  
Other health and social work 436,000 380,000 –13% -56,000 -9%  
Construction 124,000 55,000 –56% -69,000 -12%  
All public sector 5,178,000 5,778,000 12% 600,000