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Public Sector Employment - Background Notes

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Quality and Methodology Information




1. Scottish Public Sector Employment Statistics includes results from the work of a cross-departmental project, led by ONS, to improve the quality and timeliness of public sector employment statistics. Standard definitions for public sector employment across departmental statistics were agreed and a single definitive set of quarterly PSE estimates were introduced.




2. The public sector comprises central government, local government, and public corporations as defined for the UK National Accounts. The Sector Classifications Guide provides information on the classification of organisations and institutions in the National Accounts.


3. The National Accounts are compiled based on an internationally comparable framework and describe activities in the National Economy. Further details can also be found in the sources background notes further on in this document.


Headcount and full-time equivalent


4. This publication publishes headcount and full-time equivalent estimates.

Headcount estimates are based on the number of employees with an employment contract who are being paid by the organisation. Employees can be permanent, on a fixed-term contract or employed on a casual basis. Self-employed, contract workers, and agency workers are excluded.

Number of employees on a full-time equivalent (FTE) basis are based on converting part-time employees' hours into a full-time employee equivalent. This provides a better indicator of total labour input than a simple headcount.


5. The commentary presented in this statistical publication notice focuses on headcount number and changes, particularly over the last year.


Presentation of Public Sector Financial Institution Estimates


6. Public Sector Financial Institutions are included in the series from Q4 2008. An aggregate estimate is available for these Public Sector Financial Institutions from Q4 2008 onwards in Table 2. The size of these banking groups has the capacity to influence the aggregate public sector employment statistics with a step change in the series evident from Q4 2008.


Due to the recent reclassification of Lloyds Banking Group plc (Q1 2014) from public sector financial institutions to the private sector, the public corporations and public sector financial institutions categories have been combined to ensure individual organisation employment figures are not disclosed.  Both categories have been merged to produce a backseries prior to the reclassification to allow for the calculation of year on year changes.


A separate public sector series excluding the effects of major reclassifications has been included in this publication to show the impact of the reclassifications on the number of people employed in the public sector.


Publication Policy


7. The quarterly statistics publication notice is a National Statistics Publication. For clarity the tables in this report present only selected quarters in all years from 2009 onwards and also for 1999. Statistics prior to Q1 2008 are estimates.  These have been calculated using the total UK reserved public sector employment figure and applying to Scotland on a pro-rata basis as regional data has only been collected from Q1 2008 onwards.


8. The Public Sector Employment web section contains a complete time series of every quarter available back to Q1 1999. A time series is also shown of total local government and for individual local authorities, police and related services and fire and related services separately. The Public sector Employment web section can be located at the following link:



9. The Scottish Government maintains a list of individuals with pre-release access to these statistics in their final form together with information on how long these individuals have pre-release access and the reasons for granting access. This information is available in a downloadable PDF document.




10. Currently information is published in March, June, September and December in each year. Presenting information for the 3 months before as demonstrated in the timetable below. The information is published at the same time as an equivalent ONS publication for the UK.


11. The Scottish Government announces the month of publication a year in advance, and the actual date of release one month before the release. Occasionally small changes to the format of the publication and web section will be pre-announced 3 months before publication. Larger changes would be announced after a longer consultation.

Publication Month

Time period


December (Q4 of year before)


March (Q1 of current year)


June (Q2 of current year)


Sept (Q3 of current year)




12. Our revisions policy outlining the timings of the different planned and unplanned revisions can be found at: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2006/12/PSERevisionsPolicy


13. Some statistics may be revised to take into account late information from public bodies or revised data. There may also be revisions to take into account classification changes, improvements in methodology, and revisions to coverage.


On 30th November 2015, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) announced that from 22nd November 2013, Glasgow Prestwick Airport Limited will be classified as a Non-financial Public Corporation.  Therefore, Glasgow Prestwick Airport Limited has been included in the Public Sector series from Q4 2013.


14. Due to ongoing validation of data from the new HM Forces Personnel Administration System, figures for Q2 2007 onwards are provisional and subject to review.




15. Public Sector Employment covers those organisations included in the public sector based on National Accounts definitions, see:







16. The statistics published here are derived from the relevant departments and devolved governments plus comprehensive quarterly surveys of the home Civil Service, Non-Departmental Public Bodies, and Public Corporations, carried out by ONS. The following list shows the data sources used to calculate total public sector employment. Further details with regard to each source are available later in this document.


Sources of Public Sector Employment estimates



Reference Date

Devolved Civil Service

Quarterly Public Sector Employment Survey, ONS

Last day in quarter

UK Central Government Departments

Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Department for International Development (DFID), HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), Ministry of Defence (MOD) - Scottish Government Quarterly Survey, Scotland Office

Other Central Government consist of estimates provided by Civil Service Statistics and ONS

Last day in quarter


NHS Information Services Division Scotland

Last day in quarter

Further Education

Quarterly Public Sector Employment Survey, ONS

Last day in quarter

HM Forces

Ministry of Defence



Quarterly Public Sector Employment Survey, ONS


Local Government

Joint Staffing Watch Survey

Second Saturday in last month of quarter

Public Corporations

Inter-departmental Business Register, ONS


Private Sector Employment

This is derived as the difference between the Labour Force Survey employment workforce based estimate for the whole of Scotland (not seasonally adjusted) and the public sector estimate.






17. The accuracy of the estimates produced within the PSE series rely on HR departments reporting accurately employment to SG and ONS (who collect estimates for the majority of public bodies).

Estimated information prior to Q1 2005

18. Public sector data prior to Q4 2005 are based partly on estimates as actual data for all quarters is not available. Estimates are calculated based on available data for the following areas and time periods:

  • Quarters 2, 3 and 4 of each year prior to 2005 for the Civil Service excluding Ministry of Defence
  • Prior to Q3 2008, Quarters 1, 2 and 4 of each year for the NHS
  • Quarters 1, 3 and 4 of each year prior to 2005 for the armed forces
  • All quarters prior to Q4 2004 for NDPBs and Public Corporations

Further details in relation to each source are available later in this document




19. This series is not seasonally adjusted and therefore it is not recommended that quarter on quarter comparisons are made. For this reason the tables in main publication show the same quarter for 1999 and the last 7 years.




ONS Annual Civil Service Statistics Publication

Information on employment in the Scottish Government and Agencies is published by ONS in their Annual Publication for Q1 in each year. This provides more detailed information by ethnicity, gender, disability, age and earnings etc for Q1. It is recommended that the Quarterly Public Sector Employment statistics should be used when seeking to measure the size of the civil service over time.


Labour Force Survey

While the LFS is the primary measure of number of people in employment as a whole, it does not provide a fully reliable measure of the total number of employees in the public sector. This is because the LFS is a social survey, based on responses and self-classification from individuals in private households. It is widely agreed that when interviewed for the LFS, individuals on some occasions will incorrectly classify themselves as working in the public or private sector. The LFS tends to overestimate public sector employment.



The information presented in the PSE series is consistent with ISD for all quarters from Q3 2010 onward and is consistent for Q3 in years prior to this. ISD workforce estimates are published the last Tuesday in every month, before the PSE publication.


Local Government

The PSE series provides total local government employment by local authority. The principal source of information on number of teachers, social workers and police should be obtained from: teacher census, social work census and quarterly police strength statistics respectively.


Further education

Annual information is collected by the Scottish Funding Council on number of staff employed in further education colleges in Scotland. It should be noted that due to differing definitions these figures are not directly comparable with the information collected for the PSE series.



A copy of the questionnaire and guidance used by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) are available here.



National Accounts Central Government


Civil Service

20. Employment in the civil service is shown for devolved and reserved bodies. The devolved civil service includes: Scottish Government Core Departments, Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal, Scottish Government Agencies and Non-Ministerial Departments. The reserved civil service included Ministry of Defence, HM Revenue and Customs, Department for Work and Pensions, Department for International Development, Scotland Office and Other smaller reserved government departments.


From Q1 2015, Revenue Scotland (new body established on 1st January 2015) has been included as part of the devolved civil service.  From Q2 2015, Food Standards Scotland (new body as of 1st April 2015) has been included as part of the devolved civil service. Therefore, Food Standards Agency is no longer included in the reserved civil service.


On 1st October 2015, Historic Scotland (previously part of the devolved civil service) and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (a non-departmental public body) merged to become Historic Environment Scotland. Historic Environment Scotland will be classified as a Non-Departmental Public Body.


Other Public Bodies

21. Information is also shown in the publication for Other Public Bodies. This includes Non-Departmental Public Bodies and Other Public Bodies which do not fall into any of the other sub categories used in this publication.

*Audit Scotland is included in the other category of the Scottish PSE estimates as this is consistent with SG classification. In the UK publication, based on National Accounts definitions, it is classed as a Public Corporation.


NHS employment

22. NHS employment data are provided by NHS ISD Scotland Management Information system. According to the National Accounts definition of the public sector, General Medical Practitioners (GMP) and General Dental Practitioners (GDP) are not included in the public sector and are therefore not included in the figures in the publication. Data on GMPs and GDPs are published by ISD and the table below shows the most recent data available.



Data on GMPs and GDPs as at 30 September 2016



Full Time Equivalent

General Medical Practitioners


Not available

General Dental Practitioners


Not available

Source: ISD Scotland, Scottish Workforce Information Standard System (SWISS)


Calculation of NHS Employment Information

Q1 1999 to Q4 2006

23. Information for Q1, Q2 and Q4 in each year is modelled based on past trends. Information for Q3 is based on actual workforce estimates.


Q1 2007 onward

24. In the Q1 2011 publication information for NHS employment has been revised from Q1 2007 in the series onwards. This revision takes account of a new methodology implemented by ISD whereby all double counting of staff who are employed in more than one health board have been removed from the NHS headcount employment total.


25. In the PSE series, actual information from ISD workforce systems are presented for Q3 2007 and each quarter from Q3 2008 onward. Information for Q1, Q2 & Q3 2007 and Q1 & Q2 2008 have been modelled based on the quarters where we have actual workforce data.


Note on interpreting the NHS employment series

26. In the NHS employment time series prior to Q1 2007 double counting is still prevalent in employment headcount relating to non-medical specialty staff. Prior to Q1 2007 double counting has only been removed from the medical specialty staff group. It should be noted in Q1 2011 removing double counting from all staffing groups accounted for approximately 2,500 staff.


As part of on-going IT developments, during 2011 ISD workforce information was migrated in to an ISD workforce data mart. The transfer of these data provided the opportunity to review, and improve, the quality of the information previously reported.


Further Education

27. Information for further education colleges in Scotland are included in the Public Sector time series for the first time in the June 2011 publication. Information is included from Q1 1999 onward. This follows the Office for National Statistics reclassification of colleges of further education in Scotland to the Central Government sector. Actual information has been collected for Q4 2010 and Q1 2011. Information has been modelled prior to this. Further methodological details are available.




Public Corporations

28. Public corporations are companies or quasi-corporations controlled by government. An example is the Scottish Water. These companies receive more than half their income from sales of goods or services into the market place. Public Corporations within this publication include Public Corporations based wholly in Scotland and UK wide Public Corporations with a presence in Scotland. Data for the UK wide Public Corporations with a presence in Scotland are estimated based on UK data and business survey information. This business survey information is updated in our series each year in Q3 which may result in step changes in the series.


The Public Corporations, as currently defined by the Office for National Statistics for National Account purposes, which included in this publication, are shown below:


UK with a presence in Scotland

Scottish Water

Highlands and Islands Airport LTD

Lothian Buses

Edinburgh Tours Ltd

Civil Aviation Authority

British Waterways (removed Q3 2012 onward)

Financial Services Authority

Crown Estate Commissioner

Post Office LTD From Q2 2012 onward

Royal Mail Group Ltd & Post Office Ltd (removed from Q4 2013 onwards as transferred to private sector)

Horse Race Totalisator Board (removed Q2 2011)

Tote Bookmakers (removed Q2 2011)

Driving Standards Agency (merged with Vehicle and Operator Services in Q2 2014 to form the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency)

Vehicle and Operator Services (merged with Driving Standards Agency in Q2 2014 to form the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency)

Ordnance Survey

Defence Support Group (removed from Q2 2015 - DSG became privatised with some employees moving to Babcock and others transferring to main MOD)

Army Base Repair Organisation

The British Council

Remploy Ltd (removed from Q2 2015 as transferred to private sector)

East Coast Mainline Company Ltd (removed from Q2 2015 as transferred to private sector)


Magnox Electric PLC

Channel Four television Corporation

Scottish Widows Services LTD (included from Q3 2012 backdated to Q4 2008 and removed from Q1 2014 onwards as transferred to the private sector)

St James Place UK PLC (included from Q3 2012 backdated to Q4 2008 and removed from Q2 2013 onwards as transferred to the private sector)

Northern Rock (reclassified to public sector October 2007. Removed from Q1 2012 onwards)

Direct Rail Services Ltd

Royal Collection Enterprises Ltd

From Q4 2008, Northern Rock is included within the Public Sector Financial Institutions category, along with Royal Bank of Scotland Group and Lloyds Banking Group. Prior to Q4 2008, Northern Rock is included within the public corporation category to avoid disclosure.

On 1st October 2016, the Office for National Statistics announced that from 2nd December 2015, Aberdeen Harbour Board would no longer be classified as a public non-financial corporation but instead be classified as a National Private non-financial Corporation.


Public Sector Financial Institutions

29. On 19 February 2009, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) announced that the Royal Bank of Scotland Group plc (RBS) and Lloyds Banking Group plc (previously Halifax Bank of Scotland plc and Lloyds TSB Group plc) would be classified as public corporations to take effect from 13 October 2008. As a result RBS and Lloyds Banking Group have been included in UK wide public corporations for the first time from Q4 2008 estimates.


30. Northern Rock has been included in the series from Q4 2007 following its earlier nationalisation. It was then removed from Q2 2012 following its reclassification to the Private Sector on 1st April 2012.


31. The inclusion of financial institutions in the public sector employment estimates are based on a judgement that government has the ability to control the respective banks' general corporate policy through the conditions associated with the agreements signed relating to recapitalisation. These agreements contain unconditional covenants and contractual arrangements, which include: restrictions on the declaration and payment of any dividends or distributions; restrictions on Directors' remuneration; and obligations relating to lending. These decisions are consistent with international statistical guidelines on national accounts. National accounts classification decisions relate to control rather than ownership. The decisions have been authorised by the National Statistician.


32. Information included in the series for Public Sector Financial Institutions is based on 2 sources:

1- A quarterly survey of employment in each financial institution (across the UK), carried out specifically for the Public Sector Employment Series by ONS.

2- The proportion of employees for each financial institution located in Scotland as at September (Q3) in each year, obtained from the Inter-departmental business register (ONS).


33. Employment in Public Sector Financial Institutions in Scotland is obtained by applying the annual proportion figures from IDBR (2 above) to quarterly employment figures for the UK (1 above). The proportion figure is usually updated in the PSE series in Q3 in each year and is applied to Q2 onward, until it is updated again in the next Quarter 3 publication. For Example:


The employment in Financial Institutions for Scotland for Q1 2011 is based on the proportion of employees located in Scotland for each financial institution (from Sept Q3 2010) applied to the overall UK employment for each Public Sector Financial Institution (from March 2011).


A table below shows a further demonstration on the calculations used to calculate employment in Scotland’s Public Sector Financial Institutions.

UK Banking Estimate

IDBR Scotland Ratio

Scotland Banking Estimate Calculation





2010 Q2



A x H

2010 Q3


2010 Q3


B x H

2010 Q4



C x H

2011 Q1



D x H

2011 Q2



E x H in Q2, Revised to E x I in Q3

2011 Q3


2011 Q3


F x I

2011 Q4



G x I

  1. The banking sector information for Q1, Q2 & Q4 for Public Sector Financial Institutions in Scotland should therefore be treated with some caution, as the proportion of employees based in Scotland may not be up to date for that quarter. If there has been a change in employment within a Financial Institution in this quarters which has not been uniform between Scotland and the rest of UK. This will not be fully captured until Q3 in the following year.


Private Sector Employment

35. The private sector estimate is obtained by taking the difference between the workforce based Labour Force Survey estimate of people employed in Scotland and the public sector total of people employed in Scotland. The PSE figures are best estimates and in line with National Accounting Principles. They are based on administrative records and surveys of public sector organisations.


36. PSE estimates relate to the number of people employed according to returns from relevant organisations, however this could include workers with a second job in the public sector whose main job is in the private sector or in separate public sector organisations. This would only affect a very small percentage of employees.


Users and Uses


The PSE estimates and data produced for the quarterly publication receive a relatively high level of interest and are widely disseminated through media. They are used across government and feed into a wider number of publications and outputs. They are used by:

  • Parliament – PSE statistics are used in the Scottish Parliament and inform debate on this subject. They are used by departments within the Scottish Government to inform analysis of the Economy and Labour Market and inform policy in this area.
  • Office for National Statistics – The Scottish estimate for PSE is published in the Office for National Statistics Publication with published UK public sector employment on the same day that the Scottish Publication is published.
  • Other external organisations – Public Bodies and External Organisations