The civil service: the Government's record

7 April 2010

Union chief Mark Serwotka has slammed the Labour government as "the worst in the history of this country" over its record on civil service employment.   Mr Serwotka, the general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), accused the Labour government of being a terrible employer, cutting thousands of civil service jobs.   He told the National Union of Teachers annual conference in Liverpool on Monday: "If you judge a government by how it behaves as an employer, this is the worst Government in the history of this country.   "I tell you why…. In the civil service, the people I'm representing, in four years, the last four years of New Labour, we've lost 100,000 jobs."   Full Fact decided to look at the Government's record on jobs in the civil service over recent years to see if Mr Serwotka's claims could be substantiated.  

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The civil service  

The PCS is the largest civil service trade union, with over 300,000 members. The union has been at loggerheads with the Government over pay and conditions and recently took strike action in protest over plans to cap redundancy pay in the civil service.   In 2004 the Gershon efficiency review recommended streamlining the public sector. As part of its efficiency drive the review suggested that around 70,000 jobs could be cut.   Since then, the number of civil service employees has indeed fallen, but not by the level claimed by Mr Serwotka.   The Pre-Budget Report of 2008 reported that the Government had over-delivered on the recommendations of the Gershon review. It stated that it had achieved a reduction of 87,000 civil service posts through efficiency savings since 2004.   However, taking into account the job creation that has happened simultaneously the figure for overall civil service employment fell by the lesser figure of 48,000. This is almost 30,000 than the total given in the Gershon review. According to ONS statistics there were 570,000 civil servants in 2004. By 2008 this fell to 522,000.   More specifically, Mr Serwotka measured civil service jobs over the past four years. In this more recent period, ONS data shows that the number of civil service posts has fallen by 31,000. In the last quarter of 2009 there were a total of 532,000 civil servants — compared to 563,000 at the end of 2005.  

Longer term

Looking at the longer term trend (see Figure 1) suggests Mr Serwotka's claim that this Government is the worst ever for employment in the civil service is an exaggeration.   Civil service employment today is higher than when Labour came to power in 1997.   During eighteen years of Conservative government 200,000 civil service posts were lost. In 1979 the civil service was over 700,000 strong. By 1997 it stood at half a million.   Since then, looking at the long term trend, it is fair to say that the numbers have remained relatively stable.  

Figure 1 (Source: Civil Service)


Mr Serwotka is within his rights to protest the losses of civil service posts. However, to ignore the continued job creation is to risk creating the impression that the Government has been slashing the overall size of the public sector.   The reality of the situation is that overall civil service employment has fallen in recent years, but not as much as the PCS claim.

Additional information

The Cabinet Office refused to comment on the claims because of restrictions in place as a result of the forthcoming general election.   Full Fact contacted the PCS and the NUT for a transcript of the general secretary's speech. Unfortunately it was not available. We have used secondary sources to compile the quotes from Mr Serwotka's speech.


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