ICAEW chart of the week: Civil service numbers

My chart for ICAEW this week illustrates how the civil service has grown by 92,000 or 23% to 496,000 FTEs over the past five years.

Step chart titled 'Civil service numbers'

(First column) September 2018: 179,000 ministerial departments, 22,000 in Scottish and Welsh governments, and 203,000 in agencies and non-ministerial departments = 404,000 total number of civil servants.

(Middle column) Change: +38,000 minisministerial departments, +10,000 Scottish and Welsh governments, +44,000 agencies and non-ministerial departments = +92,000 total change.

September 2023: 217,000 ministerial departments, 32,000 Scottish and Welsh governments, 247,000 agencies and non-ministerial departments = 496,000 total number of civil servants.

The number of civil servants has increased by 92,000 or 23% from 404,000 full-time equivalents (FTEs) in September 2018 to 496,000 FTEs in September 2023, which may be surprising in the light of government rhetoric about cutting public spending.

As my chart for ICAEW this week illustrates, the size of the UK civil service has grown significantly over the past five years. FTEs in ministerial departments have grown by 38,000 or 21% from 179,000 to 217,000, in the Scottish and Welsh governments by 10,000 or 45% from 22,000 to 32,000, and in agencies and non-ministerial departments by 44,000 or 22% from 203,000 to 247,000.

The civil service is just one part of the public sector workforce, which has increased by 571,000 or 13% from 4,433,000 to 5,004,000 FTEs over the same period. 300,000 of the increase has been in the NHS (up 21% from 1,451,000 to 1,751,000 FTEs in September 2023), which after taking account of the 92,000 increase in the civil service means the rest of the public sector workforce (schools, police, army, local government and others) has grown by a relatively slower number of 179,000 or 7% from 2,578,000 to 2,757,000 over the same period.

The increases in the civil service reverse cuts in the austerity years that saw the civil service fall from 493,000 FTEs in September 2009 to 384,000 in June 2016, just before the Brexit referendum.

The UK’s departure from the EU Single Market and the EU Customs Union on 31 December 2020 has been a major driver in the increase, most prominently in the Home Office, which has grown by 15,000 from 29,000 to 44,000 FTEs. Machinery of government changes make it difficult to track the other impacts, but it is likely that another 20,000 of the increase is likely driven by Brexit, made up of small changes across Whitehall departments and individual agencies, such as the 80% increase in the size of the Rural Payments Agency (from 1,400 to 2,600), 

The individual agency with the largest increase is HM Prisons and Probation Service, up 15,000 from 49,000 to 64,000 as the outsourced probation was re-absorbed back into the civil service.

The pandemic also had a small impact on the civil service (as opposed to the NHS) with the Department of Health and Social Security more than doubling in size from just under 1,500 FTEs in September 2018 to almost 3,200 in September 2023.

Some increases are more difficult to attribute, such as the 30% increase in the size of the National Crime Agency from 4,200 to 5,500 or the 9% increase in the size of HM Revenue and Customs from 57,100 to 62,000. Brexit is likely to be part of the story following the reversion of responsibilities from Brussels to London, but the growth of cybercrime (for example) in the past few years will also have been a factor.

The civil service numbers reported by the Office for National Statistics exclude civil servants working for the Northern Ireland Executive and its agencies, but do include both the Scottish and Welsh governments. Most of the growth in numbers from 22,000 to 32,000 has been in Scotland as more powers have been devolved to its devolved administration, with the 16,800 FTEs in September 2018 growing by 9,700 or 58% to 26,500 in September 2023. The size of the civil service in Wales has gone up by a much more modest 700 or 13% from 5,200 to 5,900 in the same period.

One possible driver for some of the other increases is that cuts in the civil service made during the austerity years were never sustainable in the longer-term, with the demands that drove those numbers never having gone away. Another is that governments tend to want to “get things done” and there is therefore a need to find people to do them. 

Both of these factors may explain why both government departments and agencies have grown in size over the past half a decade.

While the civil service is less than 10% of the public sector workforce, it is often the first place that the government looks when it wants to find cost savings – and the current government is no different in seeking to cut the size of the civil service again. Whether those costs savings are sustainable in the long-term without more fundamental reform is another matter.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: Home Office financial statements 2022/23

The Home Office spent £24.5bn in 2022/23 according to its recently published annual financial report, funded by £5.4bn in income and £19.2bn in net parliamentary funding.

Column chart showing main components of the Home Office financial statements 2022/23.

Column 1: Net parliamentary funding £19.2bn

Column 2: Income £5.4bn = Customer contracts £3.7bn + Other income £1.7bn 

Column 3: Expenditure (£24.5bn) = Police grants (£9.2bn) + Other grants (£5.6bn) + Goods and services (£4.3bn) + Staff costs (£2.4bn) + Other operating costs (£3.0bn)

21 Sep 2023.
Chart by Martin Wheatcroft FCA. Design by Sunday.
Source: Home Office, 'Annual Report and Accounts 2022/23'.

The Home Office published its Annual Report and Accounts for the year ended 31 March 2023 on 19 September 2023. 

Net expenditure in 2022/23 was £19.1bn, comprising expenditure of just over £24.5bn net of income of £5.4bn, while parliamentary funding net of other items amounted to £19.2bn.

The Home Office breaks down its income for the year of £5.4bn between revenue from contracts with customers of £3.7bn and other income of £1.7bn. The former includes £2.2bn from visa and immigration charges, £0.6bn in passport fees, £217m for the disclosure and barring service (DBS), and £0.7bn from other sources. Other income is primarily comprised of immigration health surcharges payable by foreign residents and visitors for the use of the National Health Service, a proportion of which is transferred to the Department of Health and Social Care and the devolved administrations.

As our chart this week illustrates, the majority of the Home Office’s spending is in the form of grants. The largest grants, totalling £9.2bn, are to local police forces across England to supplement the council tax precepts they raise locally. Other grants include £1.7bn to top up police pensions, £0.4bn to top up fire and rescue services pensions, £3.3bn in other operating grants (many of which also go to police forces, in addition to transfers to other government departments) and £209m in capital grants.

Purchases of goods and services of £4.3bn is dominated by the £3.1bn paid in relation to asylum and detention, together with £287m in facilities management and staff services, £229m on professional fees, £219m for media and IT, £169m for passport printing and stationery and £120m for visa and immigration commercial partners amongst other costs.

Staff costs of £2.4bn cover the costs of employing full-time equivalent averages of 41,607 permanent staff, seven ministers, seven special advisers, and 6,489 other staff during 2022/23. Wages and salaries amounted to £1.8bn, equivalent to an average full-time equivalent salary of £37,900. 

At 31 March 2023 there were 345 senior civil servants on salaries in excess of £70,000, of which 251 were between £70,000 and £100,000, 86 between £100,000-£150,000 and eight between £150,000 and £190,000. The average of seven government ministers who served during the year (a total of 22 different individuals!) earned the equivalent of an average annual salary not including pension entitlements of around £49,000 in addition to their parliamentary salary or House of Lords attendance allowances.

Other operating costs of £3.0bn include £1.6bn on IT and accommodation-related service charges, £0.7bn for depreciation and amortisation of assets, and £113m in asset recovery costs together with other costs.

Parliamentary funding net of other items of £19.2bn is reported in the consolidated statement of taxpayers’ equity and comprised £19.4bn in drawn-down parliamentary funding, £0.3bn in deemed funding less £0.5bn in amounts repayable.

Not shown in the chart is the Home Office’s consolidated balance sheet, which comprised £2.6bn in non-current assets, trade and other receivables of £0.7bn and cash and cash equivalents of £0.6bn less trade and other payables of £3.7bn, £0.6bn in lease liabilities and £0.5bn in provisions to give net liabilities of £0.9bn. 

Reported in the notes to the accounts are £0.8bn in capital additions, of which £374m was incurred on software and other intangible assets.

Find out more: Home Office annual report and accounts: 2022 to 2023.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: Public sector segments 2022/23

Our chart this week illustrates just how centralised the UK is by looking at the disparity between receipts and expenditure between central and local government.

Step chart for the financial year 2022/23, showing receipts of £1,018bn (first column) less expenditure £1,155bn (middle column) and deficit £137bn (last column).

Central government: £931bn receipts - £919bn expenditure = £12bn surplus before intra-government transfers. 

Local government: £59bn receipts - £204bn = £145bn shortfall before transfers.

Other public sector: £28bn receipts - £32bn expenditure = £4bn shortfall before transfers.

Most people living in the UK would be surprised to discover just how big a gap there is between the council taxes and other income received by local councils, police and fire authorities, and the amount that they spend on public services.

Our chart of the week illustrates this disparity by looking at public sector segments in 2022/23 and how receipts and expenditure match up, before taking account of intra-government transfers.

Fiscal reporting in the National Accounts is broken down into five segments, of which the two largest are central government and local government. The former includes UK government departments, the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and several hundred government agencies and other public bodies. Local government principally consists of local authorities across the UK, the Greater London Authority and regional combined authorities in England, police and fire authorities in England and Wales, and local public transport bodies (the largest of which is Transport for London). The other three segments are public corporations (comprising publicly owned businesses plus social housing), funded pension schemes (mostly local authority schemes as central government schemes are generally unfunded), and the Bank of England.

The latest provisional numbers for the financial year ended 31 March 2023 reported that the UK public sector generated £1,018bn in receipts and incurred expenditure of £1,155bn, giving rise to a deficit of £137bn – a shortfall that has been funded by central government borrowing.

Central government raised £931bn in 2022/23 and spent £919bn, a net £12bn surplus before intra-government transfers. Local government received £59bn and spent £204bn, a shortfall of £145bn. And the three remaining fiscal segments together generated £28bn in receipts, and recorded £32bn in expenditure, a net shortfall of £4bn.

By excluding transfers in this way, the chart highlights just how centralised the UK state is, with local government dependent on central government largesse to pay for 69% of its spending in 2022/23. 

Local authorities received £41bn in council taxes and £18bn in non-tax receipts, with intra-government transfers amounting to £141bn, comprising £127bn in revenue grants and £14bn in capital grants. Transfers included a redistribution of £25bn in business rates, which although collected by local authorities are national taxes whose disposition is determined by central government. The rest came from a combination of block grants, subsidies, and specific grants (some of which councils need to bid for) as part of a complex and complicated web of funding arrangements for local authorities that makes them highly dependent on the decisions of government ministers.

After transfers there was a reported deficit of £137bn in central government and £4bn in local government, while £8bn in net transfers converted a £4bn shortfall between receipts and expenditure in the three other segments into a net £4bn surplus.

The big picture is of the most centralised state among medium and large economies in the developed world, with local authorities almost entirely dependent on the largesse of central government to fund the essential public services they deliver.

Distributing power to the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has started to see a share of national taxes dispersed (such as income tax in Scotland and Wales) and some limited tax-raising powers. This contrasts with the debate about devolution in England, which has primarily focused on structures with the partial creation of a regional tier of local government in the form of combined authorities, rather than on more fundamental questions of whether this very centralised system of funding for local authorities needs reform.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.