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It mostly covers my work as UNISON Scotland's Head of Policy and Public Affairs although views are my own. For full coverage of UNISON Scotland's policy and campaigns please visit our web site. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Scottish public sector employment

The latest Scottish workforce statistics show a further loss of jobs in the last year. However, it's worth looking at the numbers over a longer time span to analyse the impact since the financial crash and subsequent recession. This facilitates a view of the overall impact of austerity economics on public sector employment.


In the third quarter of 2012 there were 552,100 people employed in the public sector in Scotland (581,300 including financial institutions), 22.3% of the total workforce. That’s a decrease of 8,700 (1.5%) since Q3 2011. However, if we go back to the public sector employment high point in 2008/9, we can see that a staggering 51,700 jobs have been lost in the Scottish public sector.

There is no real difference between reserved and devolved employment. Total employment in the devolved public sector has decreased from 491,700 in Q3 2011 to 486,000 in Q3 2012. That’s a cut of 5,700 (1.2%) over the year and 40,000 jobs lost since 2008.

When we dig a little deeper into these numbers it is clear than jobs have not been cut evenly across all sectors. The decrease in employment in the devolved public sector has been driven by a cut in local government employment. Council jobs decreased by 5,300 (1.9%) over the last year and 34,500 jobs have been lost in local government since the 2008 high point. Local government makes up 57.3% of workforce, but has taken 66.7% of the workforce cuts. Similarly, employment in further education colleges decreased by 900 (6%) in the last year and 2700 jobs have been lost since 2008/9.

Overall, there has been a 6.7% cut in devolved jobs since the 2008/9 high point. However, the local government workforce has been cut by 11% and FE colleges by 16%. This confirms the view that councils, colleges and their workers have taken the brunt of the cuts. This reflects the Scottish Government’s priorities for cuts.

Why does this matter? Well for a starter public services are largely delivered by staff - less staff mean fewer and poorer services. But it also has a wider economic impact. On the Treasury model 51,000 public sector job losses results in around 52,000 private sector job losses. This has been masked to a degree by underemployment, an issue I am pleased in see the Scottish Parliament Economy Committee is investigating in the New Year.

The wider impact on communities is also explained in UNISON’s Public Works campaign and in the STUC Better Way materials. I would also recommend Brian Ashcroft’s analysis at Scottish Economy Watch. He often digs below the surface of the raw data to explain the wider impact on the economy of job losses.

The main impact of these job losses has been poorer public services and a longer and deeper recession. Another example of how austerity economics is damaging Scotland. But it also tells the tale of Scottish Government priorities when implementing the ConDem cuts.

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