About public sector employment statistics

Contextual information and guidance on the Scottish Government's public sector employment statistics.

Quality and Methodology Information


1. Scottish Public Sector Employment Statistics presents quarterly headcount and full-time equivalent data for public sector employees in Scotland. The Scottish Government uses the Office for National Statistics definitions of public sector organisations and works with them to collect the data.


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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

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

Presentation of Public Sector Financial Institution Estimates

8. Public Sector Financial Institutions are included in the series from Q4 2008.

9. The size of these banking groups can influence the total public sector employment statistics. Changes can be seen in the series between Q4 2008 and Q4 2013 as a result.

10. The public corporations and public sector financial institutions categories and public bodies have been combined into an ‘other public sector’ category to ensure individual organisation employment figures are not disclosed.  These categories have been merged to produce a backseries prior to reclassifications to allow for the calculation of year on year changes.

11. 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. More details on major reclassifications are avilable.

Publication Policy

12. 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 2013 onwards and also for 1999.  Statistics prior to Q1 2008 are estimates as regional data has only been collected from Q1 2008 onwards.  These have been calculated using the total UK reserved public sector employment figure and applying to Scotland on a pro-rata basis.

13. 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:


14. Pre-release access is not granted prior to publication of these statistics. This is in line with the Office for National Statistic’s decision to end pre-release access to their official statistics.


15. We publish quarterly data in March, June, September and December each year. The data is published around 11 weeks after the period to which they refer (see timetable below). The information is published at the same time as an equivalent ONS publication for the UK.

16. The Scottish Government announces the month of publication a year in advance, and the actual date of release one month before the release.

Publication Month

Time period


December (Q4 of year before)


March (Q1 of current year)


June (Q2 of current year)


Sept (Q3 of current year)


17. See our revisions policy outlining the timings of the different planned and unplanned revisions.

18. 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.

19. 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.


20. Public Sector Employment covers those organisations included in the public sector based on National Accounts definitions, see: https://www.ons.gov.uk/methodology/classificationsandstandards/economicstatisticsclassifications/introductiontoeconomicstatisticsclassifications

Data Sources

21. The statistics published here are derived from the relevant departments and devolved governments plus comprehensive quarterly surveys of Scottish 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), Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), 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

July each year


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.


How we make sure the data is accurate and reliable

22. 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). The data is validated to ensure it is as accurate as possible: https://www.gov.scot/publications/about-public-sector-employment-statistics/pages/data-collection-and-validation/

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

Estimated information 

23. 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.

Using the data

24. This series is not seasonally adjusted and therefore it is not recommended that quarter on quarter comparisons are made. For example, it is acceptable to compare data from Q4 2019 and Q4 2020 but comparing Q3 2020 with Q4 2020 is not recommended. 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

25.Information on employment in the Scottish Government and Agencies is published by Cabinet Office in their Annual Publication for Q1 in each year. This provides more detailed information by ethnicity, gender, disability, age and earnings etc for Q1. This publication was previously produced by ONS. 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

26. While the LFS is the primary measure of the 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.


27. 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.

Local Government

28. 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

29. 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.


30. The Office for National Statistics identifies public sector bodies and classifies them in the National Accounts. Once a body has been classified as a public sector body located in Scotland (or that has employees located in Scotland), its headcount and full-time equivalent data is included in the Public Sector Employment publication. Depending on how each public body has been classified determines how it is grouped within the collection, as explained in the sections below.

National Accounts Central Government

Civil Service

31. 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 includes Ministry of Defence, HM Revenue and Customs, Department for Work and Pensions, Department for International Development, Scotland Office and other smaller reserved government departments.

See series reclassification guide in the Public Sector Employment tables for more detail on changes to the civil service.

Other Public Bodies

32. 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.

33. 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 was classed as a Public Corporation and in October 2019 was reclassified to Central Government. .

See series reclassification guide in the Public Sector Employment tables for more detail on changes to public bodies.

NHS employment

34. 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 data available as at 30 September 2019. http://www.isdscotland.org/Health-Topics/Workforce/

Data on GMPs and GDPs as at 30 September 2019



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

35. 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

36. 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.

37. 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.

See series reclassification guide in the Public Sector Employment tables for more detail on changes to the NHS employment series

Further Education

38. Information for further education colleges in Scotland was 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.

Public Corporations

39. 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.

40. 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


Glasgow Prestwick Airport (from Q4 2013)


Crown Estate Scotland (Interim Management) (from Q2 2017)


Calmac Ferries Limited


Registered Social Landlords (included from Q3 2001 and removed from Q3 2018 onwards)


Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (from Q1 2008)

Train Operating Companies (TOCs) (from 1 April 2020)

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)


Vehicle and Operator Services (merged with Driving Standards Agency in Q2 2014 to form the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency which in October 2019 was reclassified to Central Government)


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 (removed from Q1 2011 as transferred to Central Government as Magnox Limited)


Channel Four television Corporation


Aberdeen Harbour Board (removed from Q3 2015 as transferred to the private sector)


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


British Wool Marketing Board (from Q3 2009)


Oil and Pipeline Agency (from Q1 2013)


Medical Research Council Technology (from Q1 2016)


AWE Management Limited (from Q1 2014)


NPL Management Limited (from Q2 2017)


Shared Services Connected Limited (from Q4 2015 to Q2 2017)


Bank of England

Train Operating Companies (TOCs) (from 1 April 2020)

See series reclassification guide in the Public Sector Employment web tables for more detail on changes to public corporations.

Public Sector Financial Institutions

41. 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. Lloyds Banking Group plc. (Q1 2014) and Direct Line Group (Q3 2013) have been reclassified back to the private sector.

42. 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.

43. The inclusion of financial institutions in the public sector employment estimates are as a result of recapitalisation agreements (support provided by the government) and the resulting control which the government gained in these organisations, including decisions on: 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.

44. 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).

45. 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

46. 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 these 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.

Local Government Employment

47. A number of local government staff have transferred to arm’s length organisations which are part of the private sector under National Accounts definitions. For example, staff transferred from Scottish Borders Council to SB Cares on 1st April 2015 and from Angus Council to Angus Alive on 1st December 2015 thus explaining part of the decrease in local government employment.

See series reclassification guide in the Public Sector Employment web tables for more detail on changes to local government.​

Private Sector Employment

48. 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. 

Estimates for total employment and private sector employment are based on the Labour Force Survey, ONS.  ONS Labour Force Survey (LFS) estimates for July to September 2022 onwards have been reweighted, causing a step change discontinuity. Therefore, the LFS reweighting exercise creates a break in the series between June 2022 and September 2022 for regional total employment and regional private sector employment.

Further details of the reweighting of the ONS Labour Force Survey estimates can be found in the ONS Impact of reweighting on Labour Force Survey key indicators article.

49. 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


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