SAS UK: Public sector shrinks long-term, but figures up on 2001

Government now employs a smaller percentage of the working population than it did in 1951

19-12-2012 — / — 2011 Census data released today shows a dramatic shift in the demographics of the UK over the past 60 years, including significant changes to the make-up of Britain’s public sector. Census data obtained by business analytics firm, SAS, shows that despite the austerity measures of the last few years, the number of people employed by public administration and defence has in fact increased, rising from 1.3m in 2001 to 1.5 in 2011.

However, when you consider Census data from the past 60 years, the public administration and defence sector now employs a smaller percentage of the working population than it did in 1951. The data reveals that 7.9% of the working population were employed in public administration and defence in 1951, falling to 6% in the 2011 Census. In comparison, while wholesale retail remained our biggest industry between 1951 and 2011, it has almost doubled in size, with a percentage increase of 75.7%.

Simon Dennis, central government director at SAS UK said: “The 2011 Census shows that the public sector workforce is not growing in line with the UK population, but has in fact shrunk over the course of the last 60 years. Interestingly though, despite the austerity measures of the past few years, the data shows that the number of people employed by public administration and defence has yet to fall below figures from the 2001 Census (1,351,471). This underlines the importance of trusting the data, rather than gut feelings when it comes to decision making in government.”

“With austerity measures now set to continue until 2018, the public sector needs to ensure it is maximising what it does have, as well as retaining a workforce with the right balance of individuals to deliver the UK population the services they require.”

Census data is an incredibly valuable tool for organisations across the UK, and especially the public sector, helping to inform decisions relating to all manner of topics. After all, a changing demographic means a shift in the services which the population needs.

For example, an aging population has all sorts of implications for public services, particularly the care and health sectors.  Longer working hours could have repercussions for the health sector if people aren’t finding time to exercise or there are more stress-related illnesses. All of this information can be used by government to better inform policy making.

Dennis continues: “The lives of average people have changed dramatically over the past 60 years and the make-up of the UK in 2011 is now markedly different to the way it looked back in 1971. Future changes to the UK population are likely to be just as dramatic, if not more so.

“The government will increasingly need to rely on up-to-the-minute information, which it can use to make evidence-based decisions to inform policy-making. With the UK’s austerity measures set to last until 2018, never has there been a more pressing time for public servants to use the citizen insights at their disposal to allocate internal resources and deliver public services as efficiently as possible.

“The census is a valuable barometer for public sector bodies, but in the age where the government is pursuing its own Digital by Default and Open Data initiatives the public sector needs to focus its efforts internally on making better and more frequent use of population data available to it. This should be shared across all departments to produce insights that truly cater for the evolving needs of our nation.”


SAS is the leader in business analytics software and services, and the largest independent vendor in the business intelligence market. Through innovative solutions, SAS helps customers at more than 60,000 sites improve performance and deliver value by making better decisions faster. Since 1976 SAS has been giving customers around the world THE POWER TO KNOW® .

For further information, please contact the team at the SAS press office on:
Tel: +44 (0) 1628 490490
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