Press release

Government gets a grip on numbers of non-payroll staff

For the first time, Cabinet Office has conducted an exercise to collect information on the total number of people working for government.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

For the first time, the Cabinet Office has conducted an exercise to collect information on the total number of people working for government, including the numbers of consultants, contractors and agency staff. This information has never previously been centrally collated.

The scoping exercise was commissioned by the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude to throw further light on the total number of people employed to support the work of the government. The figures are not official statistics, but management information which any large business needs to control on a day-to-day basis in order to run efficiently. Where these datasets are held, the new government has pledged to publish them wherever possible.

As part of this exercise, ministerial and non-ministerial departments, their executive agencies and non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) were asked to provide headcount for all their payroll and contingent staff, including agency workers, interim mangers, specialist contractors and consultants.

The returns from the exercise [available in XLS and CSV format] so far, which are currently incomplete suggest that:

  • some 640,000 payroll staff are employed in these organisations
  • around an additional 20,000 staff classified as contingent labour, suggesting some 3% of staff are non-payroll
  • the largest numbers are contingent labour are in the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Health and the Environment Agency

Commenting on the initial returns, Francis Maude said:

It’s important the government gets this kind of management information so that it can really get a grip on numbers.

Today’s figures may be a bit rough and ready, but we have to start gathering this kind of information straight away so that we know what the total workforce of government really is.  Until now we’ve only had an incomplete picture of the true numbers of people working for us. But as we continue to push forward with our efficiency agenda, we need to ensure managers have this kind of basic management information.

Even though today’s numbers may not be perfect, it’s important to put what we do know into the public domain straight away as we have promised to be more transparent about what is really going on in government.

Notes to editors

These figures are not official statistics. They are the initial results of a scoping exercise to gather workforce management information.

These figures have not been reconciled with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures and where they contradict, it is not an implication that the ONS figures are incorrect. As the figures being published are a scoping exercise it is not expected that they will correlate with ONS’ independent, quality assured programme.

Further explanatory notes are provided below.

For Cabinet Office press office contact details, visit GOV.UK.

Workforce Management Information scoping exercise: explanatory notes


The Cabinet Office has undertaken a quick scoping exercise on some key pieces of workforce management information relating to headcount and cost. Today (18 June 2010) - in the interests of transparency - we are publishing the returns received. There are however a number of significant issues with the quality, robustness and coverage of this information which must be considered in viewing these figures. The key definitions used are also outlined below.


It should be noted in viewing the figures:

  • these figures are not official statistics. They are the initial returns received to a scoping exercise on workforce management information. There is no intention to publish this information regularly
  • the figures are neither complete nor validated, the exercise was conducted under a short time frame limiting the time for quality assurance at an organisational level. No further validation was undertaken centrally. Some organisations have not submitted returns in the timeframe available
  • extreme caution should be exercised when drawing inferences from the figures. In particular, we do not recommend making comparisons between organisations as differences in how organisations have interpreted the definitions of for example, contingent labour may vary
  • staff numbers are as at the snapshot reference date 31 March 2010 and cost is for the financial year 2009 to 2010. For many organisations the data will come from different sources and therefore the headcount and cost data should not be directly compared
  • there were a number of common issues organisations raised in submitting returns. These included:
    • in many cases the number of consultants was not known as the procurement had specified the service to be delivered rather than the number of consultants required
    • In some organisations contingent labour figures are not held centrally because spending decisions are devolved and where they are it is not always possible to break down the different sorts of contingent labour nor to provide FTE figures
    • there is a risk that double counting may have occurred for example, when departmental staff are working in NDPBs
    • finally there is not always a clear boundary between what could be considered a wholly contracted out service as opposed to the use of contractors. Organisations may have interpreted this differently meaning that overall data may not be comparable

Definitions used

Payroll staff

An employee is anyone aged 16 years or over that your organisation directly pays from its payroll(s), in return for carrying out a full-time or part-time job or being on a training scheme. Each employee should have a contract of employment.

The following are included:

  • agency workers paid directly from the organisation’s payroll(s)
  • those temporarily absent but still on the payroll(s), for example on maternity leave.

The following are excluded:

  • agency workers paid directly from the agency payroll
  • the self-employed
  • voluntary workers
  • former employees only receiving a pension
  • directors who do not receive a salary

Permanent employees are those who have a contract with no agreed expiry date or a fixed term contract of more than 12 months (regardless of the amount of time remaining on the contract).

Temporary/casual employees are those who have a fixed term contract of 12 months or less or are employed on a casual basis.

Agency staff are normally lower grade individuals who are actually filling in for an administrative or clerical role within the organisational structure and ideally on a short term basis typically 3 to 9 months.

Specialist contractors and interim managers are concerned with the fulfillment of particular functional or senior management positions within the organisational structure and ideally on a short term basis typically 3 to 9 months.

OGC definition of consultancy: The provision to management of objective advice and assistance relating to strategy structure, management or operations of an organisation in pursuit of its purposes and objectives. Such assistance will be provided outside the ‘business-as-usual’ environment when in-house skills are not available and will be immaterial and time-limited. Services may include the identification of options with recommendations, or assistance with (but not the delivery of) the implementation of solutions.

FTE calculation: Full-time employees are counted as 1 full-time equivalent. Part-time employees’ hours should be converted into those worked by full-time employees. For example, if a part-time employee worked 10 hours per week and the full-time working week in your organisation was 37 hours then the part-time employee would equate to 0.27 full-time equivalents (10 divided by 37). Exclude paid and unpaid overtime from full-time equivalent calculations.

Suppression: numbers less than 5 have been suppressed.

Published 18 June 2010