Stats on the LG workforce

What do we know about the workforce?

There are some key national workforce statistics which can to help define where the sector is and can help define the issues for local and regional action. For a number of years, the LGA has conducted two regular surveys which have provided a snapshot of the workforce; the workforce survey  and the earnings survey. We also make use of key national statistics such as the quarterly public employment survey. 

In some cases we have similar data available from 2009/10 (or close to that date) when the last version of a national workforce strategy was produced. We are therefore able to make basic comparisons with the most recent surveys to see what change, if any, has taken place over the years; this is helpful in assessing where the big challenges lie and what has been achieved in the period since 2010. This section looks in some detail at various key statistics including:

  • workforce numbers
  • the profile of the workforce in pay bands
  • sickness absence levels
  • labour turnover and vacancies
  • recruitment and retention difficulties
  • training spend and off-the-job provision
  • leadership diversity
  • pay bill
  • pay rates
  • workforce attitudes. 

Continuing research 

The data used in this summary give a useful national picture of the overall character of the workforce. It is of course extremely important for councils and their partners to look in detail at what their own statistics tell them about the local workforce and to carry out further research if necessary. The LGA will assess the priorities for further national research and look at how this might best be managed. 

Workforce numbers (ONS quarterly employment survey)

Broadly, the figures show that:

  • the number of people employed reduced by close to a fifth
  • women continue to make up three-quarters of the workforce
  • part time workers make up over fifty per cent of the people employed
  • temporary and casual employment reduced by a quarter. 

The table shows the latest data for 2016, the earliest available comparable data (2012) and the percentage change


Q3 2012

Q3 2016

% change





Full-Time Equivalent (FTE):





459,900 (24.1%)*

379,200 (24.1%)*



1,443,100 (75.9%)

1,191,400 (75.9%)



867,400 (45.6%)

721,400 (45.9%)



1,035,600 (54.4%)

849,200 (54.1%)



1,644,600 (86.4%)

1,377,100 (87.7%)



258,400 (13.6%)

193,500 (12.3%)


*as a percentage of headcount
Source: Office for National Statistics quarterly data on local government workforce numbers in England and Wales, which includes non-teaching staff in schools. 

Between 2012 and 2016 the basic makeup of the workforce in terms of gender and full and part-time employees has remained pretty constant. Some of the reduction in numbers is accounted for by outsourcing and academisation.

Workforce Profile (LGA Earnings Survey)

One of the most important basic characteristics of the workforce is the way in which it is stratified. While a discussion on workforce should not be approached in hierarchical terms, there needs to be a clear sense of the proportions of staff with different skills and capabilities. The charts below show the distribution of staff in broad informal pay bands (defined nationally).

Percentage of workforce in pay bands headcount









Percentage of workforce in pay bands fte








The numbers illustrated in the charts are as follows:

  • 330,010 staff (equivalent to 108,800 full-time employees (FTEs)) earn below £15,000 basic per annum, approximately 26 per cent of the total mainstream local government workforce (or 13 per cent of the total FTE workforce)
  • 470,540 staff (equivalent to 321,100 FTE) earn between £15,000 and £21,000 basic per annum, approximately 37 per cent of the total mainstream local government workforce (or 37 per cent of the total FTE workforce)
  • 440,060 staff (equivalent to 389,600 FTE) earn between £21,000 per annum and £42,050, approximately 34 per cent of the total mainstream local government workforce (or 45 per cent of the total FTE workforce)
  • 48,360 staff (equivalent to 43,060 FTE) earn over £42,050, approximately 5 per cent of the total mainstream local government workforce (or 5 per cent of the total FTE workforce). 

Local government provides a huge range of services, reflected in the around 800 distinct occupations in the sector. There is a complex picture with large numbers of employees in lower-skilled and unskilled jobs as well as a significant number of medium to higher-skilled jobs; quite different approaches are needed for each group and any strategy must reflect this. Nevertheless it can be seen for example that it is important to get unskilled staff involved in proper career development and to enhance the skills and capabilities of those with low-medium skill sets if people at all levels are to fulfil their potential. This directly links with one of the key objectives of Matthew Taylor’s 2017 report  on modern working practices, which argued that all staff including the lower paid should have the opportunity to progress. 

One area of progress for local government however is equal pay. The LGA Earnings Survey shows that the local government gender pay gap (based on full-time median basic pay) was zero in 2014/15. It is important to keep monitoring this indicator, especially with statutory reporting requirements now in place.

Sickness absence 

On average, 4.9 per cent of days were lost due to sickness, 8.8 days per FTE employee in 2015/16. The earliest available comparable figures are for 2011/12 when on average 4.2 per cent of days were lost, 8.4 days per FTE employee. This suggests that the situation remains fairly constant. The most common cause of sickness absence in 2015/16 was “stress, depression, anxiety, mental health and fatigue” (22.3 per cent of days lost).

Labour turnover and vacancies 

There was a median average labour turnover rate of 13.2 per cent and a median average vacancy rate of 5.4 per cent in 2015/16. Comparable figures are available for 2009/10 which show a turnover rate of 10 percent and a vacancy rate of 8 per cent. 

There may be a number of reasons for a change in turnover rates and this rise needs to be looked at in more detail to see whether it is indicating a problem or reflects in-year redundancies; for example, employers could make more use of exit interviews or find ways to improve the information gathered through them.

Recruitment and retention difficulties

71 per cent of councils said that they were experiencing recruitment and retention difficulties in 2015/16 compared with 52 per cent in 2009/10. This change probably masks peaks and troughs over recent years during which many councils have had temporary recruitment freezes. Long-term recruitment and retention difficulties mean that many key skills may be lacking in organisations.

The main challenges have historically been in children’s social work and this continues; 74 per cent of councils have difficulties in 2015/16 and 72 per cent reported difficulties in 2009/10 recruiting in this area. 

55 per cent of Shire districts especially report recent difficulties for planning officers so it can be argued that some longstanding and some fairly new issues combine to demonstrate that much more work is needed on stable long-term recruitment and retention policies. 


In 2015/16 there was a median of 11 apprentices, 10 work experience placements and one graduate placement per council. In 2009 the average number of apprentices was 10, so the intervening years have not brought much net change as yet. 

Training spend per head and level of off-the-job training 

The average spend per head on training in 2008/09 was £273; in 2015/16 it was £159 which is a considerable real-term cut. The figure represents a potential spend of £175m in 2015/16

On average 0.95 days were spent on off-the-job training per employee,  a potential of 1 million training days across local government in 2015/16

Leadership diversity 

In 2015/16 on average 45.4 per cent of the top five per cent of earners were women, 4.2 per cent were from BAME groups and 3.1 per cent had a disability. 

In 2009 the figures showed an average of 40 per cent of the top five per cent of earners in councils were women, an average of 3 per cent had a disability, and an average of 2 per cent came from BAME groups, a marginal improvement. 

By way of a quick comparison with the general population, based on 2011 census, 21 per cent of the working age population identified with an ethnic group other than white British.

Pay bill 

The total gross pay bill in England and Wales, which comprises the basic pay bill plus all additional pay elements (which, for example, includes overtime, shift premium pay, bonus and incentive payments) was £22.2 billion in 2014/15.

Pay rates 

The median FTE gross pay rate for full-time staff was £25,520 and for part-time staff was £17,280 in 2014/15.

Workforce attitudes

To improve engagement and performance, we need to understand the views and attitudes of the workforce. All councils need to ensure that they make strong efforts to have a dialogue with the workforce and tools are available to help them do this.

Across the workforce as a whole, in 2016 the LGA, working with the PPMA, commissioned the New Local Government Network to carry out a major piece of research called Outside the Box . 

One of the questions asked of a sample of employees in the report was about their motivations for working in local government. The answers are shown in the chart below. We can see not just the continued importance of ethos, work/life balance, pensions and even job security (despite recent redundancy programmes) but also the lower importance attached to terms and conditions and career development. It is arguable that this is because expectations are low to begin with and there is therefore a challenge to improve this picture and to deliver long term sustainability both in the current workforce and in attracting the workforce of the future.

Motivations for working in local government image