A survey released by ManpowerGroup has shown that public sector employers are preparing to hire at the fastest pace since 2015, as NHS staff shortages and the rejection of austerity at the election encourages managers to recruit more workers.
There are around 5.1 million public sector workers in the UK excluding banks rescued in the financial crisis, 1.6 million who work for the NHS and 1.5 million working in education.
Although public sector salaries increased compared with those in the private sector during and after the 2008 recession, the government’s cap on pay has led to the difference returning to its pre-crisis level.
According to figures from the Office for National Statistics, the number of staff employed in the public sector has fallen by about 1 million since September 2009.
The ManpowerGroup poll surveyed 2,100 employers across nine different sectors and found that a net balance of 6% were planning to increase staff levels rather than make cuts in the final months of the year. In the public sector, the balance improved by four percentage points to 2%, the biggest rise in two years.
James Hick, the managing director of ManpowerGroup Solutions, said, “The public sector has really got to get a grip now and start hiring again with gusto across the civil service, the NHS and prison service.”
Average weekly earnings for public sector staff were £511 in June, compared with £506 in the private sector during the same month, according to the ONS. Meanwhile, the TUC estimates the cap has meant that some workers have lost more than £4,000 in real terms from their salary since 2010, amid rising inflation.
In turn, the cap has led to some hiring issues. Earlier this year, there were over 86,000 vacancies in the NHS earlier this year and the government has said it will train an additional 1,500 doctors a year and create 20,000 new mental health posts. “With the health service so heavily dependent on EU nationals, these hiring targets are going to be extremely difficult to meet,” Hick said.
The TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, has said removing the cap could help to ease some pressure on the government’s benefit bill, while also helping to raise pay in the private sector to boost the economy.
As has been widely reported, Brexit is also having an impact on UK recruitment. Official data shows a slowing trend for EU workers coming to Britain, which some business leaders have warned could lead to labour and skills shortages.
“We’re seeing very considerable numbers of EU workers leaving the construction sector, which is creating skill shortages. We see this across the job market as a whole, but it starts to become very acute here,” Hick said.
Regionally, London has been the hardest hit with confidence surrounding hiring at a low. The east of England has the strongest regional outlook at 11%, while employers in Northern Ireland expect to hire more staff following the payment of £1bn by the Conservatives to secure backing by the Democratic Unionist party.
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