robyn munro-131At present, almost 44,000 civil servants are working in Scotland: 27,000 for UK Government departments and around 17,000 for the Scottish Government. It is not clear what will happen to these civil servants in the event of independence, says Robyn Munro. 

The Scottish Government’s White Paper states that it will ‘work with the Westminster Government to preserve continuity of employment for all staff, either by transfer to the Scottish Government or through continued employment by the Westminster Government’. An independent Scotland would also need to develop new functions not currently present in Scotland. Institute for Government research published today helps shed light on these issues and the scale of adjustment required for both the Scottish Government and Whitehall.

As the Scottish people prepare to go to the polls on September 18th, much attention has been focused on how easily Scotland could ‘divorce’ from the rest of the UK, and how assets such as the pound and the national debt would be shared. One of the most important assets that will have to be divided is the Home Civil Service. The majority of UK Government departments have some of their staff based in Scotland, many of whom carry out functions on behalf of the rest of the UK. Conversely, some UK departments have few or no staff in Scotland but perform roles that an independent Scotland would have to take on, requiring new capacity to be built up north of the border.

Location of departmental workforce (Headcount) (Departmental group – including agency staff) (Q1 2013)
Source: Institute for Government analysis of Civil Service Statistics 2013 (data at 31 March 2013). Data includes agencies, excludes not reported.

Few departments would be unaffected by Scottish independence. Just five UK Government departments – DCMS, DfE, DCLG, FCO and CO – have no staff in Scotland. In the case of DfE, DCMS and DCLG, this reflects the fact that these policy areas are largely or fully devolved and are already under control of the Scottish Government: in the event of independence, no exchange of staff would be required. This is not to say that these departments would be unaffected – DCMS, for example, is the parent department of the BBC, and would therefore be involved in negotiations over BBC assets.

At the other end of the spectrum are departments which serve the UK as a whole, such as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Treasury and the Ministry of Defence. The Scottish Government at present has no policy responsibility and therefore little capacity in these areas. Following a Yes vote the Scottish Government would need to build up its capacity in these areas either through the transfer of staff from Whitehall to Scotland, through the hiring and/or training of new staff, or through cooperative arrangements with the UK Government.

Other UK departments have a more complex territorial profile, either because staff based in Scotland carry out services for the rest of the UK, or because staff located in England, Wales or NI also serve Scotland. Independence would result in the loss of capacity for both the Scottish and UK Governments and would most likely require transfer, re-training or hiring of new staff.

  • The Home Office is responsible for a number of policies – such as immigration, border control and counter-terrorism – at a UK level.
  • The Department for Work and Pensions has a relatively high proportion of staff based in Scotland, at 11% of total headcount. It is likely that an independent Scotland would seek to retain these staff to implement its own welfare system. However, some DWP staff in Scotland process benefits for claimants in the rest of the UK: and some claims for Scottish clients are processed in England.
  • HMRC also has a high proportion – 12 per cent – of its total staff based in Scotland, providing services for clients across the UK.
  • Almost a third of the Department for International Development’s workforce is currently based in Scotland, in the department’s East Kilbride office.

Distribution of grades by UK department (Headcount) (departmental group – including agencies) (Q1 2013)

Munro chart 2

Source: Institute for Government analysis of Annual Civil Service Employment Survey, via NOMIS (data at 31 March 2013).

In the event of independence the Scottish civil service would not only require an adjustment in terms of absolute staff numbers but also a rebalancing of the grades and experience levels of its employees. As the chart above shows, UK department staff based in Scotland are drawn disproportionately from the lower grades (AA, AO and EO), with few senior civil servants. The Department for Energy and Climate Change, for example, has 25% of its AO and AA-grade staff based in Scotland, but not a single senior civil servant, while the Department for Work and Pensions has just 10 senior civil servants overseeing over 10,000 operational and administrative staff. Across the piece it is likely that the Scottish Government would need to recruit additional senior staff to cover the newly acquired policy responsibilities.

The data above illustrates some of the complexities and challenges that would be involved in the creation of a Scottish civil service. It would very likely require more than the automatic transfer of all UK government staff currently based in Scotland into a new Scottish administration. Moreover, the impact of Scottish independence would be felt across Whitehall, with the loss of staff numbers and capability a very real possibility.

Note: This article was originally published on the Institute for Government’s blog and gives the views of the author, and not the position of the British Politics and Policy blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please read our comments policy before posting. Featured image credit: Ninian Reid CC BY 2.0

About the Author

robyn munro-131Robyn Munro joined the Institute for Government in August 2013. Her work has focused on coalition governments and how the civil service works with political parties. Prior to joining the Institute she worked for a public affairs consultancy advising clients from the social housing, green energy and property development sectors. She has a BA in History from the University of Oxford and an MSc in Public Policy from the University of Bristol.

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