Public Sector & Government

Public sector & Government employment consists of three main areas:

  • Central government and Civil Service;
  • regional and devolved government; and
  • local governments.


Central Government and Civil Service

Central government and civil service breaks down into:

  • Departments - these are usually headed by a minister, or in the case of non-ministerial department by a senior civil servant. They are responsible for devising policies and ensuring that they are implemented.
  • Agencies - largely independent organisations that carry out the policies decided upon by government.
  • Non-departmental public bodies - these are not part of government departments and are not staffed by civil servants. Examples include regional development agencies and national park authorities.

Regional and devolved government

The National Assembly for Wales represents all the people of Wales and provides a democratically elected and accountable body responsible for the most important public services. It also has the power to make subordinate legislation to meet Welsh circumstances. Business is conducted bilingually in Welsh and English. It has two distinct areas, each with its own responsibilities. The Welsh Assembly Government covers economic development, health, education and other affairs.

The Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government, previously known as Scottish Executive, were established in 1999. The Scottish Government is based mainly in Edinburgh and Glasgow. It operates in a similar way to the UK government with certain legislative and policymaking responsibilities. It is responsible for most of the issues of day-to-day concern to the people of Scotland, including health, education and training, justice, rural affairs and transport, amongst many others.

The Scotland Office represents Scottish interests in those matters (such as defence and foreign affairs) still reserved to the UK Parliament by the Scotland Act and promotes the devolution settlement for Scotland.

The Northern Ireland Assembly was first created in 1998 under the Good Friday Agreements. It has been suspended on a number of occasions since then. The latest suspension came to an end in 2007. Since then, the Assembly has had devolved responsibility for most of the day-to-day matters of the people living in Northern Ireland. These include education, health, environment and culture and arts, amongst others.

The Northern Ireland Office is headed by a UK MP and currently has responsibility for Northern Ireland’s constitutional and security issues, in particular, law and order, and policing. It has a number of agencies tasked with executing these powers.

Local Government

Local government is the collective term for local councils, sometimes referred to as local authorities. Local authorities work within the powers laid down under various acts of parliament. Their functions are far-reaching. Some are mandatory, which means that the authority must do what is required by law. Others are discretionary, allowing an authority to provide services if it wishes.

Local councils are made up of elected councillors (members) and council staff. Decisions are made by these elected members; council staff carry out the policies as well as briefing council committees on possible future policy. Councils either provide services directly to the public or arrange for others to do so.

What kind of work can I do?

The opportunities offered by central government are countless, as they need generalists and specialists in all areas. They classify their opportunities into three broad categories:

  • Corporate services delivery - provides key services to departments that are fundamental to the successful conduct of their business, such as human resources, finance, IT and communications.
  • Operational delivery - focuses on the provision of top quality services direct to the public, ensuring excellence in projects and processes, and has significant management responsibilities.
  • Policy delivery - research, analysis and the development of government policy.

What’s it like working in this sector?

What is it like Working in the Public Sector

The public sector offers reasonably secure employment, a strong continuous professional development ethos and the knowledge that the work has a significant influence on the quality of people’s lives. The length of time it takes to get things approved can be frustrating, and changes in legislation or funding lead to unforeseen obstacles as well as new opportunities. Salary varies depending on type of public sector employer, role, level of experience, and location. Working hours tend to be well regulated and many local, regional and national government institutions operate flexi-time systems and offer generous holidays.

How big is the public sector?

In 2008, almost three million people were employed by the local government and almost 2.5 million people by the central government. The public sector, including the NHS, is one of the largest employers in the UK, employing 19.5% of the UK workforce.

Where can I work?

Opportunities to work for the national government exist in many places in the UK. Only 1 in 5 civil servants are based in London.

The Scottish Government, Welsh Assembly Government and Northern Ireland Office employ over 24,000 staff, mainly in Edinburgh, Glasgow; Cardiff; and Belfast.

Opportunities to work in local government exist everywhere within the 468 local authorities throughout the UK.

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