A little bugbear of mine....
One of the many parables that does the rounds with regards to Scotland and its economy is the broad, unquestioning acceptance that Scotland has an unduly bloated public sector. Or, more precisely, that a disproportionate number of Scots (sometimes this extends to an outright "majority") work for the state in some capacity or other.
It is perhaps worth examining these beliefs to see how they stack up in reality. Fortunately, the Scottish Government, perhaps sensitive to the claims noted above, publish a quarterly tracker of the number of Scots employed in the public sector, expressed as a percentage of the overall working population.
The latest figures relate to Q3 of 2008 and were published just before Christmas. Quoting directly from the release and emphasising the important statistic (in bold):
- In quarter 3 (Q3) 2008, there were 575,700 people employed in the public sector which is an increase of 47,500 (9.0 per cent) since 1999 and an increase of 300 (0.04 per cent) since 2007.
- The public sector currently accounts for 22.6 per cent of employment in Scotland which has decreased from 22.8 per cent in Q3 1999 and increased slightly from 22.5 per cent over the year from Q3 2007.
In essence, therefore, just over a fifth of the Scottish workforce is employed by the state, and almost 80% of the workforce is employed within the private sector. Given such statistics, I can't really see why this leads to the degree of opprobrium that Scotland is afforded with respect to this issue.
Perhaps Scotland is substantially ahead of the other nations and regions of the United Kingdom in the league of public sector employment?
Well, it doesn't really seem that way either. According to these figures, it is true to say that England, overall, has lower public sector employment at just under 20% of the workforce, but the difference is quite clearly not significant - certainly not enough to warrant the column inches devoted to Scotland's supposed "dependence on the state" and the indigenous problems that such a situation poses for us.
Nonetheless, I think it is fair to say, that the numbers employed by government, local government and the Quangocracy that has mushroomed here since 1999, could probably be slimmed down much further.
But can we nail the myth, once and for all, that Scotland's employment situation is predicated on having a very heavy public sector? It just ain't true, I'm afraid.