The latest data show there were 581,300 people employed in the public sector in Scotland in Q3 2012. That amounts to 23.5 percent of total employment and 22.3 percent if one excludes the public sector financial institutions that the state took a majority stake in during the financial crisis.
It is worth noting that the share of total employment accounted for by the public sector is now less than in Q3 1999 when 23.8 percent of total jobs were in the public sector.
The public sector has been shedding jobs since 2009-2010 when fiscal austerity began in earnest.
The track of jobs in total and in public and private sector is presented in the following chart:
The chart smoothes the data using a four-quarter moving average because the published data are not seasonally adjusted. What the chart shows is that around 7 percent of public sector jobs have been lost since either the pre-recession economy peak, or (in brackets in the chart) since the previous public sector employment peak. The figure for FTE jobs is similar. This amounts to 44,000 jobs lost using the smoothed series or 52,000 jobs from the actual data (I have excluded the banks and put them back in the private sector).
What has been the effect on the Scottish economy as a whole?
If we ignore possible multiplier, or knock-on, spending effects of the public sector job loss, and wages and price effects of the job loss, we can say that if public sector employment had remained unchanged at its peak then total employment would have followed the purple line in the graph. That is, by Q3 2012 total jobs would have been -1.6 percent below the pre-recession peak compared to -3.4 percent below.
So, if this calculation is anywhere near correct, the effect of the fiscal consolidation in departmental and local authority job losses alone - excluding cuts in spending in addition to jobs and tax rises - has not been trivial. The recession would have been little different but the recovery would have been stronger.
There is no evidence here that public job losses have led to much, if any, private sector job creation as resources have been freed up. This is because the economy has laboured under a prolonged deficiency of aggregate demand and has not been constrained by supply.
And sadly, the cuts themselves will have contributed to that deficiency of demand.