Queensland Public Service employment grew more slowly than population in the year to March (finally!)

While yesterday’s focus was on the delivery of the 2021-22 Budget the Queensland Government also quietly slipped out the (delayed) bi-annual release of the Public Service Workforce statistics for March 2021. This showed total headcount within the Public Service rose 1.3% y/y in the face of a 1.6% y/y increase in population. Finally, the Government’s own Fiscal Principle #6 (to maintain public service employment growth no greater than population growth over the forward estimates) was met; at least for one year.

The problem with the Principle has been that over the forward estimates there has been little to no chance of ever meeting it (as we have discussed at length in previous posts). Indeed since March 2015, when this Government was first elected and the Principle established, population has grown 10% at an annual compounding rate of 1.6%; over the same period the FTE Public Service employment is up 16.9% at an annual compounding rate, more than one-and-half times faster than population, of 2.6%.

Fiscal Principle #6 was, from the start, badly drafted and in a time of sharply increasing demand for services, particularly health services, always going to be tough to achieve. For some time the Government have been discussing the ‘Coaldrake nuance’ which was to essentially remove the health and education sectors from the equation. In this latest Budget they have gone further than that and simply removed Fiscal Principle #6 altogether and rolled control of FTE growth into a reframed Fiscal Principle #2 (which talks about the need to maintain expenditures below revenues in the medium term to deliver sustainable net operating surpluses…good luck with that!).

When we consider growth in Queensland Health and Dept of Education employment we can see the attraction of the Coaldrake approach for the Government. Since March 2015, if we exclude health and education FTEs from the equation, FTE growth has been just 5.9% (an annual compounding rate of 1.0%) which is well below population growth; Queensland Health growth has been especially strong at 27.3% (annual 4.1%). Over the past year, excluding these two sectors, sees FTE growth almost non-existent at just 0.1%.

The report also provides data on FTEs at a regional level. This confirms that over the past 6 years Public Service growth has been a little faster in the regions than in Greater Brisbane (17.4% v 16.5%). In Cairns growth has been very much in line with that regional pace (+17.2%) while in Townsville it has been somewhat slower (+11.1%). Regions that have seen particularly strong growth include Sunshine Coast (new Sunshine Coast University Hospital opened in 2017) which is up 30.5% and the Gold Coast which is up 28.5%.

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