Public sector employment soars

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Norway’s public sector just keeps getting bigger. The number of employees on the state payroll has jumped by 12,000 since Labour Party leader Jens Stoltenberg took over as Prime Minister four years ago, and his government’s proposed state budget calls for lots more hiring.

Fully 112 state ministries and/or agencies have boosted staffing since Stoltenberg’s left-center government coalition first took office in 2005, reports newspaper Aftenposten . In Oslo alone, one out of every 10 persons in the current workforce go to work for the state. In other cities, the percentage is higher and in outlying districts much higher. In some areas, the public sector can be bigger than the private sector, not least when local county and municipal employment is included.

Two out of three state entities plan to boost staffing further. Around 140,000 persons are currently on the state payroll and the numbers will rise in 2010, not least because of the Stoltenberg government’s budget proposal that boosts state services and involves stimulus programs to offset the global finance crisis.The figures include all state-funded public agencies from colleges, universities and the police academy to individual institutions like welfare agency NAV, state mapping agency Statens Kartverk , the state tax agency (Skatteetaten) and immigration agency UDI.

The jump in state employees is linked to such things as restructuring, reforms, new services or duties or new regulation, reports Aftenposten . In addition to the much-publicized hiring at NAV and, now, the police, agencies like Statens Kartverk claims it needed 147 new employees, for example, because politicians decided to include new real estate transactions and listings among its duties. Other agencies also claim they have been handed new assignments,, and thus need new workers to complete them.

Einar Lie, a professor at the University of Oslo, describes the state payroll expansion as big in a historical perspective. There were big jumps in the 1960s and 1970s as well, he notes, but that was when many women joined the workforce outside the home and the state took over many of their earlier tasks, for example through day care centers and care for the elderly.

Opposition politicians from Norway’s conservatives parties are predictably worried about the public sector expansion. Per-Kristian Foss, a former Finance Minister for the Conservatives (Høyre) warns that it will be difficult to reduce state payroll spending.

“Good times (like Norway has enjoyed the past several years) are dangerous when we pour out money,” Foss told Aftenposten . “In a company, they’d think it was necessary to be more creative with what you have, renew your systems, not just hire more people. The close ties between the left-center government and the labour unions holds back real renewal.”