By Marcus Leach

The number of people employed in local government fell sharply over the past two years as councils tightened their belts during the recession, new analysis of the local government workforce reveals.

Local government employment reduced by more than 15,000 full-time equivalent jobs - a 1.5% decrease - between 2008/09 and 2010/11. The number of people working in mainstream local government jobs currently stands at 1,697,100. The reduction came at a time when overall public sector employment increased by 4.5%.

Research carried out by the Local Government Group shows that the pay bill for mainstream local government workers, including bonuses and overtime, was £26.4 billion in 2010/11 — an increase of 1.2% from 2008/09. This equates to a real terms fall of 5.4% when inflation is taken into account.

Average salaries for local government workers below chief officer level have gone up by 3.9% over the last two years - which represents a real terms fall of 2.7% - compared to earnings growth of 7.1% in the wider public sector.

The research also shows that these workers in local government have the lowest average earnings compared to other groups of workers in the public sector. Looking at pay rates in terms of full-time equivalent jobs, 45% are paid at less than £18,000 a year and a further 27% are paid at between £18,000 and £24,000.