aerial photo of Wellington
Chart of the Month: How big is the public sector in your area?

The public sector is a significant employer in New Zealand, and it’s well known that these jobs are concentrated in Wellington. But how significant is the public sector as an employer around the country, and what components of the public sector drive this?

A significant employer

The public sector is a significant employer, accounting for just under 390,000 jobs, 14% of all filled jobs in the year to March 2023. We’ve defined this using the ANZSIC Level 4 (500 industry) classification – classifying industries as being in the public sector if they are predominantly made up of the crown or crown entities. We’ve broken the public sector further into six key components – education (149,500 jobs), central government (97,200), health (90,800), public safety (31,400), defence (12,800) and local government (6,600).

This process is approximate as we can’t distinguish how much control the crown has over each industry. For example, the Sports and Physical Recreation Venues, Grounds and Facilities Operation includes a mix of local government and private facilities. Because we can’t establish what proportion is under local government control, we’ve left it out of our public sector numbers.

The public sector’s influence extends beyond employment too – there are industries which we have left out of our public sector definition, which receive significant subsidies from the public purse. Examples include General Practice Medical Services and Preschool Education – they surely wouldn’t be the size that they today are without heavy public sector involvement.

Wellington tops the table, of course

Unsurprisingly, Wellington tops the public sector table, with 30% of the city’s jobs in the public sector (Chart 1). Naturally, the largest component of these jobs is central government. However, moving down the list, we see a wider variety in areas and their largest component.

Defence is a modest component of the public sector overall, but its geographic concentration around bases pushes Upper Hutt (Trentham Military Camp) and Ruapehu (Waiouru Military Camp) to the second and fifth largest territorial authorities for public employment share respectively.

Education is the largest component of the public sector, and its omnipresence with schools in every territorial authority makes it the largest component of the public sector for most areas. Universities and polytechnics buoy education employment too, but this element is concentrated in larger centres, pushing Palmerston North and Dunedin to the third and fourth largest territorial authorities for public employment share.

Health is also a large component of the public sector, but it’s concentration in hospitals means that it isn’t the largest employer for most areas. Several provincial areas hosting regional hospitals have health as their largest public sector component – including Whangārei, Hastings and Grey.

What does the public sector look like in your area?

In Chart 2, we show all six components of the public sector for each territorial authority, with the ability to search for your area as well as sort by component. Looking at the public sector this way makes it easier to see the contribution of the smaller components – local government and public safety.

Local government is a relative minnow of the public sector, generally accounting for 1-3% of jobs in each area. Stratford District is a notable exception with local government accounting for 6% of jobs. Stratford is home to both the district council and regional council, unusual for a small centre. At the other end of the spectrum, just 0.2% of jobs in Western Bay of Plenty and Southland are in local government, as their councils are headquartered outside of their own districts.

Public safety incorporates the Police, Fire and Emergency, and Corrections. Public safety is typically a modest employer, especially in smaller centres where Police jobs may be focused in district headquarters in larger towns. Public safety employment is generally highest in areas with a prison – Ōtorohanga (10% of jobs), Upper Hutt (5%), Clutha (3%) and Whanganui (3%).

Finding out more about local employment

If you want to find out more about employment in your local area, have a look at our Regional Economic Profile, which was recently updated to incorporate employment data for the year to March 2023. The Regional Economic Profile includes data on overall employment trends and industry employment trends. In addition, the Industry Focus tool (included with Regional Economic Profile Advanced subscriptions) includes the ability to explore employment at the ANZSIC Level 4 (500 industry) level.

For more information, please contact your client contact or Nick Brunsdon ( or 027 322 1686).

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