THE shape of Oxfordshire’s biggest employers is changing, a major new report has revealed.

While the six largest remain in the public sector, the past year has seen thousands of jobs disappear from them – many from Oxfordshire County Council.

As a result, the authority has been replaced at the top of the Oxfordshire Top 100 Employers survey released today by Oxford University.

In the last five years the council has seen its workforce dwindle from 22,000 to 15,902. Oxford University tops the list with 16,200.

County council spokesman Paul Smith said: “Some of the drop will be due to the cuts that all councils are experiencing.

“However, a very large part of it will be due to schools converting to academy status and therefore no longer being classified as part of the council/local education authority.

“Those education-based drops will therefore not be job losses, merely people in continuing jobs no longer being counted as council employees.”

But while the public sector declines, the private sector appears to be mopping up the available workforce, with many employers showing significant growth over the past 12 months.

Leading the way is Bicester-based fruit and vegetable wholesaler Fresh Direct which has seen its workforce more than double from 514 to 1,036, meaning it has moved from 33rd to 13th largest employer.

The Cowley Mini plant remains the county’s biggest manufacturing and private sector employer with 4,000 employees, up from 3,700 last year.

Parent company BMW recently made a £750m investment in Mini production, creating 1,000 permanent contract positions at its four UK plants, with the majority coming to Oxford, so that figure looks set to rise significantly next year.

Another Bicester employer, British Bakels, which makes products for the baking industry, has seen massive expansion over the past decade, having moved from Slough in 1995 with just 54 employees.

Last month the company opened a new £500,000 state-of-the-art baking centre and the firm employs 175 staff compared to 150 last year.

Managing director Paul Morrow said: “We employ a wide range of people – 100 have no qualifications except being loyal, dedicated employees, whom we train in various skills, but we also have 15 graduate scientists, plus computer people, accounts staff and engineers.”

The current Oxfordshire Business of the Year, medical devices manufacturer Owen Mumford, has seen employee numbers at its bases in Woodstock and Chipping Norton swell from 567 last year to 595.

Bosses aim to fulfil a pre-recession plan to double in size by 2020.

Managing director Jarl Severn, pictured, said: “We have doubled in size in the last 10 years and have invested more than £10m in increasing our capacity, plus expanding our international sales activities.”

  • The Oxfordshire Top 100 Employers survey is printed today in the In Business magazine published with the Oxford Mail’s sister title, The Oxford Times