International Challenges and Perspectives
Edited by Jeffrey A. Raffel, Peter Leisink and Anthony E. Middlebrooks
Chapter 3: Explaining Radical Policy Change Against All Odds: The Role of Leadership, Institutions, Program Design and Policy Windows
Harald Sætren INTRODUCTION By the mid-1990s Britain was considered the undisputed leader in Western Europe, having initiated and carried through large-scale reforms in the public sector since 1980, and ranked second only to New Zealand in a global perspective (Naschold 1996, p. 23). The precipitating events to this more recent reform era, nowadays commonly referred to as new public management (NPM), manifested themselves somewhat earlier in Britain than New Zealand. Thus, the claim that Britain was the cradle of the NPM movement seems quite plausible. Before 1980 things were quite different. Britain was a laggard rather than a leader in terms of public sector reforms. Obstacles to substantial change in well established institutions and practices were considered almost insuperable (Chapman and Greenaway 1980; Garrett 1980; Metcalfe and Richards 1992; Plowden 1980; Ponting 1986). This pessimistic assessment of the British civil service was probably quite accurate given the dismal track records of previous reform efforts. How then can we explain Britain’s transition from laggard to leader in public sector reforms within this relatively short time period? This is the main research question of this chapter. In order to find an answer, we have to go back to the beginning of this new reform period in Britain and identify the crucial events and circumstances that both enabled and triggered the dramatic policy shift that took place. Thus, we have to focus on the Thatcher government that came to power in 1979 with a very ambitious public sector reform program and a...
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