The State at Work, Volume 2

The State at Work, Volume 2

Comparative Public Service Systems

Edited by Hans-Ulrich Derlien and B. Guy Peters

Representing the most extensive research on public employment, this volume explores the radical changes that have taken place in the configuration of national public services due to a general expansion of public employment that was followed by stagnation and decreases. Part-time employment and the involvement of women also increased as a component of the public sector and were linked to the most important growth areas such as the educational, health care and personal social services sectors. The two volumes that make up this study shed important insight on these changes.

Chapter 3: Public Employment and Multilevel Governance in Unitary and Federal Systems

Helen Nelson

Subjects: economics and finance, public sector economics, politics and public policy, public policy


Helen Nelson As policy agendas change, so public workforces expand or contract, across policy areas and across levels of government. In the period since the end of the Second World War, public sector employment in all countries, unitary and federal, in this present sample has undergone two major changes of direction: a period of extensive expansion followed by one of withdrawal and cutback, the former generated by the introduction of welfare state social policies and the latter a response to economic exigencies and/or reversion to ‘small government’ ideologies. The initial impact of the post-war welfare state agendas was evidenced in a substantial growth in public sector employment, most notably at subnational government levels. Governmental responses to the management of the newly expanded workforces varied, shaped by diverse cultural, political and administrative historical legacies. Overriding the national differences, however, governments trod a common evolutionary path. In common among the countries included in this study, the period of workforce expansion was accompanied by reorganizations of the machinery of government, particularly at the sub-national levels and most particularly in the rapidly expanding health and education policy areas. The subsequent period of restraint and cutback in public employment in the 1980s and 1990s and the complexities entailed in planning, resourcing and delivering universal social policy programmes spawned a spreading intertwinement of the functions of governments at different levels. The resultant multilevel government profiles show relatively smaller-sized national-level governments adopting a planning and monitoring role whilst devolving ‘hands-on’ responsibilities to the sub-national...

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