Perspectives Across Frontiers
New Horizons in Public Policy series
Edited by Leo W.J.C. Huberts, Jeroen Maesschalk and Carole L. Jurkiewicz
Chapter 2: The Evolution of the British Public Service Ethos: A Historical Institutional Approach to Explaining Continuity and Change
Wouter Vandenabeele and Sylvia Horton INTRODUCTION An important aspect of the British Home Civil Service throughout its history has been the continuous presence of the Public Service Ethos (PSE). Woodhouse (1997) describes PSE as ‘an amalgam of beliefs and norms or conventions of behaviour [concerning public service]’. This ethos serves as an ethical code for civil servants and public oﬃcials (Greenaway, 1995; O’Toole, 1997, 2000). In addition to a guidance function, it also has a motivational aspect (Chapman, 1997; Reeves, 2004). Although some authors contest the idea of PSE, it is generally accepted as a core element of British public administration and its principles are defended by the major political parties in the UK. The aims of this chapter are threefold: ﬁrst, to investigate the emergence of PSE since the creation of the modern civil service in the mid 19th century; second, to identify the elements of continuity and change in PSE throughout the twentieth century and third, to explain variations in the content using a historical-institutional theoretical framework. Our analysis spans 150 years from the origins of the modern civil service in 1853 to the present day. The chapter is divided into six sections. Each section describes the historical context and the key events impacting on the PSE, and then seeks to explain the process using our historical, institutional, theoretical framework. HISTORICAL INSTITUTIONALISM AS A THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK The theory of historical institutionalism oﬀers an interesting framework within which to analyse PSE. Peters (2000: 18) deﬁnes...
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