Politicians and Public Services

Politicians and Public Services

Implementing Change in a Clash of Cultures

Kate Jenkins

As a senior official in Mrs Thatcher’s government, the author describes in detail and from the inside the process of planning and introducing ‘executive agencies’, a major change in one of the largest governments in the world. She emphasises the intense difficulty involved in getting agreement to change and to implement decisions, discussing the problems of conflicting objectives between politicians and officials in dealing with the practicalities of managing large public sector institutions. The UK experience of ‘executive agencies’ has been influential across the world and in many countries. This book describes how the UK system was devised and introduced.

Chapter 1: The Management of Public Services: What Goes Wrong?

Kate Jenkins

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


Most modern governments face difficulties in meeting the expectations of their citizens. The public sector takes up between a third and a half of the finances of most developed economies. It tends to be referred to as if it is a single homogenous whole although it is made up of widely differing institutions. It can absorb people and money like blotting paper. Its scope extends beyond activities which are technically ‘services’. The provision of personal services, personal, domestic and international security, defence, economic and social development, transfer payments and regulation take up the lion’s share of what many governments do. They operate either through their directly managed organisations or under some form of agreement or contract with other organisations or through other tiers of elected authorities. The most well-intentioned politician finds bringing promises to reality difficult. A familiar plaint of many a disillusioned Minister is: ‘I pull the levers and nothing happens’. While it is difficult enough for officials to explain to a senior and distinguished Minister that pulling levers is no longer, if it ever was, the way to get a decision implemented, the remark itself explains how far from understanding management most politicians are. I have heard frustrated ministers use the same phrase on three continents and in many countries. The internal workings of the public sector baffle most people – politician, business person or citizen – who are not part of the inner circle which runs the government day-by-day and year-by-year. Its scale,...

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