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 2: The United Kingdom Government: The Pressure for Change

Kate Jenkins

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


This chapter discusses the background to the approaches taken by the British Government to improve the operation of directly managed public services during the 1980s. Later chapters focus particularly on the origins of the development of ‘executive agencies’ as a new structure for public services provided by central government under the direct control of Ministers. In the 1980s the British Government led by Margaret Thatcher, with a radical agenda to reduce the size and cost of the state and pressure from acute financial problems, introduced major changes to the scope of government. The intervening quarter of a century has seen further changes in Britain and similar changes in many other countries. What was viewed in the 1980s as a right wing attack on the consensus-based, liberal post-war structure of government has become accepted as the norm. As the political rhetoric of shrinking states, the virtues of private ownership, and the incompetence of public officials has mellowed over the intervening years, the experience of the changing structure of the state is now commonplace in many countries which have no political tendencies to what was known as ‘Thatcherism’ or ‘neo liberalism’. The need for reform in government has a long history in Britain. Improbably, rioters in London in the 1780s are said to have shouted ‘administration reform’ as they smashed windows and hurled stones at the wealthy in Piccadilly. The Government has steadily increased the size and scale of its activities since the nineteenth century when the conditions of the working...

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