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 4: Improving Management in Government: The Efficiency Unit Investigation

Kate Jenkins

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


4. Improving management in Government: the Efficiency Unit investigation The Efficiency Unit in 1986 had a staff of eight to ten with members from both the private sector and the Civil Service. The main tasks were running the scrutiny programme, encouraging greater attention to management in specific projects and carrying out reviews of management issues for the Prime Minister. The scrutiny programme was the principal activity and occupied most of the working time of the team. The Unit was housed in the attics of the old eighteenth century Treasury building designed by William Kent in the 1720s. The rooms overlooking the Park were white panelled and thickly carpeted. The other offices had spectacular views of Whitehall’s remaining chimney pots. One room had furniture economically recycled from the CPRS Directors’ office and pictures from the Government art collections. The narrow passages held the filing cabinets; access was either up the back stairs, stone, narrow and winding, or through a large windowless room containing, bizarrely, a large table tennis table. It looked like old Whitehall. Messengers delivered post every two hours. There were computers but they were so elderly and temperamental that few could understand them and only someone from the suppliers could repair them – at several days notice. New working methods were needed as badly as elsewhere in the system. But even in the Efficiency Unit there was strong opposition to the most basic changes. Grumbles and complaints greeted new computers on every desk, even...

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