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 9: The Spread of Public Sector Reform

Kate Jenkins

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


The last chapter considered the results of the British Government’s introduction of executive agencies and drew some general lessons from the experience of implementation. There had been considerable interest in the developments following the Next Steps Report, Ministers and officials from many countries visited London to discuss the changes being made to the organisation of central government. This was partly a reflection of the international standing of Mrs Thatcher and her government but was also because the United Kingdom was not alone in the 1980s facing the need to modernise and increase efficiency in government. THE FISCAL CRISIS Many governments were under pressure to reduce costs and improve the efficiency of their public sector. Growth in public expenditure, rising costs in public services, the growth of transfer payment costs driven by demographic changes all forced governments to investigate ways of reducing or holding costs steady while facing demands from their voters for better services and fewer taxes. Improvements in management were part of the solution. Ministries of Finance in many countries brought pressure to bear on their colleagues to find ways to deal with uncontrolled public finances. The international financial institutions demanded government reform in countries needing external support. They were less helpful in the recommendations they made for reform. Structural adjustment programmes, under the auspices of the IMF, demonstrated the weakness of their analysis: managing a public sector effectively could not be done by simple economic modelling. Stiglitz commented that ‘once a country was...

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