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 10: The Most Difficult Task: Change at the Top

Kate Jenkins

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


10. The most difficult task: change at the top In the United Kingdom there has been much discussion of the way the government machine has been handled over the past two decades and what the solutions might be. The Prime Minister for the decade between 1997 and 2007, Tony Blair, was deeply critical of the way the public service worked. Exceptionally, members of the senior Civil Service have been publicly critical of the way Ministers work. There have been ‘reforms’ both of the Civil Service and of Parliament, political advisers worked closely with Ministers, Select Committees took a more active role in reviewing and criticising government policy and delivery. No one could accuse the public sector of doing nothing; the scale of changes has been remarkable in many ways but there are glaring gaps in the picture and familiar and fundamental criticisms continue to recur. THE SENIOR CIVIL SERVICE The British senior Civil Service is a classic example of a self regulating professional group. Despite the platitudes of the Armstrong memorandum of 1985: ‘Civil Servants are the servants of the Crown. For all practical purposes the Crown in this context means and is represented by the Government of the day’, the senior Civil Service controls itself. Its reaction to proposals for changes to its own way of working is defensive. As a profession it has been involved in sustained changes to almost all the public sector, much of the economy and the personal lives of most of the population...

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