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Edited by Andrew Massey
Chapter 15: The United Kingdom Civil Service: A Devolving System
15 The United Kingdom civil service: a devolving system Richard Parry 15.1 HISTORICAL CONTEXT The context of the UK civil service is set by the historical continuity of the British state. The UK polity is characterized by a differentiation of executive power from an original royal and feudal core to a range of organizations at varying distance from political accountability. There has never been a fundamental regime change that dissolved existing institutions and required the initiation of a new constitution. Until the late nineteenth century the civil service was part of the ‘nightwatchman’ function of the state, consisting mainly of tax collectors, postal workers and civilian defence officials. The displacement effect of two world wars increased the number and range of officials working on defence and economic regulation. Certain key welfare state functions – employment exchanges, unemployment benefit and national insurance – were undertaken directly by civil servants, though many others like health, housing and education were not. The development of public corporations in the twentieth century provided an organizational form for trading services to be run by government outside the civil service. Nationalizations of coal, steel, electricity, gas, railways and buses, and finally in the 1970s shipbuilding and aircraft, followed this form. In the 1980s and 1990s all of these industries were privatized. The Post Office (Royal Mail) became a nationalized industry and later a state-owned company. At various times businesses in trouble were taken into majority public ownership (Rolls-Royce aircraft and British Leyland cars in the 1970s, and major banks...
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