International Handbook of Public Management Reform
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International Handbook of Public Management Reform

Edited by Shaun Goldfinch and Joe L. Wallis

This major Handbook provides a state-of-the-art study of the recent history and future development of international public management reform.
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Chapter 8: Public Management Reform in the United Kingdom: Great Leaps, Small Steps and Policies as Their Own Cause

Kai Wegrich


Kai Wegrich The United Kingdom (UK) is frequently referred to as the textbook case of new public management (NPM). This country was, of course, not alone in adopting a reform programme devoted to the introduction of managerial techniques and economic incentives to guide the design and operation of public services and executive government since the late 1970s. It is widely claimed, however, that the UK was one of the few countries to full-heartedly adopt most of the elements associated with the NPM. In the emerging ‘industry’ of international policy ‘learning’, the UK has been among the first ports of call. The story of how NPM was ‘successfully’ introduced into the public service and executive government has been told many times and is quickly recollected: a uniquely strong leader with an equally strong distaste for an inefficient and complacent public sector pushed through major reforms against initial resistance, and her successors continued along the ‘trajectory’ laid out by Mrs Thatcher. While not denying that this storyline captures core elements of public management reforms in the UK, the starting point of this chapter is that the ‘conventional’ or ‘textbook’ story portrays an at least incomplete and to some extent misleading image. For developing a more complete, and differentiated, picture of public management reforms in the UK, there are at least three additional dimensions to be taken into account. The first dimension is time, in the sense of management reforms having developed since the ‘heyday’ of the NPM in the late 1980s and...

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