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MODERN BRITISH POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT TOPIC 8: THE CIVIL SERVICE AND THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE MODERN BRITISH STATE Does experience with special advisers suggest that the traditional model of a neutral civil service is outmoded?
Guidance: What exactly are 'special advisers' and what exactly has been the experience with them? What is the 'traditional model' of a 'neutral' civil service? Does the experience suggest this is outmoded?
The Conservatives and the Civil Service: G.K. Fry
- Post-1979, the Conservatives radically changed the civil service; some within the organization feared that it was being taken back to the era before Northcote-Trevelyan.
- The Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 threatened the break-up of the unified civil service. Accountability to parliament, impartiality, and efficiency may be lost it the functions of the civil service are spread across a large number of private contractors.
- The Civil Service Commission was abolished in 1991 and replaced by two separate agencies, the Office of the Civil Service Commissioners and the Recruitment and Assessment Services Agency. Granular units now operate with hundreds of different recruiting agencies and produce departmental loyalties and confused hierarchies, exacerbated by the trend for geographically dispersing the civil service1.
- Thatcher said that the civil service could not be insulated from reform. There followed a reorganisation of central government departments and the Treasury in particular.
- By 1995 over 100 agencies had been created under the Next Steps programme, covering 62% of the civil service; there ceased to be a clear division between policy and management functions. It was hoped that this would improve the delivery of services to both the public and ministers. However, ministers would remain technically responsible for the conduct of their departments, even contracted out functions. But, Chief Executives of QUANGOs now have their terms of reference published and may be called to appear before parliamentary select committees to explain the performance of their organisations2.
- The 1995 Parkhurst Prison escape incident illustrates ministers' conceptions of the new arrangement. Michael Howard (Home Secretary) rejected calls to resign, arguing that he saw a difference between operational and policy matters; in fact, he said this had always been the case. Instead, Howard dismissed the Director General of the Prison Service. QPM states that ministers are responsible for the actions carried out by their department.
- The civil service was deemed to have five functions:
- analysis of policy issues
- formulation of policy under political direction
- implementation of policy
- delivery of services to the public
- management of resources
- Semi-autonomous agencies are once again governed by the patrons of ministers rather than professional civil servants. Departmentalism and Joined-Up Government: Kavanagh & Richards
- Kavanagh posits that Labour saw enduring departmentalism within the public sector as a barrier to 'joined-up' government. Critics argue that departmental focus undermines wider policy implementation and encourages the protection of narrow interests3.
1 The Conservatives and the Civil Serice: G.K. Fry 2 The Conservatives and the Civil Serice: G.K. Fry
- Departmentalism increased under Thatcher, partly as a result of departmental ministers trying to keep information away from her; Nigel Lawson was able to pursue an exchange rate strategy for nine months, apparently without her knowledge. To what extent did the late 1980s reforms overcome departmentalism? Thatcher believed that a powerful executive the fragmented structure of new government agencies would break departmentalism. However, ministers reacted to executive domination by developing their own agendas; fragmentation encouraged ministers to seek to protect their remaining functions more avowedly4.
- In 1995 the Senior Management Review led to the creation of the senior civil service; the bureaucratic tier was removed and there was a delegation of responsibilities down the civil service hierarchy.
- Labour's response to this:
- Policy units, such as the 1997 Social Exclusion Unit
- Created the Policy and Innovation Unit, with a mixed staff of civil servants and outside hires, to ensure coherence for policy application across departments.
- Amended QPM to require ministers to seek permission for press contact from No.10, thereby ensuring a consistent 'message'. The Strategic Communications Unit was created in 1998, and managed the release and content of government announcements.
- The CSRs allocated money for projects that cut across departments, preventing in-fighting over resources; these were effectively Treasury- rather the departmentally-controlled budgets.
- Joined-up government really meant a significant increase in the power of No.10 and the Treasury at the expense of civil servants and departmental ministers.
- Departmentalism is inevitable for as long as ministerial careers are linked to the performance of the departments they manage; a cabinet minister has few opportunities to contribute beyond the remit of their department. A high turnover of ministers within departments undermines policy implementation and encourages civil servant intransigence in the face of unpopular reform.
- The introduction of 'sponsor' ministers for inter-departmental policies has been a positive step, and this was support by Treasury ring-fencing of these budgets. New Labour's Civil Service - Summing-Up Joining-Up: R.A. Rhodes
- Labour oversaw a shift in the direction of civil service reform from markets to networks. Rhodes outlines six stages of previous reform: privatisation, marketisation, corporate management, regulation, decentralisation, and political control5.
- Privatisation resulted in a 38% fall in civil servant numbers over the 20 years to 1998.
- Marketisation, such as compulsory tendering of government contracts or PFI schemes. This was expanded under New Labour.
- Corporate management involves the use of private sector management techniques in the public sector.
- Regulation refers the explosion in performance measurement and target setting within the public sector; resources are closely aligned with policy outputs.
- Decentralisation includes a redistribution of administrative responsibilities within central government as well as the devolution of powers to regional assemblies. Semi-autonomous agencies allow the separation of policy-making and operational responsibility. By 1998 138 agencies employed 77% of the civil service.
- Political control over the civil service was a concern for New Labour because of the length of time that the Conservatives had been in power. There was no attempt to purge the senior civil service, although retirements did allow Blair to make influential appointments. The Office of Public Services was merged with the rest of the Cabinet Office. There was a significant increase in the numbers of special advisors operating within the core executive, some with authority over civil servants. 3 Departmentalism and Joined-Up Government: Kavanagh & Richards 4 Departmentalism and Joined-Up Government: Kavanagh & Richards 5 New Labour's Civil Service - Summing-Up Joining-Up: R.A. Rhodes
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