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Civil Service Reform and the Legacy of Thatcherism

Louise Dalingwater
p. 61-78

Résumé

Margaret Thatcher brought about sweeping changes to the civil service in the 1980s. The traditional concept of public, defined by Samuelson as “non-rivalrous” and “non-excludable”, was called into question by Thatcherism. Indeed, Thatcher’s doctrine, in line with neo-liberalism, was centred on competition. In order to achieve an efficient allocation of resources and to get the economy on track again, it was necessary to reduce the intervention of the state and endorse markets. Thatcher’s belief that the private sector was more capable of promoting competition and achieving efficiency gains led to the implementation of a vast programme of privatisations, including the privatisation of utilities, transport and telecommunications. Even in central public institutions where privatization was ruled out, the drive towards greater efficiency through the introduction of competition led to the marketisation of remaining public services and a blurring of the public and private spheres. The civil service has thus been reduced in size and scope. Some of the government’s central functions such as Recruitment and Assessment Services and HMSO have been sold to the private sector too. Rather than calling into question the privatisation and marketisation of the public sector, New Labour embraced Thatcherite free market reforms. Further measures to privatise government-owned entities have been initiated by the current coalition government and the marketisation of government services has been taken to another level. However, to say that the continuity in the civil service since the 1980s is a direct result of Thatcherism would be excluding a whole number of other influences that have brought about change to the civil service. Nevertheless, Thatcher certainly provided the impetus to bring about civil service reform and this, on the whole, was not called into question by her successors.

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Introduction

  • 1 Heffernan, R. New Labour and Thatcherism : Political Change in Britain, Hampshire : Palgrave, 2001  (...)

1Margaret Thatcher brought about sweeping changes to the economic and social framework of Britain in the 1980s. The traditional concept of public as non-rivalrous and non-excludable was called into question. Thatcher was hostile to an ever-expanding public sector. She sought to replace public interest by the private sector, which was considered to be more efficient. She believed that both the individual and the corporation suffered from the excesses of state intervention. Although it is clear that the Thatcher years were a turning point in the economic and social development of the United Kingdom, it is debatable whether many of the reforms which have taken place in the public sector are a legacy of Thatcherism. Indeed, there is no single or standard definition of Thatcherism. It has been described quite simply as the policies of the Conservative governments under Thatcher; a popular political movement; a particular policy style; and even an ideological project to advance neo-liberal politics. Therefore, some theorists1 have concluded that Thatcherism describes not only the policies of Margaret Thatcher, but also an ideology which continued after she left government. This chapter will thus assess whether we can indeed talk about a Thatcher legacy in successive governments by focusing on reform in the public sector and, in particular, the civil service.

The Rejection of the Post-War Keynesian model and the Rise of a New Right Paradigm

  • 2 Greenleaf, W.H. The British Political Tradition : Vol 1 – The Rise of Collectivism, London : Routle (...)
  • 3 Greenleaf, W.H. The British Political Tradition , op.cit.

2One of the defining features of post-war Britain was the development of a robust and vigorous public realm and the creation of a vast welfare state. However, towards the end of the 1960s, Keynesianism demand-led economic management and the capacity for the public sector to lead the economy was beginning to show its limits. The UK was facing a fiscal deficit which intensified in the 1970s as expenditure grew at a greater rate than revenues from taxation. Social expenditure, for example, grew at an annual rate of 5.9%, while GDP only grew by 2.6%2. The British state could no longer afford the steady increase in state expenditure which reached 52% of GDP in 1979, up from 26% in 1939. Moreover, one in five workers was employed in the public sector in 1976, up from one in ten in the 1930s3. Both Conservative and Labour governments of the 1970s looked to reduce state expenditure faced with a fiscal crisis and especially when the Labour government was forced to ask for a loan from the IMF in 1977 with the conditions attached that they must reduce fiscal expenditure.

  • 4 Friedman, M. Capitalism and Freedom. Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1962.
  • 5 Friedrik Von Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1944, 1994.
  • 6 See : Black, D., The Theory of Committees and Elections, Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 19 (...)

3The emergence of stagflation (low growth, high unemployment and high inflation) exacerbated the relative decline of the UK economy. It became increasingly clear that the woes of the UK economy could no longer be solved through demand-led policies. New theoretical theories thus emerged in the 1960s and the New Right paradigm became popular. New Right thought was based principally on the works of the monetarist economist Friedman4, economist Hayek5 and public choice theorists Buchanan, Niskanen and Mueller6. Unlike the post-war Keynesian policy in Britain, which supported collectivism and state intervention to ensure social rights and equality, New Right thinking supported individualism, freedom and a liberal economy. State intervention should be kept to a minimum to free up markets and ensure a dynamic economy. According to public choice theorists, civil servants and politicians were seen to encourage the expansion of state activities: reform was therefore necessary to reduce the weight of the state.

  • 7 Chapman, L., Your Disobedient Servant, London : Chatto and Windus, 1978.

4Moreover, the generally held view among the New Right was that civil servants were considered to be inefficient and ineffective. A book published by a civil servant, Leslie Chapman, “Your Disobedient Servant”,7 only served to encourage such views just before Margaret Thatcher came to power. In this book, the author underlined how vast sums of public money had been wasted by inefficient civil servants. Civil servants had become too powerful and opposed any motions to reform departments to make them more efficient. The author called for the creation of a task force that would set out a clear direction to reduce waste. The televised series “Yes, Minister” in the 1980s also confirmed this image of the inefficient civil servant impeding reform.

Reform of the civil service under Margaret Thatcher

  • 8 Department of Political and Cultural Studies, Swansea University, Speech Archive, British Political (...)
  • 9 Efficiency Unit, Making Things Happen : A Report on the Implementation of Government Efficiency Scr (...)
  • 10 Efficiency Unit, Efficiency and effectiveness in the Civil Service : Government observations on the (...)
  • 11 Civil Service Statistics, 1993, 1997, London : HMSO.

5Margaret Thatcher was thus elected into government promising change and reform. In her first party conference speech of 1979 she underlined that “We have to move this country in a new direction, to change the way we look at things, to create a wholly new attitude of mind.”8 The first few years in office were focused on reducing costs. Thatcher appointed Sir Derek Rayner, managing director of Marks & Spencer, to carry out scrutiny of government administration and identify inefficiency and waste and to find ways in which savings could be made. Between 1979 and 1984, 90 multi-departmental reviews and a total of 266 scrutinies took place and identified 600 million pounds worth of saving9. By the time Rayner had left the Efficiency Unit in 1982, 130 scrutinies had resulted in £ 170 million worth of savings and the axing of 16,000 posts on average per year. The MINIS (Management Information System for Ministers) was also created to document who did what, why and how much it cost, bringing together past, present and future activities of each department10. This enabled departments to make cuts to manning levels. Indeed, Thatcher reduced the number of civil servants from 732,000 to 630, 000 during her first four years in office11. The government underlined that efficient management was the key to reviving the nation and this management ethos taken from the private sector should be the key driver of public institutions.

6The Financial Management Initiative (FMI) was also created to enable greater financial management of government departments. It called for changes to style and management, devolved authority and accountable management. New planning systems were introduced and short term targets. From 1984 onwards, all department had to follow a budget system, review activities, set objectives and priorities.

  • 12 Civil Service Statistics, 1993, 1997, op. cit.

7The privatisation of public utilities also cut down the number of public sector employees, amounting to a reduction of 800,000 employees12. New national audit bodies were created to ensure efficiency and value for money and to decide how much money should be allocated to individual functions. Output measures were introduced to monitor the efficiency of public expenditure.

  • 13 Efficiency Unit, Improving Management in Government - the Next Steps, Cm. 1760, London : HMSO, 1988

8However, perhaps the biggest reform to the civil service under Margaret Thatcher came towards the end of her time in office. Indeed, in 1988 the government publication “Improving Management in Government: the New Steps”13 led to what have become known as the next steps reforms. The reforms led to the separation of policy-making from service provision through the creation of agencies. The intention was to make the civil service run more efficiently. This resulted in a reduced core of policy makers and a large number of independent agencies carrying out the rest of the work. A total of 34 agencies were created, employing 80,000 people. Finally, in 1988 performance-related pay was introduced in these agencies.

  • 14 Olsen, J.P., “Modernisation Programmes in Perspective : Institutional Analysis of Organisational Ch (...)

9After a decade in government, Thatcher stood down after the poll tax affair in 1990. The longevity of her time in government was bound to have a lasting impact on the economic and social fabric of the UK. As Olsen14 underlines, the Thatcher reforms represented significant change to British government practices, which made a return to the previous system quite difficult to conceive. It is thus possible to identify a certain continuity in policies of subsequent governments, but also a number of changes to reduce the impact of some of the Thatcherite policies.

Continuity and change in civil service reform from 1990 to 2010

  • 15 HM Treasury, The Citizen’s Charter : Raising the Standard, Cm 1599, London : HMSO, July 1991.
  • 16 Duggett, M., “The Evolution of the United Kingdom Civil Service &1848-1997”, A Paper Prepared for t (...)
  • 17 HM Treasury, Competing for Quality- Buying Better Public Services, Cm. 1730, London : HMSO, 1991.

10One of John Major’s first reforms represented a break with traditional Thatcherite policy. Indeed, the creation of the 1991 Citizen’s Charter was a significant new policy introduced by John Major15. The Prime Minister underlined the need to make public services meet the needs of users and raise overall standards. Charters were created for most government departments to ensure services answered the needs of customers. The civil service was in charge of ensuring quality and commitment to public services. However, some aspects of the citizen’s charter were in line with Thatcherite policy and notably introducing competition in the public sector. Indeed, the commitment to meeting the demands of the customers meant providing greater choice and thus competition between providers. Emphasis on performance can also be said to be in line with the Thatcher governments’ commitments. For example in the Citizen’s Charter magazine, results were published such as: “the Post Office delivers 91.9% of first class mail the day after posting”, “United Kingdom Passport Agency’s average turn-round time is now under 9 days”, “Employment Service states that 98% of clients are seen within 10 minutes…”16 The 1991 white paper Competing for Quality – Buying Better Pubic Services17 also underlined that there was scope for more involvement from the private sector.

  • 18 HM Treasury, “The Civil Service : Continuity and Change”, Cm. 2627, London : HMSO, 1994.
  • 19 HM Treasury, “The Civil Service : Taking Forward Continuity and Change”, Cm. 2748, London : HMSO, 1 (...)
  • 20 House of Lords, “Select Committee on Public Service Report”, Erreur ! Référence de lien hypertexte (...)

11Moreover, the white papers “The Civil Service: Continuity and Change”18 and “Taking Forward Continuity and Change”19, published in 1994 and 1995, set forth plans to transform the way civil servants were employed by introducing open recruitment and also delegating management and decisions to individual departments. Indeed, civil service posts began to be advertised publicly rather than through internal promotion. By October 1996, this meant that of the 131 public sector chief executives, 69% had been recruited by open competition20. This policy can also be said to be very much in line with creating competition in the public sector and emulating the private sector.

  • 21 House of Lords, “Select Committee on Public Service Report”, op.cit.

12Following through Thatcher’s efforts to reduce waste, Major introduced prior options, which meant carrying out tests to ensure that the functions proposed by the government were absolutely necessary and were best carried out by the public sector. If it was concluded that this was not the case, functions were then “hived out”, that is subcontracted out to the private sector or even privatised completely. This led to the privatisation of the National Engineering Laboratory, the Transport Research Authority, the Laboratory of the Government Chemist, the Natural Resources Institute, Chessington Computer Centre, the Occupational Health and Safety Agency, the Recruitment and Assessment Services Agency, and HMSO. In addition, under John Major’s premiership, more and more functions were devolved from the core centre to agencies and/or from agencies to the private sector through the private finance initiative. Indeed, by October 1996, 354,327 civil servants (that is 72% of all civil servants) were working for agencies21. Central pay systems started to be decentralised and in 1996 pay arrangements were decided by individual departments and agencies. Agencies also took over the responsibility of recruiting staff or contracting out to the Recruitment and Assessment Services or another commercial firm.

  • 22 White Paper , Modernising Government, London : HMSO, 1999.
  • 23 Cabinet Office, Civil Service Reform : Delivery and Values, HMSO : London, 2004.

13It would seem therefore that there was a significant degree of continuity under John Major. However, a break with Thatcherism was expected with the arrival of New Labour in office. Indeed, New Labour was elected into government emphasising change. A series of reports showed New Labour’s commitments to improving public sector delivery and government reform. The white paper “Modernising Government”22 underlined the need for stronger leadership, a service more open to people and ideas, emphasis on talent and a better deal for staff and customers. New Labour introduced Performance Partnership Agreements to implement Public Service Agreement targets and ensure delivery and management. A Delivery and Reform Team was created. Moreover, “Civil Service Reform: Delivery and Values”23 published in 2004 promised greater emphasis on ’delivery’.

  • 24 Cabinet Office, Civil service reform : Delivery and values, op.cit.
  • 25 Sir Michael Lyons, Well Placed to Deliver ? Shaping the Pattern of Government Service : Independent (...)

14Efforts were also made to devolve the civil service with the recommendation of Sir Michael Lyons to move 20,000 of the 90,000 civil servants out of London24 to boost growth in relocation areas and to drive savings. Emphasis was put on the public and public needs: "The public has higher expectations than ever before about the service it is entitled to”25.

  • 26 HM Government, Putting the Frontline First : Smarter Government, London : HMSO, 2009.

15However, many Whitehall observers concluded that in practice the main change was the increasing power of the Treasury through its system of Public Service Agreements for each department and that there had otherwise been very little change with the past. In addition, although the number of civil servants was initially increased under New Labour, with the onset of the crisis cutting costs and manning levels again became the priority of the government in office. Indeed, ’Putting the Frontline First’26, published in 2009, underlined a series of cuts to the public sector: It called for cuts to the senior civil service pay bill of up to 20 per cent over three years to release savings of £ 100 million a year, to halve Whitehall spending on consultancy, and to reduce spending on marketing by a quarter - in total, an annual saving of £ 650 million. Plans were also made to merge or abolish 123 government arms-length bodies with the remainder subject to greater oversight, with a view to saving a further £ 500 million a year. However, there was not enough time between the publication of the proposed cuts and New Labour’s defeat in the general election to push through these reforms.

The coalition government’s approach to civil service reform : a Thatcherite policy?

  • 27 HM Treasury, Spending Review 2010, CM 7942, London : HMSO, 2010
  • 28 ONS, “Statistical bulletin : Civil Service Statistics 2014”, www.ons.gov.uk.
  • 29 HM Treasury, “Spending Review 2010”, op.cit.

16Just after the arrival of the Lib-Con coalition in office in 2010, George Osborne, the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced the biggest cuts to the public sector since the Second World War. The Civil Service was central in overseeing the implementation of these cuts. Indeed, the 2010 Spending Review underlined a series of cuts across departments of on average 19%27. The target set was a reduction in government spending by £ 32 billion by the end of parliament through changes to the welfare system and reorganisation of government departments. Cuts included those to the personnel. Indeed between 2010 and 2013, the number of civil servants was reduced by 13.8%. Between 31 March 2013 and 31 March 2014 the number of civil servants was reduced to 439,942, which amounted to a further decrease of 2%28. Some departments have actually carried through even greater cuts. For example, the department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and Department for Education (DfE) committed to a 50%, or greater, reduction. The Department for Communities and Local Government has undergone rapid and deep change since 2010. In the 2010 Spending Review, DCLG committed to a 33% reduction in real terms and a 74% reduction in capital spending.29

17The major reforms by the coalition are very much in line with the cost-saving drives of the Rayner Scrutinies. Moreover, in August 2010, the government announced the appointment of the retailer Sir Philip Green. He was commissioned to examine government expenditure and identify savings. This is very much reminiscent of the appointment of Rayner under Margaret Thatcher.

  • 30 HM Government, The Civil Service Reform Plan, London : HMSO, 2012.
  • 31 Civil Service, Civil Service Reform Plan : One Year On, London : HMSO, 2013.

18In 2012, a major shake up to the civil service was announced in the Civil Service Reform report30. Again much of the emphasis was put on performance management and efficiency gains. It announced new forms of delivery and not just the “old binary choice” of in-house provision or privatisation, which really shows the coalition government’s commitment to tendering out as an extension of compulsory tendering and its successor the public-private partnership. However, the Civil Service Reform Plan –One Year On31 showed that only seven of the eighteen targets set forth in the Civil Service Reform report had been achieved. This appeared to increase tensions between the government and civil servants who were said to be impeding change

19Indeed, the current government has also upheld the distaste for and accusations of inefficiency of civil servants. As early as 2011 in a speech during the Conservative spring conference the Prime Minister talked about the enemies of enterprise and meddling bureaucrats: “the bureaucrats in government departments who concoct those ridiculous rules and regulations that make life impossible, particularly for small firms.”32 The Times of 14 January 2013 headline underlined the conflict between government and the civil service: ‘No, Minister: Whitehall in Worst Crisis’33. The newspaper claimed that the government and civil servants were finding it difficult to work together. Officials continue to be blamed when things go wrong.

  • 34 Institute for Government, Civil Service Reform in the Real World , London : Institute for Governmen (...)

20The publication “Civil Service Reform in the Real World”34 of March 2014 is more upbeat about civil service reform. It states that there has been a degree of continuity in civil service reform and states that many programmes since the 1980s have improved management techniques in the civil service: Next Steps Agencies; Bringing in and Bringing on Talent; Public Service Agreements and the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit; and Capability Reviews.

21The newly appointed head of the civil service, John Manzoni, emphasised four priorities when he addressed the Institute for Government in February. Two of them can be said to be very much in line with Thatcher ideology: namely developing functional leadership and performance management.

  • 35 Although, Big Society discourse has recently been removed from the Conservative Party website !
  • 36 Dorey, P.,“The Legacy of Thatcherism for Education Policies : Markets, Managerialism and Malice” in (...)

22Yet, the rhetoric of the current government and Prime Minister also differs quite substantially from Thatcherism and is more in line with New Labour’s efforts to devolve power to local government. The Prime Minister has talked about taking power away from Whitehall and giving it to the hands of people and communities, re-empowering local government and communities through the Big Society. He also talked about being more transparent and open with government information and having a more direct relationship between service providers and service users in the post-bureaucratic age. However, sceptics have suggested this is to cover up some of the more unpopular cuts made to the public sector. His Big Society could be described as an attempt to privatise local services. Big Society is presented as a way of empowering communities and giving power to people35. However, in reality, it is a way of transferring responsibility to the individual and voluntary organizations so that they will do the work that was carried out by local authorities prior to the spending cuts. Indeed, according to Peter Dorey, Big Society can be likened to Edmund Burke’s little platoons of 1790 in the way self-directing communities are encouraged36. It is also close to George Bush’s speeches on empowering communities and thus in line with a conservative neo-liberal approach.

Thatcherite legacy : an optical illusion ?

23It is clear from the aforementioned analysis that Thatcher’s policies to reform the civil service represented a clear break with the past and a number of her policies were continued under her predecessors. However, concluding that changes to the civil service since the 1980s are a direct legacy of Thatcherism would be missing some of the other major influences on civil service reform. Indeed, there were also other influences that have brought about the transformation of the public realm and the civil service. Such changes may therefore have been wrongly attributed to Thatcherism rather than other influences.

  • 37 Lord Fulton, The Civil Service, Vol 1. Report of the Committee 1966-68, Cmnd. 3638, London : HMSO, (...)

24It can be argued that reforms to the civil service since the 1980s are not the result of Thatcherism but previous proposals for reforms that preceded Thatcher’s arrival in government. The recommendations of the Fulton report of 196837, commissioned by Prime Minister Harold Wilson, laid the foundations for many of the so-called Thatcherite reforms. This report pointed to a deficiency in management skills in the civil service. Emphasis was put on the need to improve management skills and create “accountable management”. Such recommendations have been directly linked to the creation of MINIS and the financial management initiative under Margaret Thatcher. The committee also proposed to create management service units in order to embrace new management techniques. The report called for greater contact with the public, more openness in government and greater mobility. Recommendations also included short or fixed term appointments, interchange with industry and commerce.

25All such recommendations were implemented to some extent by Thatcher and her predecessors. Even the idea of contracting out can be said to have its origins in the Fulton Report. Indeed, the latter recommended that certain works could be ’hived off’ from central Government departments to autonomous boards or corporations. It recommended the hiving off of the Post Office, Royal Mint, Air Traffic Control and parts of the Social Services.

  • 38 Plowden Report, Public Spending Planning and Control, London : HMSO, 1961.

26Moreover, the Plowden Committee of 196738 had already underlined the importance of controlling public expenditure and recommended regular reviews of expenditure. This resulted in the setting up of the Public Expenditure Survey Committee (PESC) which set forth the financial implications of policies. Although this subsequently fell apart, it gave impetus to subsequent evaluation and tighter control over public spending.

  • 39 1915 D. Lloyd George in Hansard Commons 9 Mar. 1277 “We are on the look out for a good, strong busi (...)

27Attempts to bring in external advisers and break down the permanent civil service go back as far as Lloyd George’s government. Indeed, he appointed “men of push and go”39, such as Sir Eric Geddes after 1916. In addition, on the outbreak of war in 1939, there was an increasing number of what were known as “irregulars”, i.e. temporary civil servants, privately appointed advisers, given civil service status to give orders to lower-ranking civil servants. Nevertheless, much of these recommendations or attempts to reform did not really come to fruition until Margaret Thatcher came to power.

NPM and neo-liberalism

  • 40 Hood, C., “A Public Management for All Seasons”. Public Administration, 69, 1991, 3-19.

28NPM and neo-liberalism have also had very important effects on civil service reform in the UK. So, what we have seen developing in Margaret Thatcher’s government and subsequent governments is not necessarily a Thatcherite framework but a new public management framework in line with a number of other developed countries. Indeed, it is important to note that since the 1980s, not only Britain but other countries have also experienced significant changes to public services. Indeed, there has been a vast take up of similar types of reforms to privatise public services or hive them out to the private sector, even if this was more prominent in the UK than other countries. Indeed, social, economic and technological change has led to the overhaul of public services in most countries. Moreover, the business world as a whole experienced a management shake-up and reform in the 1980s and 90s in response to the globalisation of the economy. These reforms have been called New Public Management reforms or NPM. NPM involves making the public sector less distinctive from the private sector. NPM, which was first conceptualised by Hood40, consists of three main concepts :

29 1) Marketisation, which means introducing market competition into public services by separating the purchaser from the provider, creating “quasi-markets” within the public sector (notably in healthcare, education, social services and social housing) and competitive tendering or outsourcing to the private sector;
2) Disaggregation, which refers to the strengthening of central strategic capacity by decoupling policy and executive functions; tighter central control over policy and frameworks and a move from concentrating on process to output in control and accountability mechanisms and, finally
3) Incentivisation, which means creating performance indicators to encourage greater entrepreneurialism, more results, overall greater efficiency, performance linked pay in order to create incentives for public sector staff to be more efficient, human resource management strategies and the deprivileging of professionals and public sector workers.

30In the 1990s, international organisations such as the OECD and World Bank went as far as to recommend new public management in national governance systems. In the 1980s, many economies were experiencing the same pressures to reform. Indeed, recession meant that governments had to reassess and then reduce public expenditure. Like Britain, from the mid-70s, most OECD countries were facing a slowdown in growth and productivity and suffering from the 1970s energy crisis.

31To increase efficiency and balance budgets, these international organisations encouraged governments to adopt similar practices to those of the private sector. Managers should be allowed powers to temper the power of professionals and unions to ensure continued efficiency. Financial control and accounting systems similar to the private sector were also held up as models.

32However, Britain’s economic decline and fiscal crisis was comparatively worse than its key competitors and this may have led to the conservative governments applying NPM measures earlier than other countries. A number of academics have linked the rise of NPM policies with the rise of the New Right and Thatcherism in the UK, but Labour governments in some countries, such as Australia, also introduced NPM policies. NPM itself emerged from new institutional economics, which was based on public choice and transaction cost theories which underlined the need to reduce the intervention of the state and to establish representative forms of governance over bureaucracy, combined with the “managerialist” school of thought. The latter encouraged the establishment of effective managerial principles from the private sector. Public choice theory also underlined the need for centralisation to reduce the overriding influence of bureaucracy. The assumptions about private sector management techniques were that they were superior to public management and public administration.

33Successive reforms of the civil service in the UK have clearly been influenced by NPM. Indeed, the New Steps report is very much in line with New Public Management theory. The report focuses on the need to improve management and to concentrate on outputs rather than inputs which are part and parcel of NPM. As a conclusion it states :

  • 41 Efficiency Unit, Improving Management in Government - the Next Steps, 1988, op.cit.

“The key themes that emerge as obstacles in the way of real change are :
a) the lack of focus of top management on the service delivery and executive functions of government
b) the effects of treating the civil service as a single organisation
c) the lack of effective pressure to get better results
41

34NPM did actually develop into what has been called post-NPM or digital governance under New Labour, which was intended to make up for the shortfalls of NPM (fragmented governance, lack of cohesion…) .

35More generally, many of the reforms that have taken place since Margaret Thatcher’s arrival in government have been linked to neo-liberalism. Neo-liberalism, which draws on the principles of neo-classical economics advocates reduction of government spending, tax-based reforms, open markets and limited protectionism and the privatisation of state-run businesses. Thatcherism seems to have been inspired by neo-liberalism. However, the adherence to neo-liberal policies is not a unique feature of the UK. From the 1980s onwards, a series of European Directives encouraged the liberalisation of public sectors and notably the electricity sector, postal services, public transport… The contracting out of services such as hospital catering, rubbish collection and highway maintenance has now become common in France, Germany and Spain. The European Union has sought to go further with market reforms of public services.

  • 42 Pierson, Paul, “The New Politics of the Welfare State” World Politics 48, January 1996, 143-79.

36For example, the European Union tried to implement the Bolkenstein Directive in order to create a single market for all services, including those provided by government. It failed to be implemented, but there is increasing pressure to assimilate public services into private ones. In addition, the EU introduced new terminology “services of general interest” rather than public services. The commission explained that it was done “to fulfil citizens’ demands with an open and competitive market as the main instrument”. Hence it is about ‘serving the public’. This is clearly in line with both neo-liberalism and new public management which promotes consumer sovereignty and greater choice for public services. The WTO and the General Agreement on Trade in Services have also tried to open public services to trade as have cross-regional agreements such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP). What is remarkable, however, in Thatcher’s policy is the extent to which the public sector has been transformed. As Pierson42 points out, very few cases in OECD countries show such radical changes as the UK.

Conclusion

37The civil service has experienced a number of changes since the arrival of Margaret Thatcher in government. It has been reduced in size and scope. Some of the government’s central functions such as Recruitment and Assessment Services and HMSP have been sold to the private sector too. Indeed, Christopher Clifford of Nuffield College underlines how the civil service was transformed under Margaret Thatcher and its legacy within the civil service today:

  • 43 House of Lords, Select Committee on Public Service Report, op. cit.

“I would say if you look at the history of the Civil Service as far back as Northcote-Trevelyan I cannot think of anything as radical or as far reaching as the Next Step and the later reforms.”43

38This has led to undermining the standing of the British civil service, which was previously held up as a model for its lack of political bias, integrity, impartiality, objectivity, loyalty and freedom from corruption. It would seem that seeking greater efficiency has resulted in division and disunity in the Civil Service. However, to say that the continuity in the civil service since the 1980s is a direct result of Thatcherism would be excluding a whole number of other influences that have brought about change to the civil service, notably the Fulton report of 1968, , the influence of NPM and post-NPM and neo-liberalism. Nevertheless, Thatcher certainly provided the impetus to bring about civil service reform and this, on the whole, was not called into question by her successors.

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HM Treasury, The Civil Service: Continuity and Change, Cm. 2627 London, HMSO, 1994.

HM Treasury, Competing for Quality- Buying Better Public Services, Cm. 1730, London, HMSO, 1991.

Hood, C., A Public Management for All Seasons. Public Administration, 69 (Spring), 1991, 3-19.

House of Lords, “Select Committee on Public Service Report”, www.parliament. UK.

Institute for Government, Civil Service Reform in the Real World , London: Institute for Government, 2014.

Lord Fulton, The Civil Service, Vol 1. Report of the Committee 1966 68, Cmnd. 3638, London: HMSO, 1968.

Lyons, Sir Michael, Well Placed to Deliver? Shaping the Pattern of Government Service: Independent Review of Public Sector, London: HMSO, 2004.

Oakley, A., “New Labour and the Continuation of Thatcherite Policy”, POLIS Journal vol. 6, Winter 2011/2012.

Olsen, J.P., “Modernisation Programmes in Perspective: Institutional Analysis of Organisational Change”, Governance, vol. 4, No. 2, 125-149.

ONS, “Statistical bulletin: Civil Service Statistics 2014”, www.ons.gov.uk.

Pierson, P., “The New Politics of the Welfare State”, World Politics 48 January 1996, 143-79.

Plowden Report, Public Spending Planning and Control. London: HMSO, 1961.

The Times, “No, Minister: Whitehall in Worst Crisis”
www.thetimes.co.uk, 14 January 2014.

White Paper, Modernising Government. London, HMSO, 1999.

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Notes

1 Heffernan, R. New Labour and Thatcherism : Political Change in Britain, Hampshire : Palgrave, 2001 ; Oakley, A., “New Labour and the Continuation of Thatcherite Policy”, POLIS Journal vol. 6, Winter 2011/2012.

2 Greenleaf, W.H. The British Political Tradition : Vol 1 – The Rise of Collectivism, London : Routledge, 1983, 2011.

3 Greenleaf, W.H. The British Political Tradition , op.cit.

4 Friedman, M. Capitalism and Freedom. Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1962.

5 Friedrik Von Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1944, 1994.

6 See : Black, D., The Theory of Committees and Elections, Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1958 ; Buchanan, J., Public Finance in Democratic Process : Fiscal Institutions and Individual Choice, UNC Press, 1967 ; Buchanan, J., The Demand and Supply of Public Goods, Indianipolis : Liberty Fund Inc., 1968.

7 Chapman, L., Your Disobedient Servant, London : Chatto and Windus, 1978.

8 Department of Political and Cultural Studies, Swansea University, Speech Archive, British Political Speech : http://www.britishpoliticalspeech.org/speech-archive.htm (accessed on 30 March 2015)

9 Efficiency Unit, Making Things Happen : A Report on the Implementation of Government Efficiency Scrutinies, London : HMSO, 1985.

10 Efficiency Unit, Efficiency and effectiveness in the Civil Service : Government observations on the third report from the Treasury and Civil Service Committee, Session 1981-82, HC 236., London : HMSO, 1982.

11 Civil Service Statistics, 1993, 1997, London : HMSO.

12 Civil Service Statistics, 1993, 1997, op. cit.

13 Efficiency Unit, Improving Management in Government - the Next Steps, Cm. 1760, London : HMSO, 1988.

14 Olsen, J.P., “Modernisation Programmes in Perspective : Institutional Analysis of Organisational Change”, Governance, vol. 4, No.2, 125-149.

15 HM Treasury, The Citizen’s Charter : Raising the Standard, Cm 1599, London : HMSO, July 1991.

16 Duggett, M., “The Evolution of the United Kingdom Civil Service &1848-1997”, A Paper Prepared for the International Institute of Administrative Sciences Quebec Conference July 1997.

17 HM Treasury, Competing for Quality- Buying Better Public Services, Cm. 1730, London : HMSO, 1991.

18 HM Treasury, “The Civil Service : Continuity and Change”, Cm. 2627, London : HMSO, 1994.

19 HM Treasury, “The Civil Service : Taking Forward Continuity and Change”, Cm. 2748, London : HMSO, 1995.

20 House of Lords, “Select Committee on Public Service Report”, Erreur ! Référence de lien hypertexte non valide. uk.

21 House of Lords, “Select Committee on Public Service Report”, op.cit.

22 White Paper , Modernising Government, London : HMSO, 1999.

23 Cabinet Office, Civil Service Reform : Delivery and Values, HMSO : London, 2004.

24 Cabinet Office, Civil service reform : Delivery and values, op.cit.

25 Sir Michael Lyons, Well Placed to Deliver ? Shaping the Pattern of Government Service : Independent Review of Public Sector, London : HMSO, 2004.

26 HM Government, Putting the Frontline First : Smarter Government, London : HMSO, 2009.

27 HM Treasury, Spending Review 2010, CM 7942, London : HMSO, 2010

28 ONS, “Statistical bulletin : Civil Service Statistics 2014”, www.ons.gov.uk.

29 HM Treasury, “Spending Review 2010”, op.cit.

30 HM Government, The Civil Service Reform Plan, London : HMSO, 2012.

31 Civil Service, Civil Service Reform Plan : One Year On, London : HMSO, 2013.

32 Speech available on the bbc website (6 March 2011) : http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-12657524

33 The Times, “No, Minister : Whitehall in Worst Crisis” www.thetimes.co.uk, 14 January 2014.

34 Institute for Government, Civil Service Reform in the Real World , London : Institute for Government, 2014.

35 Although, Big Society discourse has recently been removed from the Conservative Party website !

36 Dorey, P.,“The Legacy of Thatcherism for Education Policies : Markets, Managerialism and Malice” in Stephen Farrall and Colin Hay (ed.) The Legacy of Thatcherism, Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2014.

37 Lord Fulton, The Civil Service, Vol 1. Report of the Committee 1966-68, Cmnd. 3638, London : HMSO, 1968.

38 Plowden Report, Public Spending Planning and Control, London : HMSO, 1961.

39 1915 D. Lloyd George in Hansard Commons 9 Mar. 1277 “We are on the look out for a good, strong business man with some go in him who will be able to push the thing through and be at the head of a Central Committee.”

40 Hood, C., “A Public Management for All Seasons”. Public Administration, 69, 1991, 3-19.

41 Efficiency Unit, Improving Management in Government - the Next Steps, 1988, op.cit.

42 Pierson, Paul, “The New Politics of the Welfare State” World Politics 48, January 1996, 143-79.

43 House of Lords, Select Committee on Public Service Report, op. cit.

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Louise Dalingwater, « Civil Service Reform and the Legacy of Thatcherism  », Observatoire de la société britannique, 17 | 2015, 61-78.

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Louise Dalingwater, « Civil Service Reform and the Legacy of Thatcherism  », Observatoire de la société britannique [En ligne], 17 | 2015, mis en ligne le 01 mai 2016, consulté le 24 mars 2017. URL : http://osb.revues.org/1765 ; DOI : 10.4000/osb.1765

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Louise Dalingwater

Maître de Conférences en Civilisation britannique à l'Université Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3

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