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Politicians and Public Services Implementing Change in a Clash of Cultures

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Kate Jenkins
Edward Elgar (May 2008)

Cover of Politicians and Public Services: implementing change in a clash of culturesThe continued failure to provide public services both to agreed standards and electorate expectations is one of the major problems of modern government. Drawing on the experience of government in the UK and beyond, this book considers the ways in which public institutions have tried to adapt to meet new demands. The author argues that there is a common inability to connect ideas and decisions between politicians and those responsible for managing public sector organisations, and discusses in detail the initiatives launched in the UK to establish a new approach to management, particularly 'Next Steps' and 'Executive Agencies'. By analysing public sector management in a number of countries since the reforms of the 1980s, this valuable book examines past problems and suggests future improvements to the ways in which public services should be managed, including the development of relations between politicians and officials and ways to improve decision taking and management for government.

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.

This book will appeal to an international spectrum of academics and students, especially those involved in public sector reform and public sector management, and political decision taking. It will also be of great interest to contemporary historians of the Thatcher period and beyond, as well as politicians and commentators concerned with government reform, public sector management and the role of politicians.

Kate Jenkins is a visiting professor in the Government Department, LSE.

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'This book is an authoritative account of the establishment of the Next Steps agencies, the greatest change in the UK civil service of recent years. The saga is told superbly from the author's vantage point as a leading participant in helping to shape the change. She reveals the pressures on, and inside, the civil service both for and against reform. She illuminates the relationships between politicians and civil servants. Her wise advice on how they can collaborate constructively to deliver public services also draws on her worldwide experience as a consultant about governance in developing countries, and is especially relevant to current concerns about reform of public services.'
George Jones, Emeritus Professor of Government, LSE

'This book is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand why governments fail to deliver what they promise. It is the authoritative insider's account of the "Next Steps" initiative under Mrs Thatcher by someone who was central to it. Her analysis is uncomfortable but her insights, spiced with some nice anecdotes, are as wise and relevant as ever. Her message for politicians and senior officials alike is uncompromising: look at the job first and equip yourselves to do it properly, or you will fail and the rest of us suffer. Thank goodness she has written it all down. No one can say they weren't told.'
Lord Wilson of Dinton, former Cabinet Secretary and now Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge