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The Comparative Dimension of Regulation Inside Government

First international workshop
October 2000

A conference was held at the LSE on 13-14 October 2000 on the theme 'The Comparative Dimension of Regulation Inside Government'. This event was funded by CARR and the British Academy, and attracted speakers from North America, Australia, Japan, the Netherlands, Germany, France and the UK. Thirty-two scholars were brought together from political science, law, sociology and accounting for an intensive examination of the prospects for comparing the nature and development of regulatory functions over the public sector. The conference provided the occasion for the publication of CARR's first discussion paper, which Professor Christopher Hood presented at the conference and additionally there were nine presentations and seven separate commentaries. The academic presentations were complemented by presentations from the UK Comptroller and Auditor General, Sir John Bourn, on public sector audit, and from Mike Tomlinson (then Director of Inspection at OFSTED and subsequently made Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools) on the regulation of schools.

Professor Katsuya Hirose offered a perspective on the place of arms-length oversight in Japanese government, arguing that for the high bureaucracy an earlier style of informal control based on mutuality had partly broken down, but that breakdown had not resulted in increased formal oversight, but rather a directionless 'doughnut' style. The school education sector had also not followed the UK or Dutch pattern because of its high politicisation, but there were more parallels in the university sector.

Professor Guy Peters presented a paper exploring how well the idea of regulation in the form of arms-length oversight over executive government 'travelled' to the US context. The picture he painted was a mixed one, showing how the different institutional context affected forms of arms-length oversight, but arguing that a trend towards increased arms-length oversight was observable and that the study of the working of arms-length oversight agencies helped to reveal how far (or how little) managerialism had developed in the public sector.

Central conclusions drawn from the discussion were that the changes in public administration mapped out in a UK study by Hood, Scott and others were of sufficient importance internationally to merit a substantial comparative investigation. Conference participants were doubtful that the regulation concept, which proved so fruitful as the basis for analysis of the UK experience, would 'travel' sufficiently well to provide the basis for comparative research between countries with patterns of public administration as diverse as those of the United States, Japan and France. For a more substantial project to be viable a more generic concept of control, intended to capture the diverse ways in which control over the public sector is exercised, would have to be developed.

There was considerable enthusiasm for taking the work forward with further conceptual analysis and more sustained country studies. Hood, Scott and Travers will be following this up with other participants at the event with a view to creating a long term programme of study leading to the publication of an edited book.