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The Official History of British Civil Service: The Importance of Reform

The 'Permanent Revolution' Thatcher and Major dramatically changed British civil service and Whitehall, and political leverage provided by prime minister's strong backing was to support changes of 1980s and 1990s. Key Momentum Factor.

But process of change has been fragmented and in some ways unsystematic, New Right ideology was just one of factors, and economic and financial constraints were critical to stimulating and sustaining an effective Whitehall movement and administration. important, as are insiders with managerial mindsets and outside business advisors to prime minister.

On contrary, Johnson government's approach to civil service reform, if it creates too much instability and unnecessary conflict, rather than relying on ideas within Whitehall and support at various levels, could be doomed to failure.

Harold Wilson has been described as "commanding and in awe of public service". The Labor Prime Minister is said to think he has seriously offended Permanent Secretary, which will greatly upset Prime Minister.

The Official History of British Civil Service: The Importance of Reform

On contrary, Ms. Margaret Thatcher showed no such reverence for Whitehall system and after 1979 made it public policy to insult class and what it represented for its core content.

On whole, twentieth-century prime ministers were content with civil servants running civil service, but not Mrs Thatcher, who refused to recognize a professional civil service as an institutional interest she sought to "take away" (in wages, pensions, job security). ) and was determined to fight inefficiency and politics in Whitehall.

Margaret Thatcher's successor, John Major, was not a politician with "anti-establishment" convictions, but adhered to a consultative style, although after 1990 change intensified.

The second volume of The Official History of British Civil System by Rodney Low and Hugh Pemberton is subtitled The Thatcher Woman and Great Revolution, which speaks for itself.

The Official History of British Civil Service: The Importance of Reform

If subject of Lowe and Pemberton is "deep crisis" of civil service and "fundamental reforms" initiated between 1982 and 1997, then it is same as first volume of The Official History by Rodney Lowe ("The Official History" ), in sharp contrast to central theme.

The subtitle by Rodney Lowe states that film covers Fulton era with extensive historical context from Northcote Trevelyan and Fisher Bridges eras.

For all Whitehall upheavals and reform initiatives of 1960s and early 1970s: The Prudden Council, Fulton Report, Heath's "new style of government", reorganization and reorganization of departmental apparatus, Roe Denis Law story. is ultimately a failure of "modernization".

What distinguished Thatcher-Major era?

The Official History of British Civil Service: The Importance of Reform

A few years later and Harold Wilson and Edward Heath seemed to lose interest in Whitehall's reforms, but Mrs Thatcher was different. She didn't ignore issue.

Major continued to exert pressure after 1990, partly to assert his own political identity (the Civic Charter was his "big idea"), and perhaps partly because in this area, thanks to a struggling government, it was possible to actually see how it gets results.

Consecutive electoral victories and long-term rule after 1979 gave reform of Conservative Party a strong impetus.

The Official History of British Civil Service: The Importance of Reform

For most of 20th century, civil service was self-governing, self-confident, a force to be reckoned with and which ensures its role in national government.

A number of senior officials (Warren Fisher, Edward Bridges, Norman Brooke, William Armstrong) have influenced development, perhaps more "good and big" than politicians or outside commissions of inquiry.

Whitley is negotiating with civil servants' unions to bring about change from within by consensus.

However, two landmark events in 1981 cleared way for such a hardline approach: the failure of a twenty-week strike of civil servants that same year and abolition of civil service.

The Official History of British Civil Service: The Importance of Reform

In 1979 there was no plan or strategy by Margaret Thatcher for a revolution in Whitehall. Instead, Whitehall was full of Mrs. Thatcher's prejudices and a general conservative belief in commercial superiority of private sector.

The process of change then proceeds in stages, in some ways unsystematic.

In early 1980s, influence of New Right ideas should not be exaggerated, until later government action was often presented as an ideologically coherent program involving a fundamental rethinking of role of government, often with reference to American public choice theory. and masters of management, but even so ideology is only one factor, not most important.

The fact that major governance reforms eventually won all-party support, and were based to some extent on early Fultonist ideas backed by Labor, suggests that they should not be seen as a mere "legal phenomenon" wing ".

The Official History of British Civil Service: The Importance of Reform

The role of Labor MP Giles Radis on Parliamentary Treasury and Civil Service Select Committees has been instrumental in securing bipartisan support.

After 1997, Tony Blair's new Labor government continued to run institutions using Charterist outsourcing and with a focus on management, efficiency and productivity, although New Labor often redesigned administrative software and technology.

However, British experience is not unique: during this period, programs for reforming "new public administration" under governments of different political views in other countries were generally similar.

Another factor in success of civil service reform in 1980s and 1990s compared to 1960s was change in Whitehall and functioning of government.

The Official History of British Civil Service: The Importance of Reform

The assumptions of Fulton era were more government spending, "big government" and more government activities. But since mid-1970s, economic restrictions have become more acute, and experience of economic crisis and difficult times has led to tight control over budget and functioning of state.

Such acute external pressure was an important background factor in sustaining efficiency gains and cost reductions in 1980s (and continued into 1990s).

Successful bureaucratic reform requires strong government support.

William Armstrong is portrayed as civil servant who undermined Fulton reforms in late 1960s and early 1970s, but he was in fact limited by vested interests of civil servants' unions and federal nature of civil service, as opposed to negotiations between Department and high-ranking Whitehall officials stymied reforms of period.

The Official History of British Civil Service: The Importance of Reform

As Lowe and Pemberton admit, in late Thatcher period and throughout main period, Robin Butler decided to focus more on role of head of civil service rather than absorb office of Robert Armstrong's predecessor. influence.

In early 1970s, Heath brought in several business consultants to improve government organization and decision-making, but at time they (mostly) had little influence.

In 1980s, prime minister's strong and active support gave Reiner decisive leverage, but equally important was his skillful engagement with departments and identification of civil servants through "screening programs" and "efficiency strategies." reform momentum.

Efficiency was a key part of this process, and later, under leadership of Citizens Charter Unit, he demonstrated how a small team of reform officials can change status quo: burn off institutional inertia or resistance, maintain pressure for change, and also use reform ideas and initiatives.

The Official History of British Civil Service: The Importance of Reform

No one pushed Fulton's reforms more than Whitehall guerrillas, and Fulton's reforms got bogged down in bureaucratic procedures.

The 'Permanent Revolution' of Thatcher and Major, as it gathered momentum, dramatically changed landscape of Whitehall. The number of civil servants fell from over 700,000 in 1979 to less than 500,000 in 1997.

As Law and Pemberton show, agencies, citizen charters, market testing, and outsourcing schemes had a huge impact on public organization and service management, and public service really needed to do more for public before Citizens' Charter was adopted. Great answer.

The reforms have brought real benefits in terms of improved business and financial management, increased efficiency and profitability, although some claims of improved service quality have been more controversial.

The Official History of British Civil Service: The Importance of Reform

However, constant wave of reforms has had a destabilizing effect on staff as well.

Furthermore, there are practical problems with accountability mechanisms in a world of executives, delegated administration, and a "balkanized" civil service.

In a political situation where there is a lot of accountability between ministers, agency heads and heads of public services, when things go wrong, constitutional implications of parliamentary and public accountability at top of government and Whitehall, and implications for ministerial accountability are all too hypocritical.

Ms Thatcher challenged conventional wisdom and Whitehall's departmental orthodoxy and was determined to uphold political authority of citizens. Accusations of conservatives in "politicization" of civil service during this period are quite understandable.

The Official History of British Civil Service: The Importance of Reform

In fact, Mrs Thatcher's supporters' frustration at failing to attract politically determined business outsiders was more of a socialization effect than a crudely partisan politicization effect, in sense that an entire generation of officials learned that sober managers get things done and produce results for their political masters, while traditional bureaucrats wither away.

The detachment or "neutral ability" once expected of high-ranking officials to implement policy is no longer enough. In addition, ministers appear to have little confidence in and advice to civil servants, and decisions are increasingly taken informally, often at meetings of ministers and special advisers, with exception of officials.

Lowe and Pemberton make it clear that continuity of institutionalization of civil service and devaluation of political approaches to today's public civil service have raised Northcote Trevi's "good" values ​​and serious doubts about country's decision. production capacity in mid-1990s.

“Reform will continue,” Robin Butler warned civil service in 1996, and of course pressure and progress on executive reform did not abate after election of a new Labor government in 1997, in 2010 after change of government.

The Official History of British Civil Service: The Importance of Reform

However, it is unclear whether there will be detailed written accounts covering period since late 1990s, and whether there will be official support for any future official Whitehall historian in reviewing civil service reform over past two decades. And Pembertonian deep excavations.

History will not repeat itself, but can elements that made early Thatcher-Major civil service revolution successful happen today?

Dominic Cummings, former chief adviser to Boris Johnson, seems to take great pleasure in insulting Permanent Secretary of Civil Service.

Combining contempt for organization, methods, culture and people of state apparatus with a determination to push for change, Cummings, even in midst of huge challenges of Brexit and coronavirus pandemic, argues that mistreatment both highlight need for a fundamental transformation of Whitehall.

The Official History of British Civil Service: The Importance of Reform

Boris Johnson has never personally shown signs of a detailed understanding of mechanics and processes of government, and only time will tell if he will deliver kind of sustained commitment to Prime Minister that has been critical in shaping, driving and sustaining reform momentum. 1980s and 1990s.

There is a danger that Cummings' belligerence could poison problem, jeopardizing what is seen as a necessary revision of Whitehall's analysis, technical capability, hiring and organization. Warnings about a purge of some senior permanent secretaries have also intensified, hindering rather than helping bipartisan reform consensus.

Despite fact that many officials understand and accept need for change, government's approach will create too much instability and unnecessary conflict, unlike what Reiner and Ibbs did with their political masters in 1980s. just like it was, can be self-destructive.

Abandoning revolutionary upheaval and Cummings-style reform could actually open way for constructive change in Whitehall.

References: C. Texton, The Labor Party and Whitehall, London, Routledge, 1992.

R. Lowe and H. Pemberton, The Official History of British Civil Service: Reforming Civil Service, Volume 2: Mrs. Thatcher and Great Revolution, London, Routledge, 2020

K. Texton Whitehall Leadership 1999

K. Texton and P. Connelly, UK Policy Development 2018

P. Dolley, Major Prime Ministers: Politics and Politics Under John Major 1990-97 Macmillan, London 1999

D. Richards, New Labor and Civil Service, London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2007

The End of Whitehall?, P. Diamond, London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.

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