Reinterpreting agencies in UK central government: on meaning, motive and policymaking

Elston, Thomas (2014) Reinterpreting agencies in UK central government: on meaning, motive and policymaking. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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This thesis is a qualitative and interpretive exploration of continuity and change in the role of executive agencies in UK central government. Its three objectives are: (i) to test the longevity of the semi-autonomous agency model first introduced by Conservative governments after 1988; (ii) to explore the department-agency task division in the policymaking processes supposedly fragmented by this ‘agencification’; and (iii) to evaluate the paradigmatic testament of contemporary agency policy and practice in Whitehall. The thesis builds from an extended case study conducted during the 2010 Coalition Government in the Ministry of Justice and three of its agencies – the National Offender Management Service, HM Courts and Tribunals Service, and the Office of the Public Guardian. Social constructivist meta-theory and the application of narrative and discourse analysis together make for an account of interpretive transformation that is theorised by discursive institutionalism.

Substantively, the thesis first describes an asymmetric departure from the ‘accountable management’ philosophy which the 1988 Next Steps agency programme originally epitomised. Agency meaning is multivocal, but contemporarily converges towards accountability and transparent corporate governance, rather than managerial empowerment, de-politicisation and decentralisation. Secondly, institutional preservation of the policy-delivery work dichotomy is registered, yet found to be a poor descriptor of both historic and contemporary policy processes. Agency staff act as policy initiators and collaborators, contrary to Next Steps’ quasi-contractual, principal-agent logic, and further evidencing the departmentalisation of the once arm’s-length agency model. Thirdly, and paradigmatically, while no unidirectional trend is found, the thesis adds to the growing literature positing some departure from the former ideological and practical predominance of ‘new public management’. In so doing, it also demonstrates the challenges faced by large-N population ecology and administrative systems analysis – the favoured methodology in much international agencification scholarship – in accounting for continuity and change in policy, practice and paradigm.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Cope, S.
Stafford, B.
Keywords: Public administration; public management; civil service reform; agencies; agencification; interpretive; social construction; narrative analysis
Subjects: J Political science > JN Political institutions (Europe)
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > School of Sociology and Social Policy
Item ID: 14045
Depositing User: EP, Services
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2014 12:17
Last Modified: 15 Dec 2017 03:59

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