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Analyse the Major Changes That Have Taken Place in the Uk Civil Service over the Last Twenty Years

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'Analyse the major changes that have taken place in the

UK civil service over the last twenty years'

The civil service is very much the backbone of UK government, underpinning Britain's governmental system. This essay will aim to explain and analyse the changes in the civil service over the past twenty years, starting with an overview of just what the civil service is.

The civil service differ from the government and the ministers within it in that they are politically neutral and are permanent - they do not change when governments do. There are two types of civil servant, they being generalists and specialists. Generalists have the ability to adapt to the needs of different departments and often move from one department to another. Specialists on the other hand are just as the name suggests. They specialise in one area (department). They are unlikely to change departments through out their career, meaning there is little possibility for their careers to progress to the highest level of civil service.

Most civil servants fit the stereo type of having been educated at public school, and of having been to Oxbridge, with this ringing true for the past twenty years. However, the last two decades has seen a shift in both the backgrounds of civil servants and the skills civil servants require. They now require in depth managerial skills, as well as the traditional mandarin skills that are associated with the job of being a civil servant, including managing political interference, political nous and a thorough knowledge of governmental and parliamentary processes(Dunleavy et al, 2000, Pg. 64).

This shift towards the need for managerial skills is a consequence of the changes that were made by the Conservative government in the 1980's. In 1968, a report commissioned by the government of the time, known as the Fulton Report, concluded that changes were needed in the way in which the civil service was run. However it wasn't until the 1980's when Margaret Thatcher came to power that changes were actually made. The creation of executive government agencies was a major component in the changes made to the civil service under the Thatcher governments. The so called Next Steps movement altered the way in which the civil service was run. As Thatcher saw it, the civil service she inherited when she came to power was too process orientated and not output orientated. In other words, the civil servants were too worried about how they did their jobs, not what they achieved. Thatcher believed that they operated in a more public way, as oppose to her preference of working in a more privatised framework. She believed that if the civil service was in competition with each other (and even to those whom work may be contracted out to), more would be achieved and there would be increased efficiency in the service; hence the creation of government agencies (Coxall et al, 2003, Pg. 214). Indeed, in 1991, compulsive competitive tendering (CCT) was implemented in the civil service, meaning servants had to compete with outsiders for jobs. It was the intention to transfer the costs of civil servants duties to the private sector, and this worked, as by January 1995, the government had saved over Ј1bn (http://www.odpm.gov.uk/).

Before the Next Steps makeover of the civil service, it was the individual departments within government that made the decisions each department had to e.g. department of transport. However, with the Next Steps initiative in place, departments were broken down into different agencies. The following organisational structure shows a typical layout under the Next Steps scheme.

As you can see from the diagram, each agency is ultimately headed by a minister, invariably a member of the cabinet - a secretary of state. Junior ministers and under secretaries follow, working in the different agencies headed by the department, until the chain ends with each agency's under secretaries. Unseen in the diagram, each agency would have a Chief Executive, responsible for the agency. However, the bureaucracy in this case leads to issues of accountability. In the event of a mistake, the minister in ultimate charge of the department would blame the Chief Executive of the agency and visa versa, with neither taking responsibility.

Thatcher's belief was that the Next Steps scheme would:

Provide a clear distinction between policy advice and policy delivery

Ease the burden on departments by giving the responsibility of analysing their work and identifying their functions to the individual agencies

Give agencies freedom, though they would still retain a 'parent' department in central government (e.g. the DVLA's 'parent' department is the department of transport

Allow ministers and the 'parent' department to set out a framework agreement for each agency, and allocate resources

Provide clear performance targets for each agency

(Budge et al, 2001)

Although the Next Steps scheme is perhaps the most overwhelming change in the civil service in the UK over the last twenty years, other changes have been made, with the primary function being that of minimising waste, and increasing efficiency levels. Such measures include the 'curtailment of privileges' (Coxall et al, 2003, Pg. 214), where a performance related pay scheme was set up by Thatcher's government in 1981. This led to strike action by the civil service unions, lasting 21 days, as they felt this was an undue course of action for the government to take. However, when looking at this issue more closely, it can be seen that the strike action only served to hinder the civil servants in the long run, as trade union membership was banned by the government for civil servants, and the Civil service Department was abolished.

Before the inception of the Next Steps programme in 1988, other initiatives were set into practice to help improve efficiency within the civil service. The first of such initiatives was a small efficiency unit set up in the Cabinet Office, headed by Sir Derek Rayner (Budge et al, 2001, Pg. 274). The so called 'scrutinies' made by Rayner in the late 1970's and early 1980's led to 'substantial savings amounting to Ј1.5 billion by 1993' (http://www.bopcris.ac.uk/bop1984/ref4497.html), as he attempted to streamline the civil service.

Alongside the Rayner scrutiny programme, another initiative

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