In Political Culture, The Public Sector

Public Sector Modernisation: Bad and Good News

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  • The study of public sector reform is indeed a niche hobby Frank, even though it is difficult to find anybody opposed to its practice! There is as usual a lot of food for thought here, although you are perhaps underplaying the wider political and economic environment which is determining the current reform agenda and the prioritisation of reforms. This is of course not an Irish story – austerity-driven reforms across the OECD are occurring so quickly and with such variety that it is tricky to make an assessment of their trajectory (or direction as you put it), the theories underpinning them, or their common content (though I’m sure you have views on this!). Of interest is the manner in which traditional public service concerns about co-ordination, standardisation and control are to be combined with contemporary concerns over efficiency and public service innovation. Principles and values of ‘old’ public administration are re-discovered in this process as you suggest. On accountability, the shortcomings of the current system are well-rehearsed, and you are right to sympathise with the officials charged with finding a solution to these problems and anticipating the consequences of a new accountability regime (contractual or otherwise). What civil servants and Ministers are to be reasonably held accountable for, and the forum for doing this, inevitably brings up the issue of the capacity and quality of parliamentary committees, and the rules of engagement for investigating the allocation of responsibility. More accountability does not mean better accountability of course. But you might consider a separate blog on this issue?

    (Incidentally, to complete the link in relation to the very interesting work of the NESC you point to, from memory some of the Council’s ideas on capacity and implementation (from its 2010 report on ‘Re-finding Success in Europe: The Challenge for Irish Institutions and Policy’ fed into the original ‘Fit for Purpose’ document. Perhaps there is more agreement on the way forward than is recognised.)


    • franklitton

      Thanks Muiris. Of course you are correct. It is after all the Department of PUBLIC EXPENDITURE and reform. In these difficult times cutting public expenditure dominates the agenda. Talk of ‘modernisation’ is the ‘bullshit’ or flag-waving to help the medicine go down. Still it is hard not to be depressed by the tattered condition of the flag. Problems abound, the design for democracy creeks; what I find difficult to understand is why these are supposed to be problems with accountability.