James Downe, Steve Martin, and Tony Bovaird

In recent years, the performance of public service organizations has attracted increasing attention from policymakers and researchers around the globe. The need to curb increases in public expenditure has focused interest on improving the productivity of public services. Simultaneously, a recognition that standards often fall short of citizens’ expectations has encouraged attempts to enhance service quality. These dual imperatives have prompted a host of reform programs. The Clinton administration’s National Performance Review and Government Performance and Results Act was one of the earliest and best documented (Radin 1998), but there have been similar initiatives in many other Western democracies including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and several continental European countries (Naschold 1996; Pollitt and Bouckaert 2000).

This chapter examines an ambitious program of reforms designed to improve the performance of local public services in England. (As a result of administrative devolution within the United Kingdom, rather different reform programs have been adopted in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland). We start with a review of the theoretical framework that informed the reform program. This included performance management reforms, but also covered a wide range of other governance reforms. The chapter then demonstrates how that theoretical framework influenced policymakers’ strategies for improving local public services. Next, survey data on the impacts of various elements of this strategy are analyzed. Finally, the chapter concludes with a discussion of the implications for policy and future evaluations of large-scale reform strategies.

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