Principles Meet Practicalities

Challenges of accountability reform in the British civil service

Authored by: Thomas Elston

The Routledge Handbook to Accountability and Welfare State Reforms in Europe

Print publication date:  November  2016
Online publication date:  November  2016

Print ISBN: 9781472470591
eBook ISBN: 9781315612713
Adobe ISBN: 9781317044208


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How should public servants be held to account for the delivery of government programs? Are politicians to be responsible for all aspects of public service provision, no matter their level of direct personal involvement? Or should unelected civil servants ‘take the wrap’ when things go wrong on the front line? These are complex questions that can be answered in a variety of ways, reflecting different value positions, cultures and administrative traditions. What is striking, therefore, about the organizational and management reforms undertaken by many governments since the 1980s is their demonstration of a growing belief that officials should indeed be more directly accountable for the delivery of public services. How this is achieved, of course, varies between countries, but the idea that bureaucratic performance should be subject to greater scrutiny, with civil servants facing meaningful consequences for success or failure, has found widespread favor.

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