Influences on relationships between Ministers and Civil Servants in British Government: A study based on the perceptions of former Ministers
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AbstractThis thesis focuses on the relationships between Ministers and Civil Servants in British Government. It is argued that the deliberative space for officials to devise and critique policy in tandem with Ministers is contracting. The change occurred after Margaret Thatcher incentivised officials to behave in certain ways, and her embrace of New Public Management made relationships within government more transactional. Given this scenario the thesis explores how relationships between Ministers and officials can be improved. To determine this twenty-five former UK Government Ministers were interviewed complementing an earlier study which examined the issue from the perspective of senior officials. These Ministers reported that successful relationships were most likely to be established when Civil Servants demonstrated effective leadership, commitment to implementing policy, honesty, technical skill, and awareness of political and external realities. In addition it is thought that time invested early in the relationship helps to communicate Ministers’ expectations. Ministers also reported what they feel to be behaviours which undermine the relationship: misunderstanding the professional role of officials, relying upon special advisors rather than direct contact with officials, a lack of managerial experience, and public criticism of officials. Ministers also identified Civil Servants’ behaviours likely to result in poor relationships - appearing averse to change, being unable to rationalise the advantages of existing approaches, and a reluctance to lead or assume responsibility. Some of the perceptions identified in the literature, such as Civil Servants seeking control and lacking competence, were not afforded the same prominence by Ministerial interviewees. They highlighted systemic issues including the feudal and hierarchical nature of Whitehall, and their perception that the wrong skills and behaviours are incentivised. They also noted the lack of training for Ministers and their inability to pass on their experiences to colleagues. In addition to these observations about personal relations respondents expressed a deeper concern about the changing roles and expectations between Ministers and officials. Despite the evident contradiction between contemporary practice and the constitutional position created by Haldane in 1918, Ministers still appear to accept the latter as the basis for their relationships with officials. Further research may be required to explore this, alongside the disparity identified between the ministerial view from the literature and my interviewees, and the training lacuna. The thesis concludes by making a number of recommendations concerning future practice.
CitationStokes, D. (2016). Influences on relationships between Ministers and Civil Servants in British Government: A study based on the perceptions of former Ministers. (Doctoral dissertation). University of Chester, United Kingdom.
PublisherUniversity of Chester
TypeThesis or dissertation
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