The British Council, Governance

Council publications in governance

Public Sector Reform in Britain: Briefing Notes

Part 1: Civil Service Reform

Part 2: Local Government Reform


The activities of the public service in Britain range from direct delivery of services to the public, to the provision of policy advice to Ministers. Traditional strengths of the British Civil Service have been its integrity, political impartiality, objectivity, recruitment and promotion on merit, and accountability through Ministers to Parliament. Progressive reforms, especially since the early 1980s, have effected radical changes in the size, structure and function of the civil service, with staff numbers falling from 748,000 in 1976 to below 500,000 in 1996. Across the board introduction of private sector practices into the public service, and exposure of public enterprises to market forces, has changed the face of the public sector.

An increasingly centralised system of government has brought radical change to the structure and function of local government in Britain. Driving the changes has been a Conservative Government strongly embracing a 'free market' philosophy, and viewing the public sector as too big, overstaffed, and too expensive. These notes briefly review the main reforms of the last few years in the public sector in Britain, commenting upon the rationale and the more immediate impact.

Forward to Part 1: Civil Service Reform, background or
Return to Briefing notes index.






Produced in Britain by the British Council
© The British Council 1997

The British Council, registered in England as a charity no. 209131, is the United Kingdom's
international network for education, culture and development services.