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The Politics of Agency Death: Ministers and the Survival of Government Agencies in a Parliamentary System

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2015


This article extends the theory of government agency survival from separation of powers to parliamentary government systems. It evaluates expectations of increased risk to agencies following transitions in government, prime minister or departmental minister, and from incongruence between the originally establishing and currently overseeing political executive. Using survival models for UK executive agencies between 1989 and 2012, the study finds that politics trumps performance. Ministers seek to make their mark by terminating agencies created by previous ministers, which is reinforced by high media attention to the agency. Performance against agency targets is not associated with higher termination risk, and replacement agencies do not perform any better than those that were terminated. Financial autonomy provides some protection for agencies that are less dependent on budgetary appropriations.

© Cambridge University Press 2015 

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Department of Politics, University of Exeter (email:; Martin School of Public Policy & Administration, University of Kentucky (email:; Department of Politics, University of Exeter (email:; Cardiff Business School, Cardiff University (email: Support for this research was provided by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (Chief Executive Succession and the Performance of Central Government Agencies, grant no RES-062-23-2471). We would like to thank J.S. Butler and Ken Meier for helpful comments on earlier versions of this article. Replication data and code will be available by June 2015 at 10.1017/S0007123414000477 and also at and


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