Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home

Locked-in or Locked-out: Can a Public Services Market Really Change?

  • MARK CONSIDINE (a1), SIOBHAN O’SULLIVAN (a2), MICHAEL MCGANN (a3) and PHUC NGUYEN (a4)

Abstract

Australia’s welfare-to-work system has been subject to ongoing political contestation and policy reform since the 1990s. In this paper we take a big picture look at the Australian system over time, re-visiting our earlier analysis of the impact of marketisation on flexibility at the frontline over the first ten years of the Australian market in employment services. That analysis demonstrated that marketisation had failed to deliver the service flexibility intended through contracting-out, and had instead produced market herding around a common set of standardised frontline practices. In the interim, there have been two further major redesigns of the Australian system at considerable expense to taxpayers. Re-introducing greater flexibility and service tailoring into the market has been a key aim of these reforms. Calling on evidence from an original, longitudinal survey of frontline employment service staff run in 2008, 2012 and 2016, this paper considers how the Australian market has evolved over its second decade. We find remarkable consistency over time and, indeed, evidence of deepening organisational convergence. We conclude that, once in motion, isomorphic pressures towards standardisation quickly get locked into quasi-market regimes; at least when these pressures occur in low-trust contracting environments.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure no-reply@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Locked-in or Locked-out: Can a Public Services Market Really Change?
      Available formats
      ×

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Locked-in or Locked-out: Can a Public Services Market Really Change?
      Available formats
      ×

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Locked-in or Locked-out: Can a Public Services Market Really Change?
      Available formats
      ×

Copyright

This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

References

Hide All
Ashworth, R., Boyne, G. and Delbridge, R. (2007), ‘Escape from the iron cage? Organisational change and isomorphic pressures in the public sector’, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 19, 1, 165–87.
Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) (2017), Jobactive: Design and monitoring. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.
Bartlett, W. (1991), ‘Quasi-markets and contracts: A markets and hierarchies perspective on NHS reform’, Public Money and Management, 11, 3, 5361.
Beckert, J. (2010), ‘Institutional isomorphism revisited: Convergence and divergence in institutional change’, Sociological Theory, 28, 2, 150–66.
Bennett, H. (2017), ‘Re-examing british welfare-to-work contracting using a transaction cost perspective’, Journal of Social Policy, 46, 1, 129–48.
Bredgaard, T. and Larsen, F. (2007), ‘Implementing public employmnet policy: What happens when non-public agencies take over?’, International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, 27, 7/8, 287300.
Bredgaard, T. and Larsen, F. (2008), ‘Quasi-markets in employment policy: Do they deliver on promises?’, Social Policy and Society, 7, 3, 341–52.
Considine, M. (2001), Enterprising states: The public management of welfare-to-work, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Considine, M. and Lewis, J.M. (1999), ‘Governance at ground level: The frontline bureaucrat in the age of markets and networks’, Public Administration Review, 59, 6, 467480.
Considine, M., Lewis, J.M. and O’Sullivan, S. (2011), ‘Quasi-markets and service delivery flexibility following a decade of employment assistance reform in Australia’, Journal of Social Policy, 40, 4, 811–33.
Considine, M., Lewis, J.M., O’Sullivan, S. and Sol, E. (2015), Getting welfare to work: Street-level governance in Australia, the UK, and the Netherlands. New York: Oxford University Press.
Considine, M., O’Sullivan, S. and Nguyen, P. (2014a), ‘New public management and welfare-to-work in Australia: comparing the reform agendas of the ALP and Coalition’, Australian Journal of Political Science, 49, 3, 469–85.
Considine, M., O’Sullivan, S. and Nguyen, P. (2014b), ‘Governance, boards of directors and the impact of contracting on not-for-profits organisations: an Australian study’, Social Policy and Administration, 48, 2, 169187.
Considine, M., O’Sullivan, S. and Nguyen, P. (2018), ‘The policymaker’s dilemma: the risks and benefits of a 'black box’ approach to commissioning active labour market programmes’, Social Policy and Administration, 52, 1,. 229–51.
Department of Employment (DoE) (2015), Evaluation strategy for jobactive. Canberra: Australian Government. URL: https://docs.employment.gov.au/system/files/doc/other/evaluation_strategy_for_jobactive.pdf Accessed 15/1/2019.
Department of Employment (2016), Employment services 2015 regulation impact statement. Canberra: Australian Government. URL: https://ris.dpmc.gov.au/2016/02/23/employment-services-2015/ Accessed 2/3/16.
DiMaggio, P.J. and Powell, W.W. (1983), ‘The iron cage revisited: Institutional isomorphism and collective rationality in organisational fields’, American Sociological Review, 48, 2, 147–60.
Finn, D. (2011), Job Services Australia: Design and implementation lessons for the British context. London: Department for Work and Pensions.
Finn, D. (2012), Subcontracting in public employment services: The design and delivery of 'outcome based’ and 'black box’ contracts. Brussels: European Commission.
Fletcher, D.R. (2011), ‘Welfare reform, jobcentre plus and the street-level bureaucracy: Towards inconsistent and discriminatory welfare for severely disadvantaged groups’, Social Policy and Society, 10, 4, 445–58.
Frumkin, P. and Galaskiewicz, J. (2004), ‘Institutional isomorphism and public sector organisations,’ Jounral of Public Administration Research and Theory, 14, 3, 283307.
Fuertes, V. and Lindsay, C. (2016), ‘Personalisation and street-level practice in activation: The case of the UK’s work programme’, Public Administration, 94, 2, 526–41.
Gillard, The Hon. Julia. (2008), More flexible, better targetted employment services. Canberra: Australian Government. URL: https://ministers.jobs.gov.au/gillard/more-flexible-better-targeted-employment-services Accessed 14/1/2019.
Greer, I., Breidahl, K.N., Knuth, M. and Larsen, F. (2017), The marketisation of employment services: The dilemmas of Europe’s work-first welfare states: Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hill, J.C. (2013), ‘The marketisation of employment services and the British work programme’, Competition and Change, 17, 2, 197207.
Jobs Australia (2015a), State of play: Jobactive employment services 2015–2020 tender results. URL: https://www.ja.com.au/sites/default/files/final_sop_-_es_2015-2020_tender_results.pdf Accessed 9/5/2016.
Jobs Australia (2015b), Submission on the competition policy review final report. Melbourne: Jobs Australia.
Jobs Australia (2018), Submmision to senate inquiry into the appropriateness and effectiveness of the objectives, design, implementation and evaluation of jobactive. Melbourne: Jobs Australia.
Kitchener, M. (1998), Quasi-market transformation: An institutionalist approach to change in uk hospitals. Public Administration, 76:Spring, 7395.
Knill, C. and Balint, T. (2008), ‘Explaining variation in organisational change: The reform of human resource management in the European Commission and the OECD’, Journal of European Public Policy, 15, 5, 669–90.
Lewis, J.M., Considine, M., O’Sullivan, S., Nguyen, P. and M. (2016), From entitlement to experiment: the new governance of welfare to work ‐ Australian report back to industry partners. Melbourne: University of Melbourne. URL: https://arts.unimelb.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/2165878/2016-Australian-Industry-Report.pdf Accessed 18/7/2018.
Marston, G. and McDonald, C. (2008), ‘Feeling motivated yet? Long-term unemployed people’s perspectives on the implementation of workfare in Australia’, Australian Journal of Social Issues, 43, 2, 255–69.
McDonald, C. and Marston, G. (2008), ‘Re-visiting the quasi-market in employment services: Australia’s Job Network’, Asia Pacific Journal of Public Administration, 30, 2, 101–17.
NESA (2018), Nesa’s response to the senate inquiry into the appropriateness and effectivesnnes of the objectives, design, implementation and evaluation of jobactive. Melbourne: National Employment Services Association.
O’Flynn, J. (2007), Measuring performance in Australia’s Job Network: Part A. Melbourne: the Australia and New Zealand School of Government. URL: https://www.anzsog.edu.au/preview-documents/case-study-level-1/185-measuring-performance-in-australia-s-job-network-a-2007-37-1/file Accessed 2/4/19.
Ramia, G. and Carney, T. (2000), ‘Contractualism, managerialism and welfare: The Australian experiment with a marketised employment services network’, Policy and Politics, 29, 1, 5983.
Ramia, G. and Carney, T. (2010), ‘The Rudd government’s employment services agenda: Is it post-NPM and why is that important?’, Australian Journal of Public Administration, 69, 3, 263–73.
Sainsbury, R. (2017), ‘Activation in the UK: The frontline and the “black box” of employment service provision’, van Berkel, R., Caswell, D., Kupka, P. and Larsen, F. [Eds] Frontline delivery of welfare-to-work policies in europe: Activating the unemployed. New York: Routledge.
Senate Education and Employment References Committee ( SEERC) (2019), Jobactive: Failing those it is intended to service. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.
Senate Standing Committee (SSC). (2009), DEEWR tender process to award employment services contracts. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.
Struyven, L. (2014), ‘Varieties of market competition in public employment services: a comparision of the emergence and evolution of the new system in Australia, the Netherlands and Belgium’, Social Policy and Administration, 48, 2, 149–68.
Taylor, R., Rees, J. and Damm, C. (2016), ‘UK employment services: Understanding provider strategies in a dynamic strategic action field,Policy and Politics, 44, 2, 253–67.
Thomas, M. (2007), A review of developments in the Job Network. Canberra: Parliament of Australia. URL: https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/RP0708/08rp15 Accessed 16/3/16
van Berkel, R. (2014), ‘Quasi-markets and the delivery of activation: A frontline perspective’, Social Policy and Administration, 48, 2, 188203.
Wiggan, J. (2015), ‘Varieties of marketisation in the UK: Examining divergence in activation markets between Great Britain and Northern Ireland 2008–2014’, Policy Studies, 36, 2, 115–32.

Keywords

Locked-in or Locked-out: Can a Public Services Market Really Change?

  • MARK CONSIDINE (a1), SIOBHAN O’SULLIVAN (a2), MICHAEL MCGANN (a3) and PHUC NGUYEN (a4)

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed