Since the Fulton Committee's report in 1968 there has been a constant stream of initiatives from Labour and Conservative governments aimed at strengthening central government and reforming the civil service. Many now belong to the dustbin of history, their labels redolent of times past. Who now remembers or cares about CPRS, MINIS, FMI, the ‘3Es’, Next Steps agencies, and citizens' charters? A sceptic might remark that nothing persists except the persistent drive for reform.
Even against this backcloth of frenetic activity, one word captures the Blair government's handling of the central machinery of government – hyperactive. However understood, whatever the results, nobody can deny there has been much activity. This chapter tells three stories of central change: the centralisation story, which claims the changes sought to increase the power of the Prime Minister at the expense of cabinet and the departments; the management story, which claims the attempt to reform the civil service foundered on Blair's lack of policymaking and management skills; and the governance story, which argues the Prime Minister is locked into webs of dependence that undermined his initiatives. Finally, we essay an overall assessment.
The centralisation story
The trend to executive centralisation is seen by many commentators as widespread in parliamentary government. For example, Poguntke and Webb argue that executive presidentialism occurs when there is a shift of ‘political power resources and autonomy to the benefit of individual leaders’ and ‘a concomitant loss of power and autonomy of collective actors like cabinets’.
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