This paper discusses recent experience of public service reform in the UK, in terms of its theoretical underpinning, the mechanisms developed to effect change, and the impacts of change. Crucial aspects of the regime that have evolved under New Labour here include the roles of external inspection and quasi-markets. Our key claim is that a close study of the enactment of public service reform provides important insights about the conduct of government practices that are often absent in more abstract interpretations of governmentality. The paper first discusses interpretations of UK public sector reform that foreground the significance of neo-liberal ideology. Second, this discussion of neo-liberalism is used as a base to explore the distinctiveness of New Labour's reforms against the backdrop of the Conservative policies in the 1980s. While noting the orthodox justification for reshaping state welfare provision we suggest that a more agency focused analysis of these reforms is required if we are to understand their specific impact. Third, to support this argument, we investigate how "reform impacts" may be measured with reference to New Labour's reforms of local authority housing services. Overall, we conclude that while neo-liberalism is an important influence it is mistaken to assume a necessary causal relationship between ideology and practice. Instead research should seek to foreground the interstices and rival narratives that co-exist effectively within the institutions of government. © 2010 Taylor & Francis.
- Public service reform
- Social housing