British Politics

Palgrave Foundations Series, second edition

by Robert Leach, Bill Coxall and Lynton Robins

Chapter 21 notes - Government Spending: Delivering Public Services

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  • A consensus over Britain’s welfare state in the post-war decades gave way to increased questioning of the efficiency of public services, and attempts to introduce more competition and private sector methods into their management.
  • New Labour continued much of the reform process, including internal markets and partnership with the private sector, while increasing substantially spending on public services such as health and education.
  • Labour set numerous targets for public services, and extensively monitored performance, publishing ‘league tables’ on the records of schools and hospitals and other institutions. Some argued that targets and league tables were dysfunctional and distorted priorities.
  • There is a continuing tension between politicians’ rhetoric on decentralization and delegation and (both Conservative and Labour) government intervention in specific areas of public service management.
  • Although there have been substantial increases in spending on health and education especially, there remain doubts whether value for money has always been achieved.
  • The recession and mounting government debt have led to substantial cuts in public spending, and an ongoing debate over the size, shape and role of the state. Some in the coalition government have been accused of following an ideological agenda to ‘shrink the state’.
  • Coalition spending cuts have particularly hit welfare benefits, local government services and higher education.
  • Yet there remain continuing long-term pressures to extend and expand public expenditure.