New Public Management: Current Trends and Future Prospects

By Kate McLaughlin; Stephen P. Osborne et al. | Go to book overview
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Chapter 6

Public service professionals and the New Public Management

Control of the professions in the public services

Jane Broadbent and Richard Laughlin


At the beginning of the twentieth century the concern with efficiency promoted by the Progressive era led to a series of developments that have come to be known as 'classical management' techniques. These included attempts to promote the systematization of work using division of labour and standardization with a resulting justification of the role of management and control of working practices. Standardization provided the basis for control techniques such as operations management and, with the aid of accounting, standard costing (Miller and O'Leary 1987). Braverman's (1974) influential, but debated, critique of these management approaches cannot be dismissed lightly. The relevance of Braverman's analysis is that it highlights that the debate about the technical nature of the changes is just one thread of the complex tapestry that surrounds these issues. One of the elements that have been used to control labour is the technology of accounting, and this can be associated with classical management techniques that were developed in the context of attempts to control craft workers but whose contemporary relevance is in the control of professionals. The aim of this chapter is to seek to complement the literature that has looked at the relationship between professionals and managerialism in the broader sense (Exworthy and Halford 1999). To do this we focus on both the use of the technologies of accounting and what we call 'accounting logic' in the processes of management control.

The concern of this chapter is the public service sector in the UK where New Public Management (NPM) has sought to import 'private sector' techniques of management and accounting (Dunleavy and Hood 1994). This, despite a rhetorical appeal to the idea of implementing market-based controls, has included aspects of 'classical management'. Arguably, two key contextual issues affect the extent to which this move might be seen as appropriate or successful. First, many organizations in the public services are complex professional bureaucracies (Mintzberg 1983) characterized by the involvement of a number of professional groups. These groups have a history of relative autonomy over their working practices and often have a great deal of status which gives them power vis à vis other stakeholder groups. Second, arguably, the 'outputs' of these organizations (and in effect the professionals who work within them who are


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