Debate over the nature and import of the New Public Management (NPM) is as intense today as it has been over the last decade. This book is concerned with exploring this debate. This introduction will provide the context for the chapters which follow and frame some key questions to consider in this debate. The first section will situate the NPM within the historical development of public administration and management in the UK, and the second section will broaden this context to a global one. The concluding section will highlight some key questions to consider in evaluating the impact of the NPM.
The nature of public services, and of research and theory about them, has changed dramatically over the last 100 years. Drawing upon the experience of the UK, it is possible to distinguish four distinctive stages of development, starting from the late nineteenth century onwards. Other nations will present with variations upon this model, but it is a useful classification, nonetheless.
The late nineteenth century, as Thatcher never tired of reminding us in the UK, was the period of the minimal state. This is the first stage of the development of public management. Government provision was seen, at best, as a necessary evil. The majority of public services were located in the charitable sector, or through private provision (Owen 1965). Indeed, in the US, such a model was elevated almost to the status of a social principle, as de Tocqueville (1971) noted at the time (see also Salamon 1987; Moulton and Anheier 2000). However, the minimal state or the state as a necessary evil is not the same thing as no state whatsoever. It was in these early days of public provision that the basic principles of public administration were laid out. Wilson (1887) famously distinguished between the constitutional structure of government and the administration of its roles.
The second stage of public management, commencing in the early twentieth century, is best characterized as that of unequal partnership between government and the charitable and private sectors. In part, this was a function of a larger ideological shift, from the traditional conservatism of the nineteenth century