Public sector ‘Modernisation’: examining the impact of a change agenda on local government employees in England

Can public sector reform change service performance for the better? This is a hotly contested debate which carries significant theoretical and practical importance. In England, as in many countries, modernisation was at the heart of local government reform and represented an interpretation of New Public Management into a policy framework. This paper examines the role of the modernisation change agenda in England and what this has subsequently meant for ‘service improvement’. Drawing on both document analyses and qualitative interviews with local government employees, we find that while modernisation sought to establish continuous improvement, unintended consequences of modernisation have led to Staff Reductions, Skill Deficiencies, and Loss of a Competent Middle Core in local government, as well as performance outcomes creating an environment for Commissioning, Service Reduction, and Self-Policing. Implications for the lasting roles and behaviours of public managers affected by this national change agenda are discussed, and conclusions for theory and practice are drawn.