This workshop series takes a historical look at the way technology and public policy change have figured in past periods of austerity, and how spending cuts have been achieved by these means.

How does government get ‘cut back’ in a public spending crisis? In spite of the UK government’s original claims that spending on public services would not be cut as a result of the credit crisis and banking bailout of 2008, leaders of the main political parties now agree that cutting the public sector will be at the heart of any recovery plan. Public policy changes and use of the internet and related digital technologies are likely to figure large in such processes. The aim of this lunchtime workshop is to take a historical look at the way technology and public policy change have figured in past periods of austerity, and how spending cuts have been achieved by these means.

Digital technologies have long been promoted as a key way to improve public sector efficiency and productivity, yet evidence that they have actually done so seems sketchy and indeed, scrapping various large-scale IT projects seems to be advocated by all three main parties as a way of achieving cutbacks in the current crisis. Has technology led to ‘leaner’ (or fatter) government or is it in fact just ‘meaner’ – in terms of conditionality in welfare spending for example? In terms of public policy change, it is likewise an open question as to whether or how far the preferred reform strategies of recent decades (such as outsourcing, private financing, more elaborate audit and inspection regimes, target systems, performance bonuses) can serve equally well for cost-savings in periods of austerity as for management in boom times.

This workshop is intended to bring in participants from several disciplines that are relevant to understanding the interaction of the internet and other technological developments on government and public services. The workshop is part of a series which has been running for several years, and comprises a small informal group of faculty and graduate students interested in the analysis of public policy, public services and executive government.

  • Week 3 (Wednesday 3 February)

    Christopher Hood, University of Oxford: UK Government Cutbacks and Public Services: Looking Back and Looking Forward

  • Week 4 (Wednesday 10 February)

    Leslie Willcocks, London School of Economics: Outsourcing and Offshoring: The Route to Lower-Cost Public Services?

  • Week 5 (Wednesday 17 February)

    Patrick Dunleavy and Leandro Carrera, London School of Economics: Information technology, management practices, productivity and spending priorities in NHS Acute Healthcare Trusts

  • Week 6 (Wednesday 24 February)

    Tony Travers, London School of Economics: Easy(Ryan)Councils

  • Week 7 (Wednesday 3 March)

    Colin Thain, University of Birmingham: The Last Cuts: Treasury Reforms from the 1990s

About the speakers

This page was last modified on 15 March 2017