Serving the Public? Users, Consumers and the Limits of NPM

Authored by: Janet Newman

The Ashgate Research Companion to New Public Management

Print publication date:  December  2010
Online publication date:  March  2016

Print ISBN: 9780754678069
eBook ISBN: 9781315613321
Adobe ISBN: 9781317042372


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Many of the features of NPM discussed in this volume have been introduced in the name of the service user or consumer. Structural devolution is claimed to bring management decisions closer to the customer and thus to enable more responsiveness to service users. Managerialism itself challenges professional power bases and is strongly associated with the consumerist turn in public services. Marketisation and competition are viewed as empowering users by enabling them to have greater choice of provider. And New Public Management has produced important developments around service quality, flexibility and responsiveness. The question of how far these developments enable organisations to better serve their publics and deliver public value is, however, more problematic (Newman and Clarke 2009). The aim in this chapter is threefold: first, to trace the genealogy of developments such as quality, consumerism and public participation; second, to explore their capacity to ‘empower’ the service user and wider publics; and third, to challenge their continued relevance in the face of contemporary economic, social and political challenges. In doing so it returns to the matrix of governance regimes I first developed to explain developments associated with the first New Labour administration in the UK, which was strongly associated with the rise of NPM; but then rework this around current ideas of a ‘new synthesis’ in public administration that challenges many of the NPM orthodoxies.

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