Public Service Improvement. Policies, Progress and Prospects

Joyce Liddle (Nottingham Policy Centre, University of Nottingham, UK)

International Journal of Public Sector Management

ISSN: 0951-3558

Article publication date: 3 October 2008



Liddle, J. (2008), "Public Service Improvement. Policies, Progress and Prospects", International Journal of Public Sector Management, Vol. 21 No. 7, pp. 812-813.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

This eclectic collection of papers, previously published as a special edition of Local Government Studies, includes specially commissioned pieces from researchers, practitioners and policy makers, to provide a narrative on some recent initiatives under the banner of Public Service Improvements. The aim was to fill the gaps in our existing knowledge base, and update our understanding. The book does effectively satisfy the editor's claim to bring together those suitably qualified individuals with intimate involvement in implementing a variety of policies, programmes and initiatives, and by and large, all contributors have fallen in line with the thematic approach. What we are presented with here are some loosely tethered strands of work, tenuously linked together to examine some issues arising from the introduction of various policies to drive the UK Government's Modernising and Quality and Improvement agenda.

The collection includes an introduction in which the editor sets the scene and rationale for the inclusion of each contribution. In framing the context, Martin highlights the paucity of published research and the need for a progress report on such an important field of enquiry. This is then followed by chapters on leadership; local public service agreements; audit and inspection; performative language in housing; localising efficiency; turning around poorly performing local authorities; local government improvement programme; the role of IDeA, and the Beacon scheme. All chapters are loosely linked to the overall theme, and on first reading the chapter on performative language in housing appears to be of tangential significance to the others. However, on deeper reading it becomes evident that it is focused on measuring performance, but addressed from a completely different angle to other contributions. Indeed, all the chapters need to be read more than once to establish how well they hang together as a whole collection, but once this is confirmed, they do provide some very good up to date reference material.

All chapters, including the aforementioned, and apparently misplaced one, are relatively well written and do significantly add to our understanding by introducing readers to on‐going research and practitioner understandings of the different approaches to modernisation and quality improvement.. There are also some links between each contribution and the overall theme is generally maintained throughout.

The book would have been improved by the imposition of a stronger steer on stylistic coherence on shape, length and content of each chapter, and clearer direction on how specific learning points and key issues could be addressed for the future. This would have allowed the editor to draw together an overall conclusion for the future benefit of these and future authors, researchers, practitioners and policy makers. The use of bullet points, tables, and other supporting materials differs between the chapters, and though this may not be an entirely bad thing, it is unclear whether this was by accident or design. Owing to these structural inconsistencies, many good learning points remain buried in the text of each chapter, and a more standardised structure might have improved this deficiency. Having said all this, this book is the first of its kind to address the topic, and I am sure that it will prove to be a valuable resource for a wide audience of scholars, students, practitioners and policy makers. It serves as useful progress report on an on‐going process of change.

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