Understanding department : next steps agency relationships
This thesis examines the establishment of 'Next Steps' agencies in government and how they were intended to allow the delivery of government goals at arm's length. The research is concerned with how changes in relationships at the heart of Government can be understood. It seeks to address the impact of these changes on the policy process. It does so by examining the nature of the relationship between departments and agencies and asking why some relationships appeared to have worked well and others have not. These questions are not adequately addressed in the existing literature on agencies. The thesis takes a multiple case study approach and draws on the concepts of historical institutionalism, power dependency and policy networks to approach these questions. It is argued that the introduction and development of agencies changed the formal and informal institutional 'rules of the game', affecting the roles actors expected to play and radically altered the distribution of resources in central government. The changed distribution of resources led to the development of new power dependent networks between departments and agencies. Path dependency in the development of the Next Steps concept led to a tension between the idea of agencies operating at 'arm's length' with the continuation of traditional accountability arrangements. The key argument presented is that, where department-agency networks are based on shared values, goals and institutional support, they will be able to manage the tension created by the new institutional arrangements and are able to successfully deliver government goals. In concluding, it is suggested that understanding department-agency relationships as power dependent networks presents three implications. Firstly, for the applicability of this analytical framework to other 'institutional arrangements', secondly for policy making in the core executive and, finally, for insights on normative issues of accountability and autonomy in contemporary governance.