International Journal of Applied Public Sector Management (ISSN: 1742-2655) Volume 1 Issue 1
The public sector developed out of the industrial revolution. The movement from an agrarian to a manufacturing society, from the individual satisfaction of needs to the collective satisfaction of needs, ensured a growing role for the state in many aspects of societal life. It was the state which assumed many of the functions which had previously been the preserve of the individual and the family and which made provision to meet the demands emanating from the ever-increasing collectivist nature of a complex, industrial society.
Following the legislation which marked the advent of the Welfare State in Britain, many writers and commentators noted that a broad political consensus had emerged as to the role that the state was to play in the life of society. For some, this consensus emerged in the late 1940’s and lasted through to the late 1970’s whilst others felt that there was evidence of this decline by the mid 1960’s. If there was doubt as to the longevity of the consensus there was also doubt as to its depth and scope. For some, it marked the end of ideology and represented that stage in societal development where there was agreement about the collective ends which society was seeking. For others, the consensus was more shallow and concealed the fact that profound differences still existed at both practical and ideological levels as to the means that should be used to attain societal goals. For some, the consensus encompassed not merely the institutional framework within which policy making took place, but also the processes by which policy was formulated, enacted and implemented and the consensus was narrower and did not extend beyond the basic tenets necessary for the effective functioning of a democratic policy.
Despite the differing parameters which were used to characterise the consensus, there can be little doubt that both those who proclaimed its existence and those who questioned its extent arrived at their respective positions after consideration of a common factor, namely, the size, scope and operation of the public sector which lay at the heart of the debate about the success of governments in managing the economy and in creating a society free of the tensions which are generated by large and visibly manifested disparities in the health, wealth and general well-being of its members.
The fact remains, however, that the idea of a consensus existing in British
political, economic and social life is probably a relative one which has perhaps
been accentuated with the passage of time and now appears more real than it did
during the years when it was felt to be at its zenith. Its origin can be traced
to a characterisation of the relationship between the two major political parties
in the post-war years on matters of policy and style of government which, it
was held, exhibited marked areas of cross-party accord on many of the fundamental
aspects of British political life. It would be an overstatement to maintain that
it encompassed the absence of political opposition and inter-party conflict and
more realistic to contend that it was denoted by broad agreement on the limits
of public policy and the most appropriate role for government to play in economic
and social life.
According to Savage and Robins there are three features which are most commonly cited as the framework of public policy underpinning the consensus which has been widely proclaimed as typifying the period (1):