Letter: Harder-headed social work

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Sir: Many public servants, not all of them women or social workers, will recognise the situation Joyce Brand describes. But they may see it as a result not so much of a male-dominated local management as of the pervasive influence of a "New Public Management" based on markets and contracts.

The disciplines of New Public Management are founded on the need to control public expenditure so that the country can be competitive in global markets. They have brought important benefits in terms of efficiency and effectiveness. But because the aims are so universally accepted, it has become almost impossible to question the management processes by which it is claimed that they can be achieved. They can become dangerous, and ultimately corrupting, if they are applied for their own sake, and for the resulting scores in performance indicators and league tables, without regard for their social outcomes or a wider sense of public purpose. They can in the long run have a profound effect not just on the management of our public services but also on our civic values and the nature of the society in which we live.

How to reconcile economic progress with liberal values of public service and citizenship is perhaps the most important domestic challenge which the next government will have to face.


St John's College,