From Revolving Doors to Capture and Control: a critique of the "commercialisation" of the Whitehall policy process.
In: International Association for Critical Realism Annual Conference 2008, 11th - 13th July 2008, Kings College, London.
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This paper critically evaluates the development of the relationship between central government policy makers and processes, and agents and structures of the commercial sector. Labelled “commercialisation” for convenience, this typically includes the “revolving door” of secondments and transfers between the private and public sector, the commissioning of reviews and research from commercial organisations (as opposed to academics and other specialist and experts from the public sector), and the role of the consultancy industry in government.
The paper traces “commercialisation” from its beginnings in the 1960s through to the present day and seeks to identify the causal powers and tendencies of most significance to this relationship. I argue that “commercialisation” has resulted in the emergence of structures and cultural systems that form a power loop in which agents with a commercial background occupy influential positions in government and public policy circles. This creates further opportunities for the “commercialisation” of the policy process, as well as the emergence of further structures which condition and shape the actions and interactions of agents. The loop is thus self perpetuating and, more importantly, enduring, due to the lack of sufficiently powerful regulatory agents and mechanisms and the ideological and cultural environment in which these could develop.
The paper concludes by arguing that while it was (and remains) the case that there are legitimate reasons for the relationship between central government policy makers and processes and the agents and structures of the commercial sector, the balance between the two is now so skewed that is has become a deeply worrying phenomenon. Not only does “commercialisation” pose significant questions as to whose interests are best served by public policy, and whether it is detrimental to the development and delivery of citizen centred public services, but also whether the basis and extent of public/private structures and relations undermines democratic governance generally.
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