Heroes and Villains: Narratives of Public Sector Reform in the UK and Scotland

Plunkett, Nikola (2015). Heroes and Villains: Narratives of Public Sector Reform in the UK and Scotland. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000f00e


This study is based on a discourse analysis of reform narratives in two public sector organisations, one operating in a UK context and one in a Scottish context. The study uses the concept of organisational narratives (Gabriel, 1995; 1999; 2000; Sims, 2004) as a lens to organise and understand the presentation and translation of reform in these organisations and the wider government.

The thesis argues that there is a fundamentally inconsistent alignment of public sector reform narratives within governments, and challenges notions of a ‘New Scotland' (Hassan and Warhurst, 2002; Paterson et al., 2004; Bechofer and McCrone, 2004) as being little more than rhetoric at the macro level of discourse. At the micro-organisational level, interviews with senior managers revealed that in both case-study organisations, common discursive devices and plot structures were utilised by managers in order to build authority and legitimacy within their organisations. It is these discourse linkages in the different policy practice sites that are the dominant narratives at work, rather than the macro level reform narratives of government.

The thesis examines the notion of 'double reform' whereby Scottish public sector workers have been subject to both the general sweep of neo-liberal public sector reforms, and changes related to the greater devolution of powers. This notion is largely overlooked by existing literature. It is argued that this double reform has been an opportunity not a pressure, and that the Scottish Government has been able to exploit this opportunity for their own gain, to promote notions of Scotland as an independent nation-state.

This thesis demonstrates however, that macro-level success in the construction of Scottish narratives has not resulted in an evenly translated narrative within the public sector, raising important issues for the use of discourse in future public sector reform projects.

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