Old Wine in New Bottles? Logging the Name Changes in Government


There is often more continuity between themselves and their predecessors than any new Government cares to admit. One way they seek to disguise these continuities is to change the names of things, with minimal change to the actual thing itself, whether it’s a policy, a system or an organisation.

GLOSSARY OF NAME CHANGES

I have already mentioned that DELIVERY is out but IMPLEMENTATION is now ’in’. Here’s few more.

JOINED-UP GOVERNMENT was a New Labour term which drove numerous initiatives at getting better coordination into policy-making and service delivery. The Coalition’s equivalent is ALIGNMENT (WITH COALITION PRIORITIES), which seems to mean roughly the same thing.

TARGETS, as we all know, are definitely out, except there are a suspiciously large number of things that look like targets under another name: OBJECTIVES, DEPARTMENTAL IMPACTS, MILESTONES, and several others.

The last Labour Spending Review (2007) slimmed down PUBLIC SERVICE AGREEMENTS to just 30, which were all JOINED-UP across government. But we also had over 100 DEPARTMENTAL STRATEGIC OBJECTIVES (DSOs). PSAs may have gone, but now we have DEPARTMENTAL BUSINESS PLANS which increasingly are underpinned by a whole plethora of targets, milestones, impacts and objectives.

Moreover PSAs were about OUTCOMES, another word that has been banished, only to be replaced – mainly by IMPACTS.

It’s not just words, whole systems have been retained and in some cases not even renamed.

SPENDING REVIEWS are the most obvious, with the Coalition extending this “SOVIET-STYLE PLANNING SYSTEM” (which is what they used to call it) from 3 years to 4.

Under New Labour we had the Prime Ministers Delivery Unit (PMDU) which the Coalition abolished. But the THREE MONTHLY REVIEWS OF DEPARTMENTS ACHIEVEMENTS have been retained, albeit they are now chaired by Oliver Letwin (Con, Cabinet Office) and Danny Alexander (LD Treasury), rather then the PM as under Labour. So whilst the level of political clout has gone down a notch, the coverage has broadened. Where the PMDU only focussed its quarterly reviews on four areas (for most of its life) the new reviews cover every Secretary of State’s domain.

I know there’s also a lot of similar things happening in specific policy areas, so if you have any examples PLEASE POST A COMMENT telling us what they are so we can construct a full glossary of name changes.

Remember, as they used to say at the start of a famous TV series, “the names have been changed to protect the innocent”, or should that be “mislead the gullible”?

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About Colin Talbot

Professor of Government. Universities of Cambridge and Manchester, England.
This entry was posted in Whitehall. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Old Wine in New Bottles? Logging the Name Changes in Government

  1. In terms of NHS Reforms we had:

    1) Liberating the NHS
    2) Modernising the NHS
    3) Saving the NHS

    #1 is rarely mentioned these days, #2 is used most often, but #3 is used when the government are losing control of the agenda and want to cause a bit of hysteria. Incidentally, has anyone used the NHS recently and didn’t think the facilities were “modern”? The term is used to scare those people who have never used the NHS (which is most people – most of us are well) to imply that the NHS is some 50s organisation that has been preserved in aspic (or, I guess, agar).

  2. S E says:

    ‘Alignment’ is hilarious – I am sorry to say something so trivial, but it sounds very much like Yoga. Very popular among members of the Coalition Government and senior civil servants I am sure. So much for the Zeitgeist.

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