Bureaucratic Performance and Control in British Politics: Asylum Policy 1994–2007

AuthorWill Jennings
DOI10.1111/j.1467-856X.2010.00412.x
Publication Date01 Nov 2010
SubjectArticle
Bureaucratic Performance and Control
in British Politics: Asylum Policy
1994–2007bjpi_412539..568
Will Jennings
There is a wealth of research into time series dynamics of bureaucratic control in the federal
presidential system of the US, but no equivalent investigation in unitary parliamentary systems.
This article proposes an approach for measurement of the effect of political interventions on
bureaucratic outputs in British politics. It throws some light on tools of bureaucratic control that are
associated with the fusion of legislative and executive powers in Britain’s Westminster system. In
contrast to the US, political control in the form of oversight or appointments is not required because
government is able to intervene directly in bureaucratic activities through legislative, executive and
administrative controls. It uses Box-Tiao time series models to analyse administration of the UK
asylum system by the Immigration and Nationality Directorate of the Home Off‌ice.
Keywords: bureaucratic control; parliamentary and presidential systems; time
series analysis; asylum policy
... the Home Department in England struggles with diff‌iculties of which
abroad they have long got rid (Bagehot 1872, 207).
Bureaucratic Performance and Control in British Politics
Political control of bureaucracy is an age-old question. Classic formulations such as
Woodrow Wilson’s (1887) ‘politics–administration dichotomy’ or Machiavelli’s
advice in The Prince (1515, ch. XXII) on the political choice of courtiers highlight the
control problems that are inherent in the delegation of administration and differ-
ences in the preferences or interests of policy-makers and bureaucrats. Recent
trajectories of public sector reform in the United Kingdom are unmistakable
responses of successive governments to problems of bureaucratic control. This
emergence of what has been called ‘target world’ (Hood 2006 and 2007a; Bevan and
Hood 2006) follows the rise of the ‘new public management’ (Hood 1991; Pollitt
1995) and the spread of doctrines of managerialism and competition into the public
sector throughout western Europe and other political settings. It also is a response to
fundamental changes in the nature of British government: in particular the shift to
governance, the hollowing out of the state and the increase in the number of
executive agencies (Rhodes 1988, 1994 and 1997) and the rise of regulation
(Majone 1994; Hood et al. 1999 and 2001; Moran 2003). These changes have
resulted in the proliferation of bureaucratic agencies subject to assessment and
control from central government. The vogue for governing by numbers in target
doi: 10.1111/j.1467-856X.2010.00412.x BJPIR: 2010 VOL 12, 539–568
© 2010 The Author.British Journal of Politics and International Relations © 2010
Political Studies Association
world means that the service bargain/contract at the heart of the principal–agent
control problem (e.g. Weingast and Moran 1983; McCubbins and Schwartz 1984;
Weingast 1984; McCubbins 1985; Mccubbins et al. 1987 and 1989) is of special
relevance for the analysis of bureaucratic government under the modern British
political system. The doctrines of new public management also favour arm’s-length
regulation such as in departmental control of executive agencies through budget
controls and performance targets (see James 2001 and 2003). After the election of
the f‌irst Blair government in 1997, three waves of service contracts were imple-
mented through Public Service Agreements (PSAs) between the Treasury and
government departments and agencies, setting headline objectives and targets for
performance. The centre in British politics continues to attempt to exert inf‌luence
and control over the performance of departments and agencies despite the ongoing
fragmentation and hollowing out of the state. Despite this, the principal–agent
framework that has been applied in the US (e.g. Moe 1982, 1985 and 1987; Gormley
et al. 1983; Bendor and Moe 1985 and 1986; Eisner and Meier 1990; Scholz and
Wood 1998; Wood 1988, 1990 and 1991; Wood and Waterman 1991, 1993 and
1994; Wood and Anderson 1993) has not been tested as a framework for analysis of
control of the behaviour and performance of bureaucratic agencies in the UK. Much
of this is because the traditional model of the British core executive incorporates
both policy-makers and bureaucrats within a single governing institution, at odds
with the principal–agent framework. However, nor are lessons about bureaucratic
control from the US integrated into comparative analyses of the general form and
performance of democratic systems (e.g. Lijphart 1999). While the structures of
political control are distinct across governing contexts, these are crucial for analysing
the performance of bureaucratic agencies and their responsiveness to political
preferences, control and interventions. Political control of bureaucracy is essential
for the effective functioning and accountability of democratic government.
How does elected government exercise power over the behaviour, outputs and
performance of bureaucratic departments and agencies in the modern British politi-
cal system? This article proposes an approach for measurement of the effect of
political interventions on policy and bureaucratic outputs in British politics. It is
organised as follows. First, it introduces the principal–agent problem encountered
in democratic government and the relative abundance of evidence from the US.
Next it develops a set of theoretical expectations about tools of bureaucratic control
that are associated with Britain’s parliamentary system of government. It then uses
a series of Box-Tiao (1975) time series intervention models for analysis of the case
of administration of the UK asylum system by the Immigration and Nationality
Directorate (IND) of the Home Off‌ice. This case is selected because of its character-
istics associated with the exercise of political control: as a policy sub-system sub-
jected to signif‌icant levels of media, public and political attention in recent times,
where there is evidence that actual policy outcomes are responsive to public
opinion (Jennings 2009). The results shed some light on the pattern of bureaucratic
control observed in the British system. In contrast to the US, political control in the
form of legislative oversight, ministerial turnover or bureaucratic appointments is
not required because elected government is able to intervene directly in bureau-
cratic activities. The framework for analysis of bureaucratic performance and
control offers a basis for future comparative analysis in other political systems.
540 WILL JENNINGS
© 2010 The Author.British Journal of Politics and International Relations © 2010 Political Studies Association
BJPIR, 2010, 12(4)

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