How different is the central government machine that Labour has inherited in 1997 from the one it bequeathed to the Conservatives in 1979? What forces are shaping its development? We begin by looking briefly at recent developments in the three main parts of UK central executive — the core executive, the civil service and the ‘quango state’ — since they provide recognizable landmarks for discussion. But of more fundamental concern in this chapter are some of the underlying mechanisms which regulate changes across the government machine — as politicians, governments and thousands of public managers respond to a constant pressure to do more with scarce resources, and adapt to the opportunities provided by new technologies and the demands of new social problems. Our theme is that despite the importance of change, there are only a few basic options for designing central governance arrangements — and most reforms and reorganizations can be seen as combinations of these options.
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