Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 July 2011
There is relatively little research that systematically assesses how changes in political or managerial leadership contribute to public service performance, and even less on the question of how the effectiveness of these leaders is related to their use of performance information. This gap in knowledge is surprising because the idea that new leadership can transform the performance of public services has not only been seen as theoretically important for a long time, it has also become a popular policy nostrum in recent years. Local authorities have increasingly tried to recruit new (and, by assumption, better) political and managerial leaders. The idea of effective leadership has been a key theme of recent UK initiatives, with many new bodies with leadership in their titles, including a Leadership Centre for Local Government, a National College for School Leadership and a Leadership Foundation for Higher Education. Moreover, leadership is now a key competency for senior civil servants. The common denominator of these reforms is an attempt to improve the leadership capacity in local government, health bodies, education and other public services to improve the services these organisations provide.
Debates on the need for better leadership in UK local government reflect a longstanding concern with the ‘calibre’ of councillors and officers (Dearlove 1979). The basic argument is that the succession of political and managerial elites may reinvigorate public service providers and their performance (Boyne and Dahya 2002; Boyne 2003).