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The Rise and Rise of Market Relations in the British Public Sector: Implications for Industrial Relations

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2023

Bob Carter
Department of Sociology, University of Leicester
Steven Davies
Public Services International Research Unit, Cardiff School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University
Peter Fairbrother
Centre for Economic and Social Transformation, Cardiff School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University, United Kingdom


Having outlined a traditional model of British public sector industrial relations, this article focuses on developments from the 1980s to 2001. It argues that there has been a reorganisation of the state through privatisation and an historical shift in employment relations, from the state as a ‘model’, administrative employer to an increasingly managerial employer. In effect, a depoliticisation of employment relations has taken place, with the withdrawal of central government from direct control over operational and organisational activity in the public services. As part of these processes, the public services in Britain have been marketised, with the creation of a public service sector, no longer defined by ownership but by the service provided. These developments are reflected in the changing patterns of industrial relations activity in the public services, with profound implications for trade unionism.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s) 2002

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