PPPs and the changing public sector ethos: Case-study evidence from the health and local authority sectors

Gail Hebson*, Damian Grimshaw, Mick Marchington

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

125 Citations (Scopus)


This article explores the extent to which a new contractual approach to delivering public services, through public private partnerships (PPPs), is transforming the traditional values underpinning the public sector ethos among both managers and workers. Drawing on two detailed case studies of PPPs - a Private Finance Initiative in the health sector and the outsourcing of housing benefit claims in the local government sector - we identify a range of new pressures impacting on five key elements of a traditional notion of the public sector ethos. Our findings demonstrate that the contractual relations of PPPs have led to a clear weakening of traditional notions of managerial accountability and bureaucratic behaviour, reflecting both a shift to new lines of accountability (private sector shareholders) and a vicious circle of monitoring and distrust between partner organizations, in place of the old faith in bureaucratic process. Among workers, certain traditional values - especially a concern for working in the public interest - continue to inform the way they identify with, and understand, their work in delivering public services. However, the cost cutting and work intensification associated with PPPs present a significant threat to these values. The article identifies examples of short-term resilience of the traditional public sector ethos, as well as developments that threaten its long-term survival.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)481-501
Number of pages21
JournalWork, Employment and Society
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2003


  • Health sector
  • Local authority
  • Public private partnerships

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