A distinctive and enduring feature of the welfare state in Britain is the central role played by organised professions. In the post war era groups such as doctors, teachers and even social workers became active partners in the development of public services. Their ‘influence on the kind, pace and structure of provision’ was ‘often crucial, if not… decisive’ (Perkin, 1989: 344). Such influence manifested itself in a number of ways. Through their collective organisations the professions played a key role in shaping policy, in some cases defining both problems and solutions. At the level of service delivery itself, within broad financial and legal constraints, professional groups exercised considerable de facto control over both the means and (sometimes) ends. All this was underpinned by a degree of trust in the ability of the professions to provide services in the public interest. The autonomy and independence of these expert groups was considered not only to be unavoidable, but also to some extent desirable.
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