Seeking the Balance between Fairness and Efficiency

  • David Coates


Immediately after the Labour Party’s general election victory in 2001, the Guardian ran an article on what it called ‘a government drive to bring about a US-style productivity revolution during Labour’s second term’. Alongside the article, the paper ran a photograph of Gordon Brown launching that drive at a breakfast meeting in a London hotel. Alongside him at that photo shoot, looking suitably sleepy and not yet quite fully awake, sat Patricia Hewitt and Estelle Morris, then respectively the Secretaries of State for Industry and Education.1 The picture served to remind us that the implementation of the Brown strategy for economic modernization involved departments other than the Treasury, and that the target of the strategy was wider than those departments of state whose spending the Treasury so carefully controlled. Implementation of the Brown strategy required initiatives from other parts of the government machine: not least from the Department of Trade and Industry and from a department of education whose precise title and remit changed with the election. Prior to 2001 it was the Department for Education and Employment; then (when its employment functions had been repositioned in an independent Department for Work and Pensions) it became the Department for Education and Skills. Either way, the DfEE/DfES was, and remains, one of the Treasury’s key handmaidens in the delivery of the New Labour project, and the DTI was and remains the other.


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  1. 2.
    Observer, 30 July, 2000, Business Section, p. 5. This absence of a mission is less surprising if it is set against the overall history of industrial policy in the UK. On that see D. Coates and P. Reynolds, ‘Industrial policy: conclusion’, in D. Coates (ed.), Industrial Policy in Britain, London, Macmillan, 1996, pp. 241–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 3.
    On this, see D. Coates, ‘New Labour’s industrial and employment policy’, in D. Coates and P. Lawler (eds), New Labour in Power, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2000, pp. 133–4.Google Scholar
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    Labour Party, New Labour: Because Britain Deserves Better, London, Labour Party, 1997, p. 14.Google Scholar
  4. 20.
    On this, see P. Smith and G. Morton, ‘New Labour’s reform of Britain’s employment law. The Devil is not only in the detail but in the values and policy too’, British Journal of Industrial Relations, vol. 39(1), 2001, pp. 119–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 54.
    We have two remarkable guides to all of this: Robert Taylor and Steve Ludlam. For the Ludlam corpus, see his chapters in the two volumes edited with M. J. Smith, New Labour in Government, London, Palgrave, 2001, and Governing as New Labour, London, Palgrave, 2004; the article jointly written withGoogle Scholar
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  8. Treasury, Productivity in the UK: The Evidence and the Government’s Approach, p. 17. Convinced that the DTI documents produced under the Conservatives had been too much an exercise in public relations, the DTI under Margaret Beckett immediately launched a benchmarking investigation of seven key sectors, and found some pretty depressing data. As she told the CBI in November 1997, it wasn’t just a matter of the UK having ‘a long tail of under-performing companies’. On the contrary, the investigation’s findings suggested that ‘it was not just the weakest companies that had to catch up. It may be that all our firms need to benchmark themselves against the best in the world’ since ‘our overall performance on several counts — innovation, skills, productivity — remains behind that of other developed countries. The common weaknesses identified included: relatively low levels of investment, a failure of small and medium size companies with growth potential to succeed; a failure by too many businesses to adopt best practice; low levels of skill; and weakness in exploiting export markets’ (report on Benchmark for Business document, and Margaret Beckett’s response to it, from the Financial Times, 12 November 1997, p. 9. For the earlier literature on UK underperformance, see D. Coates, The Question of UK Decline, Hemel Hempstead, Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1994).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© David Coates 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Coates
    • 1
  1. 1.Wake Forest UniversityUSA

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