The devolved government in Northern Ireland set about the task of putting in place‘a modern and effective system of public administration that can deliver high quality publicservices to our citizens’. It did so through a review of public administration launched in June2002. This article offers a formative evaluation of the quest to improve the quality of publicservices, now being taken forward by a British minister since the suspension of devolution. It argues that the review is being driven by institutional concerns and is devoid of a public service modernising agenda. Additionally, it contends that how people in Northern Ireland perceive public services is contingent on their views on its constitutional status (Direct Rule or devolved government) which, in turn, is linked to their support for the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, rather than the performance of public bodies. As a consequence, the reforms may result in little more than institutional tinkering with doubtful impact on the quality of public services.
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This research paper comes out of the jointly awarded ESRC grant on Devolution and Constitutional Change and is led by Knox. It concentrates on the Review of Public Administration, a major public sector reform agenda, and attempts to influence the policy debate by highlighting the emphasis placed thus far on structural reforms to public organisations and the need to consider a modernising public services agenda.