A Comparison of the UK, Austrian and Italian Experiences
Since the late 1980s, there has been a significant and progressive movement away from the traditional Public Administration (PA) systems, in favour of NPM-type accounting tools and ideas inspired by the private sector. More recently, a new focus on governance systems, under the banner Public Governance (PG), has emerged. In this paper it is argued that reforms are not isolated events, but are embedded in more global discourses of modernisation and influenced by the institutional pressures present in a certain field at certain points in time. Using extensive document analysis in three countries with different administrative regimes (the UK, Italy and Austria), we examine public sector accounting and budgeting reforms and the underlying discourses put forward in order to support the change. We investigate the extent to which the actual content of the reforms and the discourses they are embedded within are connected over time; that is, whether, and to what degree, the reform “talk” matches the “decisions”. The research shows that in both the UK and in Italy there is consistency between the debates and the decided changes, although the dominant discourse in each country differs, while in Austria changes are decided gradually, and only after they have been announced well in advance in the political debate. We find that in all three countries the new ideas and concepts layer and sediment above the existing ones, rather than replace them. Although all three countries underwent similar accounting and budgeting reforms and relied on similar institutional discourses, each made its own specific translation of the ideas and concepts and is characterized by a specific formation of sedimentations. In addition, the findings suggest that, at present in the three countries, the PG discourse is used to supplement, rather than supplant, other prevailing discourses.
Accounting and budgeting reforms; Reform discourses; Central government; Public Administration; New Public Management; Public Governance; Sedimentation; Translation