The impact of lean on the UK civil service and the trade union response

Rights statement
Awarding institution
  • University of Strathclyde
Date of award
  • 2015
Thesis identifier
  • T13931
Qualification Level
Qualification Name
Department, School or Faculty
  • The UK Civil Service has undergone significant organizational change. This thesis examines the use of lean systems of work within the Civil Service and the response of the PCS trade union and its membership. Through a case study approach, this research examines management's use of lean focussing on several large central government departments. The thesis argues that rather than view lean as a set of business improvement techniques lean must be seen within the context of the specific political-economic context of the UK. The thesis confirms the argument that lean systems are premised on management control of the labour process. The thesis contributes to the conceptual understanding of lean working by showing that it is manifested in four different ways each linked by Civil Service management's capacity to control the state labour process at a workplace level. The thesis also examines the impact of lean on the skills of civil servants including those engaged in quasi-legal decision making. The thesis demonstrates that Civil Service work has been subject to deskilling. Using a 'skill in the job' conceptualisation, the research finds that although elements of job complexity are retained, the levels of job autonomy exercised by civil servants have been significantly reduced. This deskilling is linked to management's attempts to control the state labour process. Finally, the thesis argues that the union's capacity to respond to lean is constrained by the employment compromise by which the union's response is often one of monitoring rather contesting organizational change. The thesis uses a 'productive model' approach to locate lean within the political-economic infrastructure of the UK and the state labour process. The research was undertaken using a qualitative approach utilising semi-structured interviews to collect data from trade union members and representatives working in the Civil Service.
Resource Type
Date Created
  • 2015
Former identifier
  • 1042776