The impact of accounting technology as an agent of change in central government during the Thatcher administration (1979 – 1990)
Accounting and Management Control
Speaker: Christine Cooper (University of Edinburgh)
In this paper, the authors turn to an important period in the history of neoliberalism – the UK Thatcher administration of 1979 – 1990. They are interested in two accounting initiatives specifically developed by Thatcher, to tilt the priorities of Civil Servants and Ministers in a neoliberal direction. The first, an audit initiative carried out by a newly created ““Efficiency Unit”, was designed to scrutinise specific aspects of government departments to make efficiency savings by identifying and cutting functions, systems and processes. The second, the Financial Management Initiative (FMI), was a review of entire departmental systems of managerial responsibility, financial accounting and control. Thatcher wanted to shift the concerns and efforts of Ministers and their senior civil servants away from policy prioritisation, towards making the state smaller, and more efficient. The rhetoric behind both systems was that they were designed to instil a new concern for “management”. The authors chart the two accounting initiatives and their impacts, which culminated in a restructuring of government. Their theoretical perspective adopts Foucault’s careful genealogy of the emergence of liberalism and neoliberalism, and Brown’s (2019) contemporary analysis of how democracy is threatened by neoliberalism. Empirically, the authors draw extensively from the Margaret Thatcher Foundation Archive, biographies of Thatcher, newspapers, Hansard and other government reports.