New Public Management: Restoring the Public Trust through Creating Distrust?
Policy makers frequently invoked restoring the public sector’s legitimacy as one of the main motivations for public sector reform in the 1980s and ‘90s. Low or declining public trust in government and a decline of the public sector’s legitimacy (perceived or real) became a central motivation for public sector reform efforts, notably NPM-style reforms. In this chapter we first show how trust and legitimacy entered the reform agenda and became important motivations for public sector reform programmes in the 1990s. Creating congruence between what public services citizens really wanted and the services the public sector provided was seen as the key to regaining the public trust. In this first part, we also examine whether the basic assumption of declining trust was correct and whether NPM reforms have eventually contributed to restoring trust. In a second part, we elaborate on the apparent irony that NPM wanted to re-establish the public trust by introducing distrust-based control and compliance mechanisms. We show that this is not necessarily a contradiction by distinguishing between three different types of trust and by outlining NPM’s effect on these three types of trust. We end by discussing the re-emergence of trust-based steering concepts in public management.