Interviewing policy experts (2) – a research trip to London

In a previous blog post on my dissertation and the experience of a research trip to Spain, I already commented on the highly useful technique of semi-structured expert interviews to collect qualitative data on policy processes. It is the insider perspective of persons who actually participated in the policy process, which can provide a unique insight into an often complicated series of events and the interrelation between these events.

Scenic view of London from Bankside

To conclude my qualitative data collection and finalize the last case study I am working on, I traveled last week to London and interviewed policy experts both on the process of the Spending Review 2010 and the Private Security Industry Act 2001. This latter process is comparable to the two other policy processes of private security regulation in Spain and Germany which I analyze. The policy process of the Spending Review 2010, however, is different in so far as here the interesting outcome is a severe cut in police and Home Office (about 23 % ) spending implemented by the Conservative-Liberal coalition in 2010. However, cutting public spending on police and other public security services – while societal demand for security is growing – is thought to be an important driver of the growth of private security services.

Spending Review 2010: Cuts in £ billion

Yet, my preliminary analysis suggests that “security” was not at all of importance in the policy process of the Spending Review 2010: Between the years 2006 and 2009 – and accelerated after the crisis hit – the latter chancellor George Osborne formed an opinion on cutting public spending to base the UK’s finances on a more solid foundation. Within the election campaign 2010 all parties promised to ‘tackle the deficit’, yet differed in the envisaged degree and timing of the cuts. The decisive moment for this general direction of the policy process were the negotiations between Labour, the Liberal-Democrats, and the Conservatives following the general election on the 6th of May 2010. Within days the Liberal-Democrats negotiated with both parties and arrived at a consensus with the Conservatives to form a coalition devoted to immediate cuts of £6 billion in 2010/2011 and further cuts to be decided upon in a comprehensive spending review.

Not much involved in the Spending Review process – Houses of Parliament, London

This process of the spending review – like the June emergency budget directly following the election – was characterized by a series of negotiations between the individual departments and the Treasury, which already had identified saving capacities in the single departments. But the final number was up for negotiation between the department heads and – for the most part – Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary of the Treasury. My interview partners having participated in one, two or even all three important steps of the process (pre-election, coalition negotiation, Spending Review) agreed in the conclusion that the policy issue of security was not important in this process. The issue area had not been ring-fenced like others (NHS, foreign aid) in the coalition negotiations and thus everybody, also the Home Office, ‘had to give their share’. Thus, the severe cuts in police spending seem to be driven most importantly by a low salience and by factors exogenous to the policy area like the intent of the government to show the financial markets their credibility in cutting the UK’s rising deficit.

Over the next weeks I will assess these preliminary results more carefully drawing on literature and document data before applying my hypotheses based on an updated Multiple-Streams-Framework. Thus, at the end of the summer I hope to have concluded the work on all six case studies of policy processes. The following fall/winter term I will devote to further quantitative analyses and writing up my dissertation thesis to be concluded – hopefully – over the next year.

Helge Staff

[photos by the author]