The rise of the 'Tsar': celebrity and policy-making
Posted on 30/04/2012
Dr Ruth Levitt and William Solesbury, Visiting Senior Research Fellows in the Department of Political Economy, are leading a project to investigate why ‘Tsars’ - prominent individuals from outside government - are a growing source of expertise for ministerial policy-making.
Policy Tsars are a relatively recent phenomenon in the UK. Pre the 1990s ministers sought expert advice from special advisers, departmental professionals, consultants and advisory committees rather than specially selected individuals. Tsars who have recently been in the media include Tom Winsor (former Rail Regulator reviewing police pay and conditions), Mary Portas (TV presenter advising on high street regeneration) and Emma Harrison (resigned as ‘Troubled Families Tsar’ following concerns about her business contracts with government).
The project team, which includes six Public Policy MA students, have identified over 150 Tsar appointments since 1997. The Coalition has made 52 in 20 months and Labour appointed 76 in 2005-10. Those appointed have been given titles such as ‘Advocate’, ‘Ambassador’ or ‘Champion’ and while most produce a published report, a significant minority provide nothing in the public domain. Tsars exist in all areas of domestic policy-making yet the process by which they are appointed is unclear.
Dr Ruth Levitt said “Since Tsars have become such an important source of advice, it is intriguing that so little is known about their appointment, their work and its influence.”
The Tsars project seeks to establish the criteria against which appointments are made; are Tsars chosen primarily for their expertise, neutrality, celebrity or networks? The project is due to conclude by the end of 2012 and findings will be presented in a report, as articles and web items.
A podcast ‘Why are there so many Government tsars?’ is currently available on the Comment Podcasts web page.