Dr Thomas Elston works in the field of public administration and executive government. He joined the Blavatnik School of Government in 2013 as a postdoctoral research fellow, having previously studied at the Universities of Durham and Nottingham. He is also a research associate of Green Templeton College.
Thomas’s research explores practical questions about the organisation and management of government, drawing on administrative theory, organisational sociology and political science. His particular interests are the working relations between elected politicians and appointed officials, especially when the former delegate authority to the latter, and the efficiency and effectiveness of public sector organizations.
Thomas currently holds a three-year research grant from the Leverhulme Trust to investigate the potential for governments to save money by centralising organisational support services (like HR, legal, procurement) into ‘shared service centres’. The project asks whether information technologies, a shift from hierarchical to contract-based control, and cultural change in the civil service will allow governments to overcome the many challenges of centralisation, such as bureaucratisation, inflexibility and reduced innovation, and thus achieve successful and sustainable reform.
Prior to this, Thomas’s doctoral research explored changes to the organisation of British central government between the 1980s and early 2010s. It asked whether the political oversight of large-scale public services changed in the wake of attempts at decentralisation and deregulation associated with the ‘new public management’ trend.
Thomas’s work has been published in the journals Governance, Public Administration, and Public Policy and Administration. His research has been formulated into various policy submissions to government agencies, and he regularly advises public authorities and NGOs in the UK and overseas.
Elston, Thomas & Muiris MacCarthaigh. 2016. “Sharing services, saving money? Five risks to cost-saving when organizations share services.” Public Money & Management, 36(5), 349-356.
Elston, Thomas. 2016. “Conflict between explicit and tacit public service bargains in UK executive agencies.” Governance: An International Journal of Policy, Administration and Institutions. (abstract)
Elston, Thomas. 2014. "Not so 'arm's length': reinterpreting agencies in UK central government." Public Administration, 92(2), 458-476. (abstract)
Elston, Thomas. 2013. "Developments in UK executive agencies: re-examining the ‘disaggregation-reaggregation’ thesis." Public Policy and Administration 28(1), 66-89. (abstract)
Elston, Thomas. (2017) “Principles meet practicalities: challenges of accountability reform in the British civil service.” In Tom Christensen and Per Lægried (eds.), The Routledge Handbook to Accountability and Welfare State Reforms in Europe (pp. 239-254). Abingdon: Routledge.
Policy and practice
Elston, Thomas. 2015. “Shared services – too good to be true? Three hard truths for governments looking to save money through shared back-office services.” Blavatnik School of Government Faculty Blog
Elston, Thomas. 2015. “To share or not to share? Delivering corporate services in 21st-century government.” Blavatnik School of Government Policy Memo Series. University of Oxford. (PDF )
Elston, Thomas. 2014. Evidence submitted to the Cabinet Office review of the administrative classification of public bodies in the United Kingdom. (PDF)
Elston, Thomas. 2014. "Accountability of Quangos and Public Bodies." Written evidence submitted to the Public Administration Select Committee. (PDF)
Select conference papers
Elston, Thomas. 2014. "Shared corporate services in the public sector: a critical review." Paper presented in the panel, Public Service Delivery in the Transforming State, convened by the Public Policy and Administration specialist group at the 64th annual conference of the Political Studies Association, Manchester, UK.
Elston, Thomas and Muiris MacCarthaigh. 2013. "Shared services in Ireland and the UK: unpicking the (latest) public-sector panacea." Paper presented to the Governance of Public Sector Organisations permanent study group at the 35th Annual Conference of the European Group for Public Administration. Edinburgh, UK.