A succession of Acts of Parliament passed between 1988 and 1990 mark the most decisive break in British social policy since the period between 1944 and 1948. This paper examines the extent to which common principles underlie this legislation. One of the most important common elements has been the reduction in the powers of local government and in the presumption that local authorities should be the main providers of social welfare outside the social security system. Schools, housing estates and social care services are to be given greater powers to run themselves or to become separate organisations. Local authorities are to use their resources to fund and contract with external agencies. The possible outcomes of this change in governance are discussed.