Have repeated ‘makeovers’ created a government machine in the UK that works better and costs less? Or has a relentless focus on cost-cutting damaged traditional administrative values? In a wide-ranging study of UK central government, we found that not only did formal complaints and legal challenges to central government rise sharply over the three decades up to 2010, but government administration costs also increased by two-fifths in real terms – even though the civil service lost a third of its staff. They conclude that traditional headcount reduction measures do not guarantee a reduction in costs and may lead to more complaints and challenges. We question why government makeovers so rarely start by carefully identifying what citizens actually complain about.