How are local public services responding to austerity?: English local governance between 2010 and 2015

Gardner, Alison (2016) How are local public services responding to austerity?: English local governance between 2010 and 2015. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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This thesis explores how English councils and their public service partners responded to the UK Coalition government’s ‘austerity’-related spending cuts between 2010 and 2015. The research is distinctive in moving beyond a focus on the impacts of cuts to individual services, instead considering responses to austerity ‘in the round’, using a governance perspective. The methodology was innovative, using principles of ‘action research’ and ‘appreciative inquiry’ to design the research collaboratively with Nottingham City Council. Fieldwork was undertaken between 2012 and 2014, including a document review, 34 interviews and two workshops with frontline staff, as well as informal participant observation. The approach aimed to deliver academic rigour, as well as useful findings for practitioners addressing challenges in the field.

Taking the locality of Nottingham as an exploratory and revelatory embedded single case study, the analysis combines insights from new institutionalist and interpretive theory. It demonstrates that although the council showed institutional resilience, and was able to maintain a wide range of services, spending cuts were creating pressure to change both the ‘practices’ and ‘narratives’ underpinning service delivery. Tensions in some service delivery partnerships suggested shifts in local ‘traditions’ of governance, viewed by some actors as symptomatic of a wider change in the values underpinning governance institutions. Meanwhile the council was increasingly focussed on strategic forms of community leadership, whilst links with local communities were diminishing.

Working with partners, the council had (at least temporarily) mitigated a dramatic reduction in income. Yet although change in service delivery was incremental, the potential for transformation in local governance was clear. These findings are shown to have consistencies with wider comparative studies. Policy implications are discussed for the 2015 Conservative government, as it implements a further round of austerity-related cuts.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Lowndes, Vivien
Stafford, Bruce
Keywords: Austerity, spending cuts, local government, local governance, public services, partnerships, community leadership, institutions.
Subjects: J Political science > JS Local government. Municipal government
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > School of Politics and International Relations
Item ID: 32349
Depositing User: Gardner, Alison
Date Deposited: 20 Apr 2016 13:33
Last Modified: 13 Sep 2016 13:59

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