One constantly hears the slogan that local government is closest to the people and thus serves the people best.
But is it really close to the people and which people does it serve?
When did you last attend a council meeting? When did you last feel that you had a direct voice in a local government decision that affects your life? Do you know the name of your Councillor? Did your Mayor keep their election promise – did you even know what the promise was?
The truth of the matter is that most of us will answer negatively to all of these questions. That’s probably why most of us grumble about ‘crazy’ local government decisions but stand impotently by as the same group of Councillors are returned at the elections every few years. Continue reading Local Government by Lottery?
Kristoffer Kolltveit, Rune Karlsen & Jostein Askim
Employees in public agencies constantly need to think about how the outside world looks at them. According to bureaucratic reputation theory, public agencies face a complex web of reputational concerns regarding how they are perceived by multiple audiences who prioritise different dimensions of their work. For instance, public agencies are judged by critical media reports, a range of demanding users of public services, politicians and so on. A strong reputation is important, so building maintaining and protecting their reputation is important for generating public support, as well as facilitating their own autonomy and discretion from political interference. However, the existing bureaucratic reputation literature has overlooked the fact that employees might possess multiple social identities that could also affect their motivations, as well as the possibility that the employees might seek to protect the reputations of other government bodies which they hold feel committed to. In our recent Policy and Politics article, we draw on social identity theory to argue that employees are not only concerned about the reputation of the agency for which they work, but also about other actors in the political–administrative system; for example, the ministry to which they belong or the cabinet they serve. We argue that these distinct reputational concerns can have both individual and organisational explanations. For instance, employees in senior positions will emphasise their organisation more than employees in lower positions, because it is their organisational attributions that they identify most closely with. In a similar vein, employees with work experience from their parent ministry will emphasise the ministry more than employees without such experience, because of early socialization processes. Continue reading Understanding reputational concerns within government agencies
How can small-territory, subnational governments make the most of their position? Subnational governments like the devolved governments in the UK combine some of the opportunities and limitations of the national and the local governments between which they sit. They have some ‘national government’-type responsibilities and resources, like legislative authority and funding powers, although those resources are limited by their subordinate status. On the other hand, because their territories are comparatively small (Scotland has just under 5.5 million people and 32 local authorities, Wales just over 3 million and 22) they might able to cultivate ‘local government’-type relationships with a comprehensive range of local groups. Continue reading How might lower-ranking officials have a greater impact on policy development than previously assumed?
Peter Eckersley and Paul Tobin
How can we identify the real impact of austerity on policy? Our recent article in Policy & Politics bridges the gaps between research on ‘cutback management’, ‘policy capacity’ and ‘policy dismantling’, finding that front-line and often short-term challenges are being prioritised over more hidden and medium-term threats. The results suggest a ticking time-bomb for discovering the real impacts of austerity – particularly in sectors such as the environment, where policymakers need to stay on top of scientific and societal developments in order to design effective approaches to problems. Continue reading The Impact of Austerity on Policy Capacity in Local Government
Agnes Batory & Sara Svensson
Involving people in policy-making is generally a good thing. Policy-makers themselves often pay at least lip-service to the importance of giving citizens a say. In the academic literature, participatory governance has been, with some exaggeration, almost universally hailed as a panacea to all ills in Western democracies. In particular, it is advocated as a way to remedy the alienation of voters from politicians who seem to be oblivious to the concerns of the common man and woman, with an ensuing decline in public trust in government. Representation by political parties is ridden with problems, so the argument goes, and in any case it is overly focused on the act of voting in elections – a one-off event once every few years which limits citizens’ ability to control the policy agenda. On the other hand, various forms of public participation are expected to educate citizens, help develop a civic culture, and boost the legitimacy of decision-making. Consequently, practices to ensure that citizens can provide direct input into policy-making are to be welcomed on both pragmatic and normative grounds. Continue reading How not to conduct a consultation – and why asking the public is not always such a great idea
Text by Sarah Brown based on Paul Thomas’ article: Changing Experiences of responsibilisation and contestation within counter-terrorism policies: the British Prevent experience
Britain’s Prevent Strategy was arguably the first post 9/11 attempt to operationalise ‘soft’, preventative counter-terrorism policies and it has been since significantly studied and copied by other states. Such preventative counter-terrorism policies adopted internationally have proved to be controversial, as fierce criticisms of Britain’s Prevent strategy have shown.
In some cases, subsequent modifications have attempted to address these criticisms but the negative public understanding of Prevent has stuck, based on those original criticisms.
Continue reading So-called ‘toxic’ Prevent scheme to halt radicalisation has been misrepresented new research shows
For many organisations providing important public services, such as education, health care or community services, non-governing boards serve as the primary accountability mechanisms for daily management. The ‘boardisation of the public sector’, as Wilks described this, has evolved considerably. In my country of residence the Netherlands, for instance, the guesstimation is that we have almost 50,000 positions on those boards, six times as many as in democratically elected local councils. A large proportion of those positions have been created in the recent past. This would suggest that the board model is a major success.
Continue reading The Role of Public Sector Boards