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Local governance under the Conservatives: super-austerity, devolution and the ‘smarter state’

Lowndes, Vivien; Gardner, Alison


Vivien Lowndes

Assistant Professor in Public Policy & Administration


Through their ambitious devolution programme, the Conservatives show a new assertiveness in relation to restructuring the local state, in contrast to the laissez-faire approach of the previous Coalition government. Although the Coalition piloted devolution, its signature policies of ‘localism’ and the ‘Big Society’ focused on non-state actors, providing rights and opportunities for communities to challenge local government and establish their own services. The Conservatives are promoting devolution as a strategy to stimulate economic growth based on greater sub-regional autonomy and increased competitiveness across and between English localities. ‘Combined authorities’ have the opportunity to champion local identities and acquire new economic development powers from Whitehall. But devolution could be a strategy to decentralise austerity, shifting responsibility to the local level for deeper cuts (56% by 2020) and inevitable service reductions. Local government confronts ‘super-austerity’, where new cuts come on top of previous ones, compounding original impacts and creating dangerous (and unevenly spread) multiplier effects. The Conservatives’ ‘smarter state’ policies, aimed at delivering ‘more for less’, amount to little more than a recycling of new public management diktats. The emerging patchwork of ‘devolution deals’ challenges the redistributive assumptions of the grant regime and could leave disadvantaged areas at particular risk of failure. ‘Metro mayors’ are intended to provide visible and accountable leadership; but roles for locally elected councillors, and prospects for community and citizen engagement, remain unclear. The public has yet to be adequately engaged in what is in danger of becoming a technocratic transfer of power.


Lowndes, V., & Gardner, A. (2016). Local governance under the Conservatives: super-austerity, devolution and the ‘smarter state’. Local Government Studies, 42(3), 357-375.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jan 4, 2016
Online Publication Date Feb 29, 2016
Publication Date May 3, 2016
Deposit Date Nov 18, 2018
Publicly Available Date Nov 19, 2018
Journal Local Government Studies
Print ISSN 0300-3930
Electronic ISSN 1743-9388
Publisher Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 42
Issue 3
Pages 357-375
Keywords Local Government; Austerity; Devolution; Resilience
Public URL
Publisher URL


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