Geographia Polonica (1989) vol. 56

The changing role of local government: A political geographic perspective

Graham Moon, Richard Parnell

Geographia Polonica (1989) vol. 56, pp. 17-28 | Full text

Since the return of the Conservative Government in 1979, local government in Britain has experienced a period of considerable change in its basis, role and importance. Among the significant changes which have occurred are alterations in local government finance, structural reorganizations, and developments in the ways by which services are delivered. Measures such as ratecapping, the abolition of the metropolitan county councils, and the facilitation of a closer relationship between the public and the private sectors form the substance of the chanees; at their root lies the ideology of the current Conservative Government, with its emphasis on efficiency, competition and market forces. This emphasis is often at variance with a local government system and tradition developed, for the most part, during the twilight period of consensus politics in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The extent to which the wishes of central government have been accepted by local government carries with it profound consequences for the relative roles of the two levels of government.Political geographers' traditional concerns have touched little on such material. The preference for those whose concern has been with local government political geography has been with the analysis of voting (Taylor and Johnston 1979), the distribution of public services (Kirby 1981; Moon 1982; Pinch 1985) and jurisdictional partitioning (Johnston 1979). With some exceptions (eg. Dickens, Duncan, Goodwin and Gray 1986; Boddy 1983; Borchert 1985) few geographers have explicitly considered the spatial aspects of legislative developments in the context of changing power relations. The current changes in local government provide an opportunity for this deficiency to be remedied and for a reformulated local government political geography to be developed with central-local relations as its focus.In this paper a preliminary overview of this theme will be presented. Initial attention will focus on the context and nature of local government change in Conservative Britain. Major reforms relating to finance and organization will be identified and their correspondence to Conservative, or "new right" ideology discussed. Attention will then shift to a consideration of geography embodied in the changing local government. A predominantly regional perspective will be taken but reference will also be made to local geographical impacts. Finally, an evaluation of general and specific explanations for local government change will be set out indicating the functionality of change for Conservatism.

Graham Moon, School of Social and Historical Studies. Portsmouth Polytechnic, Portsmouth, UK
Richard Parnell, School of Social and Historical Studies. Portsmouth Polytechnic, Portsmouth, UK