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Does size matter in local government?

Exploring how local authorities deliver services and whether their size will be relevant in the future.

Town hall sign

Policymakers worldwide have struggled to identify the optimum size for units of local government. The received wisdom claimed large councils were more efficient but less responsive to local needs.

I think the whole of Wales will be in your debt for the efforts you put into the report’s guidance.

Carwyn Jones First Minister of Wales

No ideal size

The Centre for Local and Regional Government Research (CLRGR) in our Business School undertook the first comprehensive analysis of the impact of size on the performance of local authorities.

Researchers led by Professor Stephen Martin also studied whether partnerships between councils offer a better way of achieving economies of scale than restructuring into larger authorities.

The team developed a ground-breaking model which used inspection scores, national performance indicators, public confidence and a value for money index.

The results showed local authorities have no 'ideal size'. Larger councils have lower central administrative overheads, but size effects vary between services. Subsequent research found re-organisations to produce larger councils can disrupt performance.

Stopping re-organisation

The results informed the decision by the Coalition Government to halt local government re-organisation in England.

Influencing policy

The results directly influenced the policies of Welsh Ministers to encourage collaboration between councils, and informed the decision by the Coalition Government to halt local government re-organisation in England.

Direct beneficiaries of the research include senior politicians, special advisers, and local government officers.

An independent review set up by the Welsh Government under the chairmanship of Sir Jeremy Beecham drew on findings from the Centre for Local and Regional Government Research's 2006 study to conclude that the costs of local government re-organisation would outweigh benefits.

Meet our experts

Professor Steve Martin

Professor Steve Martin

Director, Wales Centre for Public Policy

+44 (0)29 2087 5202