Crisis management in English local government: the limits of resilience

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Tania Arrieta University of Leicester, UK

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Jonathan S. Davies De Montfort University, UK

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Research on local government in the UK during the era of austerity has shown that the decisions taken by local councils to cope with financial stresses were often narrated through the discourse of ‘resilience’, referencing their capacity to innovate and transform services, while protecting service provision in core areas. This emphasis on ‘resilience’ focused on the deployment of strategies to overcome funding challenges. However, this earlier research did not question the longer-term risks, trade-offs and negative social implications associated with such decisions, and how, even in circumstances where these practices provided some ‘breathing space’, in the longer-term they risked adding even more strain to the system as a whole.

This article fills an important research gap by considering four resilience strategies of two local authorities in England: Leicester and Nottingham. These four strategies are: savings, reserves, collaboration and investment. Applying a meso-level perspective and exploring resilience through the lens of crisis management, it asks in what ways and for whom resilience generates positive, zero and negative-sum outcomes.

This research enhances our understanding of the resilience concept by reflecting on its limitations and the risks it poses for local government. It also reveals that, while the concept of ‘resilience’ has been much criticised for normalising crises and generally operating as part of a de-politicising vocabulary, research is lacking on how the practices of resilience produce positive, zero or negative-sum outcomes.

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Tania Arrieta University of Leicester, UK

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Jonathan S. Davies De Montfort University, UK

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