Managed Difference, Local Solutions, Market Forces – Anything but Postcode Lotteries!

Chris Game

It was over six years ago that Sir Michael Lyons launched his campaign to abolish ‘postcode lotteries’ from the local government lexicon.  As he wrote in his 2007 report, “I would hope to see debate about postcode lotteries being replaced, over time, by discussion of ‘managed difference’ – recognising the right and ability of local communities to make their own choices, confident in their own competence, and in the knowledge of their own preferences.”

Others, doubting perhaps the rallying appeal of ‘managed difference’, proposed alternatives – local difference, local solutions, postcode preferences – but to nil avail. The campaign made no more headway than most of the Lyons Report’s substantive recommendations, as was painfully apparent last week – during which the populist media brought us what seemed like a new PL each day, each of course with its accompanying outrage and public alarm. 

First was the Diabetes Treatment Postcode Lottery. A National Audit Office (NAO) report showed “significant variation in quality of care received by people with diabetes across the NHS”. Quality of care was defined here solely in terms of the 9-process care regime advised – yes, only advised – by the Department of Health (DH) and National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), and the most recent data were from 2009-10.

Still, I mean, the results were, like, just incredible. The 151 English PCTS and 34,000 GPs clearly weren’t all following fully and identically the DH’s recommended care package.

Next came the seasonal Holiday Cash Postcode Lottery. Which? magazine sent mystery shoppers to a range of different currency exchange providers across the UK on the same day and – surprise! – found they weren’t all offered exactly the same number of euros for their £500s. In fact, there were regional variations, with London and Glasgow shoppers getting more euros than those in Birmingham, Sheffield and, yes, Haverfordwest – except that there weren’t really, since over a two-month period the Post Office and Thomas Cook offered the best deals, irrespective of region. 

Then lgcplus ended the week with the Child Care Postcode Lottery, choosing to lead its news round-up on 25th May with a Times story: “‘Postcode lottery’ in child care proceedings”.  A Cafcass (Children and Family Court Support and Advisory Service) report found that, in the three years since the Baby Peter Connelly case, there has been an increase of over 60% in local authority care applications – but, again amazingly, not spread absolutely equally across all 152 relevant local authorities.

Let’s start with the child care case. First, I’m fairly certain the Cafcass report itself contains no mention whatever of a ‘postcode lottery’. The cheap and misleading headline was chosen by The Times – presumably to rubbish local government in general and certain councils in particular – and then, regrettably, recycled by LGC.

Second, the report’s main findings constituted a generally highly positive local government news story – though you’d never know it from The Times’ version, since the very term ‘lottery’ has deliberately negative connotations.  

To quote directly from the report: “as a result of intensive work on behalf of children, court applications to protect vulnerable children are being made in a more timely way than in 2008 and at an earlier stage of local authority involvement with a family. In particular, neglect cases are being acted on more quickly … and local authorities are more fully prepared coming into court”.

Third, the whole point of a lottery is that there are unmistakeable winners and losers, good and bad outcomes. For the media, the good guys here are, no question, those councils heading the league table of public law applications per 10,000 children. That’s not, however, the Cafcass view.

Cafcass CE, Anthony Douglas, stressed that it’s impossible from the statistics alone to know whether high appliers are being diligently active or defensively over-reactive, and whether low appliers are being slow or perhaps have much better family support services.

The authors warn that their study “does not provide evidence about what the ‘proper’ level of care applications should be”, and admit they were hesitant about publishing statistics in this form, given the likelihood of their prompting comparison of authorities’ levels of intervention. Perhaps they should have hesitated longer.

The diabetes treatment case is not dissimilar. Again ‘postcode lottery’ comes not from the NAO report, but is a media tag to justify the pillorying of, in this instance, Primary Care Trusts. Again too the lottery headline obscured an at least partly positive story: that the proportion of diabetes patients receiving the full recommended care package had increased significantly since the previous audit.

This time, however, the report’s authors were quite certain who the lottery losers were: diabetes patients in PCTs in which only relatively small numbers – say, under 40% – received all nine DH-recommended care processes in 2009-10, regardless of any other treatment they may have received.

Almost as striking, though, is that in not one of the 151 PCTs were more than 69% of diagnosed diabetics receiving all nine processes. Which, to an outsider, suggests either that there are no even moderately high performing PCTs in this field – which seems unlikely – or that many, including the best, are employing other tests and other forms of care, in which the NAO were not apparently interested.

They, it seemed, were more into the blame game – the problem being to decide whether it was the recalcitrant PCTs themselves at fault or the DH’s sloppy monitoring.

By contrast, my problem – indeed, my profound irritation – is that none of these three cases is at all accurately or usefully labelled a ‘postcode lottery’. The cheap point here, of course, is that postcodes were designed for the purposes of delivering mail – the clue’s in the name – and therefore have little to do with council, PCT, or any other political or administrative boundaries.

I’ll tell you what a postcode lottery is. It’s if you happen to live in the Galashiels postcode area in TD9, 12 or 15, and may be either in Scotland or England; or in the Newport postcode area in NP7, 16 or 25, and not know which side of Offa’s Dyke you are.

No, the postcode bit is just silly. It’s the lottery bit that’s serious. Variations in policy and practice across local authorities or PCTs aren’t products of chance. They result from people exercising their right to make decisions in what they judge to be the best interests of those to whom they are answerable – for example, to follow official guidance or try an alternative that is or might be better or more locally appropriate, or from which they and others might learn.

In both the diabetes and child care cases, the ‘postcode lottery’ presentation of the story was not only misleading, and possibly unnecessarily alarming, but militated against our understanding of what the reported variations actually do represent. As for the exchange rate differences, they result from straightforward high street competition, that Which? magazine must surely have come across before.

Chris Game is a Visiting Lecturer at INLOGOV interested in the politics of local government; local elections, electoral reform and other electoral behaviour; party politics; political  leadership and management; member-officer relations; central-local relations; use of consumer and opinion research in local government; the modernisation agenda and the implementation of executive local government.

The Barnet Graph of Doom – not new or classified, but definitely sensitive

Chris Game

A recent SocietyGuardian article on the impact of demographic change on local authority service provision by David Brindle, the paper’s Public Services Editor, produced considerable social media comment, but not apparently any actual sighting of the item that kicked the article off: the so-called Barnet Graph of Doom. Time, therefore, for an unveiling, and some demystification.

 Brindle introduced the BGoD as:

 “a PowerPoint slide, showing that within 20 years, unless things change dramatically, [Barnet Council] will be unable to provide any services except adult social care and children’s services. No libraries, no parks, no leisure centres – not even bin collections.”

Dramatic enough in itself, you’d have thought, but Brindle ratchets up the drama by seeming to imply that the Doom Graph is both new and so sensitive as to be virtually classified:

“The slide … now features regularly in presentations by Sir Bob Kerslake, permanent secretary at the [DCLG] … Whether he has dared to show it to communities secretary Eric Pickles, defender of the Englishman’s inalienable right to a weekly bin round, is unknown.”

In fact, speculation is unnecessary, as the slide in question has been in the public domain for nearly eight months now. It comes from a three minute video presented by Councillor Dan Thomas, Cabinet Member for Resources, as part of one of Barnet Council’s regular budget consultation exercises. The presentation is on both the Council’s website and YouTube, and therefore as available to the minister as it is to Barnet residents, you and me. 

Whether Sir Bob makes use of more than the single slide Brindle doesn’t say. But, unable to break a lecturer’s lifelong weakness for promising visual aids, I certainly would have done – in fact, will do so here – because I reckon the video, though brief, provides a better introduction to the causes and scale of the challenges facing all major local authorities over the coming few years than many have managed.

The video starts from the Government’s October 2010 Spending Review plans to cut total public spending by £81 billion by 2014-15, but not equally across the board. With the NHS budget (nearly 13% of the total) protected and Overseas Aid, though small, increased, the hit taken by the unprotected DCLG, and as a result by local government, would be over 28%.

The video starts from the Government’s October 2010 Spending Review plans to cut total public spending by £81 billion by 2014-15, but not equally across the board. With the NHS budget (nearly 13% of the total) protected and Overseas Aid, though small, increased, the hit taken by the unprotected DCLG, and as a result by local government, would be over 28%.

For Barnet, other things too will change.  With a population of 350,000, the borough is already the largest in London and faces further growth at both ends of the age spectrum – 17% more 5-to-9s and 25% more over-90s by 2016. There is substantial development in the west of the borough, currently requiring more reception places and in future more secondary school places. Which brings us to the Graph of Doom.

Barnet Council estimates that over the four-year Spending Review period it will lose roughly 30% of its income, requiring matching reductions in spending. The bar chart plots the predicted spending on adult social care and on children’s and family services over the coming decade – showing that, without significant changes in the way these services are provided and/or in councils’ funding, the increasing numbers it will be supporting mean that by 2022-23 it would be providing only social services, there being no money left for anything else.  Not classified information, then, but definitely sensitive.

The graph’s original purpose, it should be remembered, was to prompt Barnet residents to think about what their spending priorities would be for the immediate and medium-term future – and, no doubt, to concentrate the minds of members and officers. It was not the product of a sophisticated modelling exercise and, as its authors would surely acknowledge, it has obvious limitations.

It takes no account, for example, of future economies and efficiency savings or of increased income stemming from planned regeneration, particularly of the Cricklewood/West Hendon/Brent Cross area. On the other hand, though, it seems to assume a more or less neutral 2013 Spending Review, rather than another round of austerity measures, as currently looks more likely. In short, though not all-inclusive, its depiction of a calculably approaching funding crisis is more than ‘real’ enough to warrant serious attention from all who should be concerned.

The new Coalition Government seemed concerned – when one of its first actions was to ask Andrew Dilnot, a former Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, to chair a three-person Commission on the funding of elderly care and report back, with recommendations, within the year.

The Commissioners were emphatically concerned. They found the current funding system barely comprehensible, frequently unfair, and urgently in need of reform. Their key recommendations proposed:

•   capping individuals’ lifetime contributions towards their social care costs – at around   £35,000 – after which they should be eligible for full state support;

•   increasing the means-tested threshold, above which people are liable for their full care costs, from £23,250 to £100,000;

•   limiting liability for the costs of accommodation and food paid by people in a care home to £10,000 p.a.

The Commission’s full set of proposals, it estimated, would increased public spending by £1.7 billion p.a., rising to £3.6 billion by 2025 – equivalent to 0.25% of the total: “a price well worth paying” to remove people’s fear of having to sell their homes and spend almost all their wealth on care.

Ministers, particularly those in the vicinity of the Treasury, then became concerned to the point of agitation – at the capping proposal and the overall price tag. Dilnot was welcomed, but, as Health Secretary Andrew Lansley put it, as “a basis for engagement” – to be followed by more consultation, a delayed White Paper, and legislation “at the earliest opportunity thereafter”.

Whereupon the LGA became volubly concerned, with good reason. In an unusual cross-party initiative, Chairman Sir Merrick Cockell wrote to the three main party leaders on behalf of all LGA political groups, pointing out that social care already takes up more than 40% of council budgets, that demographic pressures alone will add £2 billion p.a. to these costs by 2015, and calling on Ministers to work urgently with local government in introducing radical Dilnot-type reforms.

Since then, the White Paper has been further postponed and will not address the funding issue anyway, the Queen’s Speech contained no relevant legislation whatever … and Doom gets ever closer.

Chris Game is a Visiting Lecturer at INLOGOV interested in the politics of local government; local elections, electoral reform and other electoral behaviour; party politics; political  leadership and management; member-officer relations; central-local relations; use of consumer and opinion research in local government; the modernisation agenda and the implementation of executive local government.

Why the No-Vote was Right for Birmingham

Dr. Andrew Coulson

What a relief to wake up on Friday morning, 4 May 2012, and know that Birmingham will not have a directly elected mayor.  It was a most ill-informed referendum. The media, the business community (both Birmingham-based and national) and the government campaigned in favour. But the case against was hardly made at all until very close to the referendum, so there was little real discussion of what the new post would actually involve, or its advantages and disadvantages.

If it had gone ahead, it would have been the most divisive administrative change ever to hit the West Midlands. For London advocates of an elected mayor, it was presented as a new leader, able to speak for the whole West Midlands. That is not how it would have been seen in Dudley or Wolverhampton. The new mayor would also, probably sooner rather than later, have fallen out with the councillors elected to represent Birmingham wards, whose democratic mandate would be at least as strong as his or hers. If the council was controlled by a political party different from that of the mayor, that would have been a given from the start. But even within one party, sooner or later there would have been disagreements.

The job was impossible – to take over everything that Birmingham City Council and to influence every other organisation or group in the city. So every parent who could not get a child into a school of choice would have come to the mayor. So would the relatives of every patient that could not be discharged from hospital because suitable care arrangements were not in place.  Or every young family with a housing problem. There is no way one person could respond to that level of pressure. It is hard enough to understand the different cultures of the city – North and South, inner city and suburban, the highly complex racial geography.  There is nothing to be gained from trying to run everything that happens in Birmingham through one person, since however much he or she tries to delegate the buck will stop there and people will know it and soon get disappointed and frustrated.

Some of those arguing in favour of a mayor have no faith in councillors, and conclude that the biggest challenges would face chief officers. They should look carefully at what they wrote: do they really believe in a democratic process in which all the politics runs through one person?  or is their agenda to try and take politics and choice out of local government altogether?

A mayor of Birmingham was presented as the same as or similar to the Mayor of London. But Boris Johnson has virtually no powers, and only one major service to run. That is why mayors of London get so involved in public transport, and have time to promote economic development, regeneration and the Olympics. The services that affect people day by day are mainly the responsibility of the London boroughs.  The proposal for a mayor of Birmingham should have been presented as comparable to the Mayor of Newham – and there could then have been a realistic discussion as to whether having one would make a difference and how a mayor of Birmingham would relate to the Black Country or neighbouring counties.

There were no safety valves. At least a Leader can be voted down by a vote of no confidence in the Council meeting, or at the AGM. The city could have been stuck with a disastrous mayor for four years – becoming the laughing stock of the whole country, and an object of pity, and with no way out.

So now the newly empowered Labour administration in Birmingham will have to demonstrate that it is more effective than a mayor can be. Not an easy task given the general lack of discussion of the difficulties a mayor would have faced, and when the previous administration has partly lived off balances, and run the head office capacity of its departments down to the bare minimum or less. There are bound to be crises and failures, and some very difficult decisions to be made. The good property is that Labour’s showing in Birmingham was so strong that the party is almost guaranteed office for four years.

The sad reflection is that a case can be made for a directly elected mayor, not of Birmingham, but of the West Midlands, either as the city-region defined by the seven metropolitan districts, or as the whole standard region including the four adjacent county areas. That would have made the West Midlands like Boris’ London, and the resulting mayor might have had sufficient clout in London to bring jobs and training opportunities to the region, deliver the investment needed in public transport and deliver the coordination between the regional arms and agencies of central government and local agencies and trusts.

Dr. Andrew Coulson is Lead Consultant on Overview and Scrutiny at INLOGOV,University of Birmingham, with wide experience of Overview and Scrutiny.  He has recently launched one of the first assessed qualifications on the subject.  His further research interests include partnerships and governance, economic and environmental strategies, and local government in Central and Eastern Europe.

The councillors of 2012 face a challenge, yet they have also been presented with an opportunity

Ian Briggs and Karin Bottom

Given last week’s frantic media interest in the local elections and the Mayoral referenda,  some will find it quite remarkable as to how quickly the events have become old news.  Rose Garden 2 has come and gone and even the Queen’s Speech outlining the forthcoming legislative agenda has quickly gravitated to the inside pages; yet, for many of the newly elected councillors – over 500 in total –  the real work has just started.  Most will now be  sworn in, horse trading for positions of prominence will be at fever pitch and senior officers and managers will be thinking of ways to develop new working relationships with fresh councillors and new administrations.

128 councils went to the polls last week and the current climate demands that the councillors which were elected must hit the ground running; however, let’s think for one moment about  the position these new councillors have been put in.  Indeed, they, like their more seasoned contemporaries are adamant in their desire to do something about improving living standards as they seek to establish local mechanisms that will facilitate greater economic and life chances; however, a quick reality check is in order: to many, Westminster has well and truly tied local government down in recent years; jacking up council tax to increase spending is no longer a possibility and  many service delivery systems are part of complex and long-duration contracted arrangements with highly expensive termination clauses.  Furthermore,  partnership working practices are so well and truly embedded as mechanisms for  the delivery of local services, no one can hope to disassemble them and start again.

This means that options for responsive, innovative and creative policy making will be limited in the months to come.  It also means that citizens who have hitherto felt able to exert a level of democratic influence on local decision making may now find themselves disappointed. Yet, this is also a point in time when councillors have an opportunity to really ‘come into their own’.  Of course, times are tough and much like the rest of the population, councillors do not have access to magic wands, but they do have time to listen and sometimes this is what  matters.  As research across a range of disciplines demonstrates, people are more fearful, angry, resentful and closed to change if they perceive themselves to be ignored and marginalized; yet when they are educated and informed, deliberated and consulted with they are more likely to accept decisions that mitigate against them.  Of course this is not always the case and nor should it be, however, one would be pushed to find many – indeed any – examples of when less engagement has been preferable to more engagement in local politics.

The next few weeks will  present a number of interesting challenges to newly elected councillors; whilst they are forging new relationships and shaping new decision making mechanisms, they will be returning to those who elected them in order to offer explanations for  what they are going to do and how they are going to do it. They will also come up against sitting councillors who are finding life increasingly uncomfortable – now that they have learned that many of the greater freedoms promised in the Localism Act come only to those who ‘fit’ within the general intentions of Westminster and the coalition government.  One option is to bunker down and close the hatches, another is to use these difficult times as opportunities to re-connect with the electorate: clearly, the councillors of 2012 have their work cut out for them but if they focus on inclusion and engagement as well as interest aggregation and information sharing, they may find  that their task is slightly easier.

Ian Briggs is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Local Government Studies.  He has research interests in the development and assessment of leadership, performance coaching, organisational development and change, and the establishment of shared service provision.

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Karin Bottom is Lecturer in British Politics and Research Methods at INLOGOV, University of Birmingham.  Her core research areas comprise parties (particularly small and the BNP), party systems and party theory.  She is particularly interested in concepts of relevance and how national level theories can be utilised at the sub-national level.

A ‘no’ vote for city mayors does not have to shut down discussion on how local political leadership can be strengthened

Dr. Karin Bottom

Last week, ten English cities voted on whether  to alter the dynamics of leadership in their authorities and replace the current leader and cabinet formula with that of elected mayor, deputy and cabinet.  The rejection was almost unanimous, only Bristol registered a yes vote – but with a majority of less than seven per cent – and more than 60% of voters in Coventry, Leeds, Newcastle, Sheffield and Wakefield   prioritised the status quo above change.   To some this outcome was a surprise, yet  polls prior to the referenda were inconclusive at best and taken in conjunction with the uncertainty surrounding elected mayors, it is hardly surprising that the majority of the electorate chose to stay at home or vote no, average turnout being recorded at a particularly  low 32 per cent.

With a focus on what the office of mayor could do to regenerate cities  and enhance local democracy,  ‘yes’ campaigns were beset with problems from the  start, not least for the reason that pre election, the role of the elected mayor was to be broadly similar to that of council leader: specifics were to be negotiated after taking office and worryingly for some, a substantial amount of the role’s leverage would be the product of personality and an ability to maximise what are often termed as ‘soft’  powers.  Compounding these factors, the office’s confinement to cities – as opposed to regions – suggested that capacity for real change was somewhat more limited than proponents suggested.

Analysis in the aftermath of the referenda suggests that a number of factors contributed to the ‘no’ votes but it  is clear that the overriding sentiments within the electorate were uncertainty and confusion.  Voters were unsure about what they were being asked to endorse or reject and some argue that this explains why the   ‘no’ campaigns were particularly successful at tapping into and harnessing public sentiment.  Taken in the context of austerity, ongoing public service cuts and a generalised dissatisfaction with the political class, it is easy to speculate and suggest that the electorate was unenthusiastic about electing more politicians, especially when the nature of the role was unclear and guidelines for removing poorly performing mayors were minimal to say the very least: to many the office seemed nothing other than a risky and unnecessary expense.

Yet, the results on May 3rd should not shut down discussion on local political leadership. The mayoral model may have been rejected but the issue has not gone away; arguments for stronger more visible city leadership persist and the government has made it clear that it now sees the move towards elected mayors as incremental, cumulative and progressive: in this sense the debate continues.  Yet, now it might be useful to shift the focus somewhat and think about how leadership can be nurtured and maximised in the 339 non mayoral authorities in England because there is nothing to suggest that the qualities which comprise strong leadership sit only within the purview of  an elected mayor.  While  Joe Anderson and Ian Stewart take up their new mayoral posts  in Liverpool and Salford, they do so alongside 124 other English authorities which also underwent some form of political reconfiguration last week: it will be interesting to see  whether  the issues which catalysed the mayoral referenda will impact on future leadership dynamics in those local  authorities.

Karin Bottom is Lecturer in British Politics and Research Methods at INLOGOV, University of Birmingham.  Her core research areas comprise parties (particularly small and the BNP), party systems and party theory.  She is particularly interested in concepts of relevance and how national level theories can be utilised at the sub-national level.

Go Back to Committees – and Use All the Talent of Elected Councillors

Andrew Coulson

A recent centre spread in the LGC has the headline “Committee System may be Outdated, Councils Warned”, even though the option to return to government by committees is one of the main planks of the Localism Act and a central plank of Conservative and especially LibDem policy.

The research reported on, by Ed Hammond of the Centre for Public Scrutiny, reports that four councils are expected to make the change in May 2012.  There will also be some “hybrid” arrangements, such as that likely to come into effect in Kent, where advisory committees are given greatly strengthened powers, even though technically decisions will remain in the hands of individual cabinet members, and the cabinet, though that is not expected to meet very often.

Up to 40 councils are believed to be giving serious consideration to making the change, including some of those where there will be mayoral referenda on 3 May.  If those referenda are lost, some of these councils may well revert to committee governance in May 2013.

Why?  Because, as they see it, committees are much more inclusive than any other form of governance. They give a voice to all the elected councillors, and potentially bring to the table all their talents. They make it harder to take decisions in secret. They give councillors a means of putting into effect the commitments they make when they stand for election, and they keep council officers on their toes because they can never be quite sure what will happen when they attend a committee – even if most of the major changes that might be made to a report will have been agreed in the group meeting of a majority party beforehand.  They also allow backbench councillors to specialise, and provide a means to induct them into how council services are run. They develop leadership – many strong leaders emerged over the years from the committee system.

This is not to say that committees were perfect or are inevitably the best solution. They can, and often were, criticised – for being slow to make decisions, leaving it unclear who was responsible for decisions, and for sustaining silos (such as Education authorities) which at times seemed to have little involvement with other parts of the council.  The criticisms can be answered. The committee system can be fast, and keep confidences, when it matters. With a cabinet, or indeed an elected mayor, leadership is still distributed – with chief executives or chief officers often the real leaders. Silos can be broken down if there is the political will to do so. But none of this is easy, and there were plenty of disillusioned and frustrated councillors and officers in the past. All we can say with confidence is that no system is perfect and that each council needs to work out what is best for its own purposes.

There are different forms of committee systems, ranging from a single committee with important decisions taken in full council (as in a number of the present Fourth Option councils, with populations less than 85,000, who have never given up their committees) to the massively complex structures in some counties and metropolitan districts before 2000 which had committees or sub-committees for almost everything that a councillor could become involved in – over 50 in total in one case. No-one is proposing to go back to that.

There have to be means of dealing with cross-cutting issues, urgent business between meetings, the size of committees and sub-committees, how often they meet, systems of councillors’ allowances, and policy review, to take but some of the issues of detail that must be addressed. Scrutiny will for most councils remain a function that needs to be done, and there are different ways of integrating it into a committee system. Maybe there is much to be said for not rushing into making the changes, and learning from what is happening now.

A day workshop at INLOGOV on 6 July will present a balanced picture and facilitate a discussion of the pros and cons of making the change and the detail issues that need to be taken into account in any new constitution.  Several of the councils making the change will be represented or make presentations. Ed Hammond, the researcher who wrote the Centre for Public Scrutiny report, will speak.  There will be comment from the Local Government Association, and support from FOSIG, the group that represents fourth option councils.

It will provide a unique opportunity to listen to the enthusiasts for making a change, and cross question them, and to understand the alternatives, and the possible downsides,  and the need to address the detail.  More about this workshop, including a booking form, can be found by clicking here.

Dr. Andrew Coulson is Lead Consultant on Overview and Scrutiny at INLOGOV,University of Birmingham, with wide experience of Overview and Scrutiny.  He has recently launched one of the first assessed qualifications on the subject.  His further research interests include partnerships and governance, economic and environmental strategies, and local government in Central and Eastern Europe.