May’s Conservatives: closer to a genuinely national party than Thatcher in ’83?

General Election, opinion polls, YouGov regional poll, regional variations, 1983 General election, Margaret Thatcher, Sadiq Khan

You might think, given the record of opinion polls in the 2015 election campaign, that there’d be slightly fewer of them this time. Dream on! So far this month national voting intention polls have averaged well over one a day. Of the 28, precisely none have shown the Conservatives on less than 44% – that is, over 6% higher than they managed in the 2015 election; and just one – the ‘outlier’ of those published this past weekend – put Labour behind by less than 10%, compared to the 6.6% GB gap last time.

There is an iron law in opinion poll reporting: the more eye-catching and exceptional the finding, the louder it will be reported, and the more likely it is to prove a ‘rogue’ result. Unsurprisingly, therefore, this ‘single-figure lead’ poll prompted instant speculation about whether Corbyn’s Labour could win more votes than it did under Miliband, or even increase its return of 232 MPs, which at least temporarily displaced the McLuskey-prompted ruction about whether just 200 Labour MPs would qualify as a successful campaign.

That would in fact be Labour’s worst result since 1935, worse even than 1983, when under Michael Foot’s leadership it was reduced to 209 MPs. And, while the PM may understandably wince at personal comparisons with Margaret Thatcher, and in her party’s ‘Reddish Tory’ manifesto has certainly distanced herself ideologically, it still seems most likely that it is with that latter election that, as polling day approaches, statistical comparisons will be made – starting in the second part of this blog.

The first part looks at something arguably more interesting – the regional variations in current voting intentions, as collated by YouGov in a total GB sample of over 17,400 respondents, and compared to the actual votes in the 2015 election, summarised in the central sections of the table below.


The ‘headline voting intention’ that would have been reported in YouGov’s late April/early May polls – that is, excluding ‘don’t know’s and ‘won’t say’s and weighted by respondents’ self-described likelihood to vote – would show the Conservatives with a 16% lead over Labour, with the Lib Dems on about 10% and UKIP around 7% and sliding.

The modesty of the Lib Dems’ post-2010 recovery, the recent collapse of UKIP, and the performance of other smaller parties are obviously important and will be decisive in many individual constituencies. But my main concern here is the bigger picture: the variation in the Conservatives’ current lead across the regions, and the extent to which the figures support the claim that Theresa May is increasingly keen to make of her party being truly national in its appeal and support.

We’re used to seeing political maps of the UK, whether of national or local government, from a ‘geographic’ viewpoint: each constituency or council a blob of appropriate colour the relative size of its land area. Shown such a map of the 2015 election results, an innocent visitor would probably conclude that, in England and Wales at least, we’re already there: more or less a one-party state. Even London, where Labour took 45 of the 73 seats, has to be magnified to look more than a red smudge in an ocean of bright blue.

Now, though, following the local elections, Conservatives actually are the largest party in every English county and county unitary authority except Durham, and the regional YouGov polls tell a similar story. The swing of support between the two major parties since May 2015, coupled with the respective performances of UKIP and the Lib Dems, has put us on the brink of becoming, as well as just looking cartographically, a one-party state.

In under two years, one English region, Yorkshire/Humber, has swung from majority Labour to majority Conservative. A second, the North West, has seen a 14% lead completely disappear. And, most strikingly, Wales and Scotland, for decades dominated almost monopolistically by Labour, are both currently showing the Conservatives with a clear two-party voting lead.

In general, and with one big exception, the below-average 2015-17 swings from Labour to Conservative have been in the already strongest Tory areas – the South East, South West, and East of England. And the above-average swings have been in the traditionally strongest Labour areas, where they can make the relatively greater electoral impact: the North East, an early deliverer in the form of an unexpected mayoral victory in Tees Valley; the North West, May’s choice for her launch of the party manifesto; the Midlands, Scotland and Wales.

The massive exception to all this is obviously London, increasingly unmoored in so many respects, it seems, from the rest of the country. Current voting intentions don’t quite match the 44% to 35% split in 2015, and with which Sadiq Khan won the mayoralty last year, but they’re very close.

London’s real political exceptionalism, however, is shown when we start comparing with 1983 and the figures in the final columns of my table. In that election the regional voting figures in London and the West Midlands were close to identical: 44/45% Conservative, 30/31% Labour, 25/27% SDP-Liberal Alliance, and in both cases a (highlighted) 14% Conservative lead.

By 2015 that lead had been reduced to 9% in the West Midlands, but in London had been reversed to one of 9% for Labour. And over the past two years that divergence has accelerated, with the Conservatives 23% ahead in the West Midlands and Labour 5% ahead in London.

The last (bracketed) column in the table is intended to take advantage of the fact that nationally the Conservatives’ current lead in voting intentions is effectively the same as that achieved by Margaret Thatcher’s party in 1983, and to see how the different regions compare and contrast.

Headed massively by London there are four minus signs, but the seven pluses suggest that May’s Conservatives are indeed developing a claim to be a more genuinely nationally supported party than we’ve seen for at least several decades.


Chris Game - pic

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 Leadership Conundrum in Turkey’s District Governance – Insights from Doctoral Research

In this post Saban Akca presents findings from his recently completed PhD research into the behaviour of district governors in Turkey. His thesis is titled ‘The Complex Role of District Governors in Turkey: A Case of Sui Generis Public Leadership’. 

Turkish district governors are centrally appointed public administrators who represent the Turkish state at localities across the country. They have been charged with various and diverse responsibilities, including security and public order, and they are liable to ensure the smooth delivery of other public services. However, they have enjoyed a great deal of power in local administration for more than 170 years, their co-existence with locally elected mayors and the latter’s unparalleled and rapid accumulation of power are now hitting hard the very existence of the orthodox foundation of governorships nationwide.

After this brief introduction about the roles of the Turkish governors I am now ready to explain why I have been conducting a leadership study on them. First, it should be underlined here that the study – based on my personal experiences of the perceived inadequacy of training services delivered by the Training Department of the Turkish Interior Ministry for intern governors –aimed to examine a specific ‘governorship course’. However, the direction of the study evolved into one that focuses also on governor leadership exercises, mostly because the course is a mere mannequin of the status quo, rather than a transformative leadership programme.

The study has focused on the challenge within public leadership of reconciling the sometimes conflicting interests of the national and local state. As representatives of the Turkish state at the local level, governors have undertaken a traditional local leadership role. The research for the study has examined the ways in which different governors interpret, approach and play out their leadership roles within the districts to which they are appointed, and, in particular, the ways in which they balance the respective interests of the central state with those of the locality, as shaped by the democratically elected local government system.

Much of the research focus has been on governors as individuals – rather than as a group or as an institution. In this vein, the key research question for the thesis has been ‘How do Turkish governors, in the exercise of their leadership role, balance out their responsibilities towards the central government, as servants of the central state, with those towards the locality and the communities over which they have jurisdiction?’ In addition to that and in further elaboration of governors’ leadership characters and the effects of contingencies on their leadership, the second research question is: ‘To what extent, and in what ways, are differences in the approach of governors shaped by and contingent on local circumstances as opposed to more personal traits?’.

A case study design was devised, involving 30 district governors, selected from across Turkey, and semi-structured interviews were conducted with each to explore both the perceptions and perspectives of each with regard to their leadership role and the extent to which these differed from district to district in reflection of contextual factors.

The findings demonstrated a considerable range in perspectives on and approaches to the leadership role and in the strategies and modes of operation in the pursuit of governance at local level. At the same time, the findings also highlighted some commonalities; for example, a strong ambition from an early age amongst some to become a district governor. Similarly, there was shared recognition of the importance of the adaptability of leadership strategies to local circumstances, and recognition that there cannot be ‘one model’ for this governance role. Furthermore, the findings suggested that district governors tend to approach their role as father figures, for the district population as well as for their own civil servant employees.

Recent public administration reforms in Turkey, and specifically, moves to devolve more powers to municipalities, imply changes in the role and influence of district governors. Accordingly, the research sought to understand how interviewees were viewing these changes and their implications for their role into the future. In this respect, almost all the governors expressed apprehension and much uncertainty about future prospects.



Saban Akca holds a law degree from the University of Ankara, Turkey and did his master study on the European Union at the Keele University in 2011. After achieving his lawyer qualification at the Ankara Bar Chamber in 1999, he followed a career in the Turkish civil service as a district governor from 2000 until 1 September 2016.

The local and mayoral elections – and the significance of that 4-2 scoreline

Chris Game

Local elections present the INLOGOV blog with an annual dilemma. They’re the heartbeat of democratic local government, its lifeblood, or something equally vital. So, they must be covered and key results namechecked. But INLOGOV’s not a news service, and, with so many Friday counts nowadays and results instantly available on social media, you have somehow to strike a balance.

The first part of this blog, therefore, will give the headlines, from a strictly local government perspective. That means, first, changes in council control; second, changes in councillor numbers; and third, excluding one minor indulgence, no conjecturing whatever about implications for that other election.

Conservatives, of course, were the big winners, almost everywhere. So, to be perverse, we’ll start with a titbit of consolatory Labour news, from the seven unitary polls. Durham it still controls, and Northumberland – thanks to the Conservative candidate in the potentially decisive ward literally picking the short straw – stays technically hung, though no longer under Labour minority control. After mass gains from particularly Independents, Conservatives are the largest party in Cornwall and back in control in the Isle of Wight.

Of the 27 non-metropolitan counties, even before last Thursday Labour had majority control in only Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, and shared minority control in Cumbria and Lancashire. Conservatives are now in control of the first and last of these and are easily the largest party in the other two. Cambridgeshire, East Sussex, Gloucestershire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Oxfordshire, Suffolk and Warwickshire all swung from minority to majority Conservative control.

As was widely, and even gleefully, reported, UKIP too lost heavily, its single gain in Lancashire being rather more than counterbalanced by at least double-figure losses in Cambridgeshire, Kent, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and West Sussex.

Turning to overall councillor numbers, the Conservatives gained what for a party in national government was an almost mind-boggling 563 seats: 319 in England, 164 in Scotland, far more than doubling their previous representation, and 80 in Wales – the latter, according to more knowledgeable commentators than I, putting the party on course (in that election I’m not mentioning) for its first nationwide Welsh victory since the Earl of Derby managed it in 1859.

Labour’s car crash involved losing net 382 councillors – bringing to 15 years the period since, in terms of councillor numbers, it was the largest party in GB local government – UKIP 145, and the Liberal Democrats what must have been a deeply dispiriting 42.

And so to what, for the immediate future of at least England’s sub-national government, were surely last week’s most important elections, and collectively way up there amongst the most mind-boggling: those of our first(?) six metro mayors. I can hardly imagine the odds you could have got, even a week ago, on four of the six being Conservative. However, it’s there in my table, in blue and pink. And, whatever one’s reservations about elected mayors and the whole limited, top-down, Treasury-driven, fiscally minimal devolution model, I’d suggest that nothing over the past 11 months has given it a greater boost.


The first several months of May’s premiership she spent almost visibly dithering over what to do about the severed agenda of devo deals and elected mayors she’d inherited from the axed George Osborne and shuffled ex-Communities Secretary, Greg Clark. Then – I simplify enormously – two things happened.

First, Andy Street decided he’d stop being MD of the John Lewis Partnership and run as a Conservative for the biggest and politically most attractive metro mayoralty of all, the West Mids – in time to be adopted, and then paraded with May at the party’s October Birmingham conference.

At the same time, something else helped change her view that one big reason why metro mayors were a bad idea was that most, if not all, would be Labour. Several of Clark’s nine envisaged metro-mayoral city regions, during the May-created devo vacuum, started for various reasons to lose interest or patience and drop out – West Yorkshire, Sheffield City Region, the North East – and the political arithmetic began to alter. To the extent that I suggested she could realistically conceive of the first set of mayoral elections producing three Conservative and three Labour mayors. Even for the sake of an eye-catching headline, though, I’d never have contemplated 4-2.

And, as the table shows, three of the four results, after the two counts involved in the Supplementary Vote (SV) electoral system, were extremely close. Street’s majority was exceptionally so – 0.71979% of over half a million votes cast, to be precise. This in itself would weaken any victor’s mandate, particularly when achieved in what, by the standards of anything other than Police and Crime Commissioner ballots, were very low-turnout elections.

The SV system was adopted for mayoral elections almost by accident, and many consider that the more familiar Alternative Vote – that we rejected for parliamentary elections in the 2011 referendum – would be fitter for this particular purpose. Its defenders, though, claim it has worked well in London, is voter-friendly, produces clear winners, and is accepted by all concerned.

My table would suggest otherwise, at least on its first showing. In the West Midlands, in a hugely significant election decided by well under 4,000 votes, over 40,000 votes that might have contributed to the result didn’t do so. They were either not used at all, or were cast for candidates who, highly predictably in this instance, had already been eliminated after the first count.

It’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that large numbers even of the small minority who turned out didn’t fully comprehend the system they were voting in – for which the Electoral Commission must be held chiefly responsible. As also for the huge disparities in candidate expenditure permitted before the ‘regulated’ campaign period, which again in such a closely run race can and will be alleged to have been decisive. In short, the Commission, as well as the mayors themselves, have plenty of work to do in what is only a three-year term to 2020.

Chris Game - pic

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.

Reflections on the election of the West Midlands Metro Mayor

Prof. Catherine Staite 

Thursday’s mayoral elections brought some surprises.  There was a higher than expected turnout in areas like the West Midlands where public interest in the election had been worrying low during the campaign.  There were two notable cases of political revolution; Tees Valley and the West Midlands.  Like Ben Houchen in Tees Valley, Andy Street won by a slim majority – 238,628 votes against Labour’s Sion Simon’s 234,862.

While commentators ponder on what the mayoral results will mean for national politics, the new Mayors will have very little time for reflection.  Their first terms are only for three years and all have set out challenging agendas for their areas.  Three years isn’t a long time for the new Mayor to make an impact, yet the progress made in these three years will determine the value the public place on the role and the extent to which central government are willing to devolve more powers.

Here in the West Midlands, Andy Street’s focus is on renewal and he’s seeking quick wins on improvements to the transport network to reduce congestion and improve air quality. He’s also keen to see land released for both industry and housing. He recognises the importance of technology, not only to drive economic growth in the region but also to have a beneficial impact on people’s lives

It’s notable that these and other ambitions, such as improving health and wellbeing, can only be achieved by collaboration with major stakeholders in the region.  For example, he will have some compulsory purchase powers but responsibility for planning remains with each of the individual local authorities.  Many of his key goals can only be delivered if he is able to bring a wide range of competing and conflicting interests together under his leadership and influence them to do their part to deliver his ambition to shape ‘a region that works for everybody, no matter how strong or weak you are’.

The ability of the Mayor to bring people together, not only councils, other statutory services, business and the voluntary and community sectors but most importantly the residents who have become disengaged from local politics will be vitally important as he seeks to demonstrate the added value of  the mayoral role. His effectiveness in harnessing  and mobilising collective energy and resources to tackle complex social and economic challenges, will be crucial to his success.

Andy Street will be exercising his leadership and influence in a complex political and organisational landscape. The West Midlands Combined Authority, which Andy Street will chair, is made up of seven local authorities, Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton. The Leaders of those authorities will form the Mayor’s Cabinet.  The WMCA is a new organisation but it has made good progress in developing its capacity to deliver, with the support of the chief executives of the member councils who have each taken on a key leadership role, on top of their demanding day jobs.  Now the WMCA is recruiting a chief executive and a small strategic team to help drive delivery of the Mayor’s agenda.

How will we measure success?  Increased public recognition of Andy Street and his role will be not only an important soft measure of the success of his first term but will bode well for his ability to gain more devolved powers from central government. Progress will also be measured by the speed with which major infrastructure projects are planned and delivered and better opportunities provided for people who are currently socially and economically disadvantaged.  The hardest test of all is the extent to which the public perceives that their lives have been changed and improved as a result of his election as Mayor for the West Midlands.

Catherine Staite 02

Catherine Staite is Professor of Public Management and Director of Public Service Reform at the University of Birmingham. As Director of Public Service Reform, Professor Catherine Staite leads the University’s work supporting the transformation and reform of public services, with a particular focus on the West Midlands.  As a member of INLOGOV, Catherine leads our on-line and blended programmes, Catherine also helps to support INLOGOV’s collaboration with a wide range of organisations, including the Local Government Association  and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives as well as universities in the USA, Europe, Australia and China. She was named by the Local Government Chronicle, in 2015 and 2016 as one of the top 100 most influential people in local government.

‘Participating in participation’ or influencing policy outcomes? Evaluating the effects of public participation in Kenya’s sub-national legislatures.

Brenda Ogembo

Here Brenda Ogembo outlines her doctoral research, which was presented at the latest PhD Showcase at INLOGOV in April.

Public participation, community engagement, community involvement, public engagement, deliberative democracy and participatory democracy. The thread running through all these terms is the focus on fostering increased public participation in governance decisions that affect them. Initiatives like the Open Government Partnership and Open Parliament Initiative, which are increasingly being taken up by countries globally, are a testament to the increasing global demand by citizens to have greater involvement in decision making by their governments. The Sustainable Development Goals, which lay out the global agenda for sustainable development to 2030, have three specific targets directly aimed at increasing participation of people in decision-making processes. The focus on increasing public participation has however not been accompanied by as rigorous a focus on the effects of public participation, particularly bearing in mind the cost and time spent on these efforts. A critical review of the literature, reveals that there is a significant gap on the policy impacts of public participation (Salisbury, 1975; Abelson and Gauvin, 2006; Nabatchi et al., 2012). Public participation has instead become an almost ritualistic expectation which nobody dares to challenge if it is necessary or even beneficial. Burton (2009) states it best when he says that ‘for something that is held to be so important and to deliver a myriad of benefits, we know little of the extent to which the benefits of public participation are in fact delivered or of the balance of these benefits with any costs’. Interestingly, and which leads to the focus of the research, there is even less academic literature examining the effects of public participation in legislative contexts.

Increasingly, Parliaments’ have found themselves having to make significant efforts to increase opportunities for public participation to address the ever-growing arguments about the insufficiency of representative democracy in dealing with issues such as voter apathy and reducing public trust in political institutions. Many open governance advocates argue that increased public engagement can strengthen public trust in representative institutions and build a responsive, 21st-century legislature. However, we must ask ourselves whether greater efforts of public participation and the numerous focus on methods of engagement are achieving the purpose for which they are intended. Empirical research must question if the evaluation of public participation has focused more on evaluating and improving methods of engagement rather than on whether public participation improves decision-making and if it is of any useful consequence at all (Rowe and Frewer, 2004).

My doctoral research focuses on a particularly ignored area of public participation, i.e. public participation in legislative contexts. A quick scan through the literature on participatory democracy shows that public participation in legislative environments has largely been ignored and only recently have some scholars begun looking at public engagement in legislatures. The focus of the research in this area has largely been on the Westminster Parliament and UK sub-national legislatures. Much of it has mostly focused on methods of public participation employed by the legislatures’ and less so on their effects in the legislative process. This research aims to address this gap by looking at the effects of public participation in different legislative contexts. The research, using a case study of public participation in two of Kenya’s sub-national legislatures, will examine if public participation improves the quality of legislative decision making as well as if it has any effect on increasing public trust in the Legislature.

Research on African legislatures is scarce, and yet democracy has continued to take root in the continent. Large scale surveys such as those carried out by Afrobarometer, show that on average Africans, despite the challenges of democracy, still prefer it to any other kind of government (Mattes and Bratton, 2016). In 2010, when Kenya adopted a new constitution, one of the fundamental pillars of the Constitution was mandatory public participation in all policy decisions. The Constitution of Kenya makes public participation a central part of Kenya’s governance system and each legislative assembly is mandated to provide for it in its rules of procedure and ensure public participation on all legislation they consider. Articles 10, 174(c), 184 (1) (c) and 196 of the Constitution recognise participation of the people as a national value and principle of governance and detail how it should be implemented. However even as the focus on avenues for public participation has increased and methods for facilitating public participation have continued to grow, very little has been done on evaluating the effects of these exercises on decision-making. The research focuses on studying the effects of public participation in legislative decision-making with a focus on the budget-making process in the Nairobi Assembly and Mombasa Assembly, two of Kenya’s sub-national legislatures. The two sub-national legislatures are in relatively similarly sized urban cities with a multi-cultural population of predominantly young working age residents. The county budget bills have been chosen for the case study as they are recurrent every year in all county assemblies with the key budget calendar dates provided in law. The budget is also as an important bill for the assembly that carries with it various significant policy and legislative directions that affect people’s lives.

The primary objective of the research is to examine if public participation in legislative contexts improves the quality of legislative decision making and consequently increases institutional trust through greater legitimacy of its policy decisions. The project will be seeking to answer three questions –

  1. Does public participation in legislative contexts improve the quality of parliamentary decision-making?
  2. Does public participation lead to an increase in public trust of legislative institutions
  3. Is there congruence of evaluation from political actors and the public about the efficacy and purpose of public participation in legislative business?

In conclusion, local governments are considered a critical arena for increasing public participation in governance decisions. In fact, the entire framework of Kenya’s devolution is anchored on devolving fiscal resources and accompanying decision-making power on how those funds are spent to the local level so that citizens can be directly involved in making spending decisions on issues affecting them. The next year will be spent designing a framework that will enable a detailed study of the public participation process on the budget process in two of Kenya’s sub-national legislatures. The research will engage with citizens, politicians, stakeholders and elite actors that take part in public participation. In the process, the research will unpack what motives people go into public participation exercises with, what happens during the process of public participation to all the actors engaged and how do the various actors evaluate and take forward the outcomes of the engagement.


Abelson, J. and Gauvin, F.-P. (2006) Assessing the impacts of public participation: Concepts, evidence and policy implications. Ottawa: Canadian Policy Research Networks Inc. Available at:

Burton, P. (2009) ‘Conceptual, Theoretical and Practical Issues in Measuring the Benefits of Public Participation’, Evaluation, 15(3), pp. 263–284. doi: 10.1177/1356389009105881.

Mattes, R. and Bratton, M. (2016) Do Africans still want democracy? Afrobarometer Policy Paper No. 36, p. 25.

Nabatchi, T., Gastil, J., Weiksner, G. M. and Leighninger, M. (eds) (2012) Democracy in Motion: Evaluating the Practice and Impact of Deliberative Civic Engagement. 1 edition. Oxford University Press.

Rowe, G. and Frewer, L. J. (2004) ‘Evaluating Public-Participation Exercises: A Research Agenda’, Science, Technology, & Human Values, 29(4), pp. 512–557.

Salisbury, R. H. (1975) ‘Research on Political Participation’, American Journal of Political Science, 19(2), pp. 323–341. doi: 10.2307/2110440.

Brenda Ogembo started her PhD after spending the last two years working with the Senate of the Parliament of Kenya as First Clerk Assistant. She is currently on academic study leave after being awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship in 2016 to explore the effects of public participation in legislative contexts with the objective of trying to inform better ways of citizen engagement in legislatures. She holds an MA in Public Policy from King’s College London, which she completed in 2011 on a Chevening Scholarship award.

Can network governance deliver energy transitions in the cities of Europe?

Timea Nochta

It seemed that last year the NFCCC Paris Agreement finally reached a breakthrough after a long period of continuous failure of climate change negotiations between nation states. However, the Trump presidency is already threatening to withdraw from the commitment made only a few months ago. In this context, climate action and emissions mitigation on the sub-national level is more important than ever, even if managing low-carbon transitions in cities and regions is far from a straightforward process. In addition to issues related to knowledge deficit (i.e. uncertainty about locally relevant climate change effects, lack of reliable statistical data on emissions and consumption), municipalities also have to deal with constant cuts to their authority and financial and human resources due to the recent proliferation of austerity policies, further decreasing their capacity to facilitate low-carbon development.

As a consequence, more and more local authorities in Europe are beginning to engage in collaboration with higher levels of government, civil society and market actors to build commitment and to create a joint agenda for local transitions. Initiatives based on stakeholder integration, collaborative management, partnerships and networks are expected to provide opportunities to tackle the emerging problem of low-carbon transitions by creating space for interaction and multi-sectoral co-operation between various organisations; by facilitating informed decision-making based on knowledge exchange and deliberation between stakeholders; and by building engagement for achieving the negotiated goals.

However, governance processes (and their transformations) do not take place in a vacuum. Cross-national differences in terms of governing structures, techniques and belief systems (i.e. logics of appropriateness) have an impact on to what extent and in what ways new ideas and governing mechanisms get employed in certain realities on various scales. Evidence for geographical variation with regards to public sector reforms has been found both in relation to the adoption of new public management-inspired tools and techniques and more recently to the emergence of new public governance.

Despite such evidence, the academic research on managing sustainability transitions (as well as international agreements and European recommendations) largely neglects the potential consequences of spatial variation of institutional legacies in Europe in which transition networks must function. Consequently, we know very little about the real-world potential for governing low-carbon transitions via networks in different places.

Analysis of governance networks relevant to sustainable energy transitions in three European cities from three different countries, including Birmingham (UK), Budapest (HU) and Frankfurt-am-Main (DE) has confirmed that indeed networks are being instrumentalised in diverse ways in different places. Governance networks in the three cities were analysed and evaluated according to three characteristics: network formulation, embeddedness and structure & coordination. In terms of network formulation, networks exist as formal organisations in two out of the three cases, namely Birmingham and Frankfurt. In Budapest, plans are currently being drawn up for an advisory group to be set up as part of a collaborative initiative between municipal utility companies and council departments. Network formulation was influenced by the existence or absence of ambitious CO2 reduction targets relative to the national commitments. Setting such targets inferred not only the inevitability to taking action locally, but also the necessity to build new energy infrastructure as well as change the architecture of that which already exists.

In terms of embeddedness, it was found that the networks’ ability to engage stakeholders from the local energy regime correlated with the municipalities’ level of authority over energy systems. In the United Kingdom, local governments are excluded from the socio-technical regime of energy supply. This led to difficulties in coordinating the development and delivery of local low carbon energy agendas in Birmingham, due to little local level leverage over the available partners (national and multinational corporations) who possess the required technical and economic capabilities to assist in implementation. In contrast, the municipal energy company owns and operates energy infrastructures in Frankfurt; whereas in Budapest only the heat networks are organised on the local level. Differences in terms of embeddedness of the network in the energy regime impacts both network structure and the energy transition. Diverse networks driven by horizontal relationships and overlapping responsibilities were found in Birmingham, which translated into a transition process characterised by innovative, but small-scale pilot projects. In Frankfurt, the transition process appeared rather smooth and advanced compared to the other two cities due to a hierarchical relationship between the Energy Agency and the rest of the network. A traditional hierarchical relationship based on authority continues to exist in Budapest, where energy transition is confined to retrofitting existing but inefficient infrastructure.

In conclusion, the analysis demonstrated that governance via networks was increasingly seen by local authorities as an appropriate mechanism to manage sustainability transitions. However, different institutional legacies had an impact on the characteristics of network formulation, embeddedness and structure and coordination. The role of network management has been highlighted in facilitating low carbon transitions via networks: strong co-ordination has been linked with higher potential for upscaling pilot projects into city-wide change.



Timea Nochta is a Ph.D. researcher based at INLOGOV who is investigating the potential for managing urban energy transitions via network governance in European cities.  Her research is funded by Climate KIC, Europe’s largest public-private innovation partnership aimed at addressing the challenge of climate change, and is supported by one of the KIC’s flagship projects, ‘Transition Cities’.