Planning and Politics: Opposite Political parties, same local economic development agenda?

Milagros Gimenez

If you read Argentine newspapers or watch national TV news you might think that the political polarisation (left-right) in Argentina is extreme. Consequently, it is expected that this political polarisation translates to action, and that different types of public policy are designed that are strongly influenced by the ideology of the political party in charge. However, my experience working as a consultant in strategic planning in local governments in the North of Argentina suggests there are more similarities in the type of public policies than the literature suggests. To understand this seeming contradiction, I addressed this relationship in my master dissertation, submitted as part of the MSc Public Management at INLOGOV.

Argentina is a federal country divided into 24 provinces and more than 1300 local governments, and is one of the most decentralised countries in Latin America. After the last constitutional amendment in 1994, local governments have, by law, (defined in each of the provincial constitutions) a wide range of competences regarding not only the usual issues tasked at the local level (such as public street lighting and waste treatment), but also the promotion of the local economic development. Unfortunately, there is an incredible gap in the literature about the role of local governments in Argentina and an even bigger gap in our understanding of the role of local government in promoting local economic development.

My research explores what types of initiatives influence the extent to which local governments in Argentina promote local economic development and if, when an opposing political party is in charge at the local level, similar strategies will be carried out (shaped by the party ideology).

Interestingly, even though local governments have the competence to decide which initiatives they design, local governments are leading the local economic development (LED) area with similar strategic plans and almost identical initiatives. Local governments under comparison in this research have introduced initiatives to improve the employability of the population (labour supply) and for increasing labour demand using the municipal competencies, such as the use of land and creating new local sales channels. Moreover, the LED initiatives are, noticeably, identical; the Mayors‘ speeches communicate using a vocabulary similar to that of the political party to which they belong. These findings challenge the conventional idea that opposing political parties prioritise different public policies, an idea that is particularly prevalent in a country with strong party polarisation like Argentina.

Nevertheless, the next question is why how we can interpret these outcomes.

My research suggests four possible explanations, which can be the basis for future research. First, it could be that there is no political polarisation. Second, the cases may be outliers. Third, this may be a technical agenda rather than a political one. Fourth, and the most likely based on the evidence that I already have, is that local governments do not have `real` autonomy to decide LED strategy. That means LGs in Argentina in LED are not autonomous when it comes to the ‘real‘ distribution of power/competences/budget. With this in mind, LGs have two alternatives. First, they accept the LED initiatives promoted by other levels of governments or other actors. For example, public employment service was promoted at the national level and covers funding for the PES programme. The benefit of this is that these options are comparatively cheaper, as they involve investing only in human management resources. The downside is that local government does not have much influence on the initiative´s design and fewer opportunities to contextualise the programme to local needs (as the local economic development approach suggests). The second alternative is to develop and fund their initiatives. These initiatives are in general based on local strengths, for example close relationships with the local entrepreneurs.

In summary, this research provides evidence and valuable clues for further research about local governments’ room for manoeuvre in designing LED policies in a decentralised country such as Argentina and the relationships between politics and planning in a seeming polarised world.

Milagros Gimenez  is  an Argentinian economist, Chevening scholar and studying on INLOGOV’s MSc in Public Management. 

The emergence of city regions

Jon Bloomfield

The structures of sub-national government in the UK are about to undergo major change not just in Scotland but across the major conurbations. As George Osborne has said “In a modern, knowledge-based economy city size matters like never before.”

This is not an isolated UK view. I have recently undertaken a study on metropolitan governance for the Council of Europe. The trend is clear across the developed world. Increasingly, the new models of economic growth look for clusters of activity and interactive networks, which combined with longer distance commuting is helping to reconfigure economic activity towards larger conglomerations.

Across Europe, there are more than one hundred and thirty conurbations that fall into this category. In total, including Turkey, more than 200 million people live in these metropolitan regions accounting for more than one third of the overall population.

Economic development, transportation and spatial planning are the defining issues of metropolitan governance. These are the core themes that feature most commonly in the activities of metropolitan regions, especially given their need to compete on an increasingly pan-European and global scale. In order to manage these developments new types of supra-urban government organisation have begun to emerge, so that political boundaries are able to reflect a changing economic and social geography.

Metropolitan governance has emerged in an ad hoc fashion across Europe. However, in essence we can discern three basic models:

  • Type 1, the strong model, where elected metropolitan authorities are entrusted with specific competences to address a range of issues, usually with their own executive organisations and significant budgets. This is common in the larger French cities – Lyon, Lille, Toulouse; major Turkish cities; Madrid and Barcelona; and in the UK London.
  • Type 2, the combined model, which creates joint metropolitan bodies (combined authorities) with formalised agreements entrusted with broader local and strategic functions and powers, run by representative drawn from various levels of government (indirectly elected or appointed) usually avoiding new government layers. Greater Manchester is the best UK example.
  • Type 3, the soft model, which offers cooperation and collaboration on a voluntary basis when common support is required. The report cites examples in Sweden, Germany, Austria and some emerging trends in East European cities.

In addition, given that commuting lies at the heart of the emergence of metropolitan regions, many conurbations do not have any overarching metropolitan governance structures but rather have a stand-alone, sectoral transport authority.

The report indicates that over time as the sphere of metropolitan governance becomes established, the demand for these areas to be able to raise their own revenues will grow. It also suggests that as good practice central government should set both the economic criteria and framework for accountability for a city region but should neither determine its geographical shape nor its political structures. This needs to be an organic development decided and agreed by the local partners. This is a major bone of contention in the UK, where central government wants to impose elected mayors on areas regardless of local wishes. At the same time the report is very clear that there needs to be a clear division of tasks and responsibilities between all the public authorities within the metropolitan region, so that they and citizens understand clearly who is responsible for what task

Jon Bloomfield is an expert on EU funding, European and EU issues of regional and local government who carries out research in the EU and contributes to post-graduate programme.