Crisis management in English local government: the limits of resilience


By Tania Arrieta and Jonathan S. Davies.

Arrieta T and Davies J. S. 2024. Crisis Management in English Local Government: The Limits of Resilience. Policy & Politics. Published online 22nd February. /10.1332/03055736Y2024D000000029.


 In our recently published article in Policy & Politics, we explore the context for local authorities in England that have been pushed to develop “resilience.” This has been as a result of the austerity policies that have led to the phasing out of the Revenue Support Grant (e.g., a grant given to local authorities to finance expenditure on any service), increased
service demand and the need to absorb more responsibilities in their communities. Whilst having a reduced capacity, local authorities also faced the challenges imposed by the Covid19 pandemic and the cost of living-crisis. Several have issued Section 114 “bankruptcy”notices indicating that they cannot balance their budgets as required by law, further escalating pressure on local services in responding to the growing inability of many to meet basic subsistence costs, such as the cost of food and housing.

Exploring resilience through the lens of crisis management, our article investigates in what ways and for whom resilience generates positive, zero and negative- sum outcomes. We believe this is a crucial moment in understanding the medium and longer-term consequences of resilience measures deployed by councils to ameliorate the effects of austerity, as they face rising financial hardship with a severely depleted resource base. Our work centres on four resilience strategies used by two unitary authorities in the East Midlands in England: Leicester City Council and Nottingham City Council. These resilience strategies are savings, reserves, collaboration, and investment.

Our research disclosed four crisis-management effects arising from the authorities’ resilience strategies. These were: crisis-mitigation, crisis-displacement, crisis-deferral, and crisis-escalation. Our analysis showed that the authorities’ practices of resilience were narrowly constructed, in the sense that they prioritised protecting their own financial integrity, rather
than taking a broader view whereby institutions, services, partners, and communities would also be protected. While some resilience measures proved effective in crisis mitigation (e.g., some partnership arrangements), our research highlighted the potentially contradictory nature of many responses, leading to crisis displacement, deferral and even escalation through
boomerang effects. In this regard, our article highlights the ‘crises of crisis-management’ (Offe, 1984) many local authorities are currently facing in their attempts to develop financial “resilience” in a severely constrained fiscal and legal context.

This research makes an important contribution, enhancing 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.