The hybridising of financial and service expertise in English local authority budget control: A practice perspective

Thomas Ahrens, Laurence Ferry, Rihab Khalifa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Purpose: This paper aims to trace the hybridising of financial and service expertise in English local authority budget control to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the contexts that gave rise to hybridisation than do previous accountability research frameworks. Design/methodology/approach: Using practice theory, this paper interprets the findings from a field study of Newcastle City Council and a review of relevant local authority regulation for England, stretching back to the 1980s. Findings: The hybridisation of financial and service expertise has entailed major changes to the practices on which local authority management depends, fuelled by a changing societal role of local authorities. Frequently, local authorities are no longer providers of public services but enablers who purchase services and manage arms-length contracts. This paper identifies some of the ways in which three structural elements that underpin local authority management practices have evolved to give rise to novel practices. Research limitations/implications: Even though this paper’s research into changing regulatory frameworks, rules and evolving local authority financial practices is based on institutional changes in England since the 1980s, the fieldwork element which fleshes out certain implications for local authority practices has focused on Newcastle City Council. Future research could fruitfully examine these issues in other local authorities. Practical implications: The hybridisation of financial and service expertise has contributed to reshaping local government beyond the rules that are put in place for regulating the sector by giving rise to new practices. Recent key developments include new service delivery arrangements, for example, through council-owned subsidiaries or third-sector organisations. It is important that, in an austerity context, new risks to “off the books” service quality is matched by new control and audit arrangements. Moreover, the professional bodies that service local government should recognise the new forms of hybridisation of finance and service expertise and ensure arrangements for the changing skill sets of those involved in service provision. Originality/value: This is the first paper to analyse the emergence of hybrid financial expertise in the public sector with reference to distinct structural elements of the relevant practices.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)341-357
Number of pages17
JournalQualitative Research in Accounting and Management
Volume15
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul 30 2018

Keywords

  • Austerity
  • Field study
  • Financial expertise
  • Hybrid expertise
  • Local authority budgeting
  • Practice theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Accounting

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