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Capacity, governance and policymaking in European local government

  • School: Nottingham Business School
  • Starting: 2022 / 2023
  • Funding: UK student / EU student (non-UK) / International student (non-EU) / Self-funded


Local governments in many European countries have experienced severe austerity cuts since the financial crisis of 2008 (Lowndes and Gardner 2016; Cepiku et al 2016; Davies and Blanco 2017; Steccolini et al, 2017). These cuts have led to reductions in front-line services (Webb and Bywaters 2018), a wave of organisational restructures (Barbera et al. 2019), and weakened the capacity of local officials to research, develop, implement and enforce policy (Eckersley and Tobin 2019). At the same time, subnational authorities have confronted a growing number of ‘wicked issues’: societal problems that require policymakers to engage with a range of different stakeholders, many of whom will disagree about the nature (or even existence) of a problem (Rittel and Webber 1973; Eckersley 2018). Examples include environmental pollution (particularly climate change), obesity, migration, social exclusion and the ageing population. Most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on public bodies at all levels and highlighted tensions and flaws within central-local government systems (Laffin et al 2022). Given that public bodies cannot deal with these issues alone, and that austerity has led to weaker capacity within local government to develop and enforce policy, we might expect municipalities to be working increasingly closely with businesses, other public bodies, voluntary organisations and residents to try and address them effectively. This project will examine how local governments in different European countries have sought to address one or more key challenges in the context of their reduced capacity and increased demands. The research focus will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • How have new and emerging policy challenges, such as the COVID pandemic, affected central-local relations? What strategies have local public bodies adopted to try and increase their capacity to tackle these issues?
  • How do contrasting systems of subnational governance in different countries shape the way in which councils seek to work with other stakeholders in response to emerging challenges?
  • (How) have resource constraints shaped the way in which councils seek to work with other stakeholders?
  • (How) have the following actors changed their roles in recent years? How influential are they in policymaking processes?
    • Elected representatives
    • Officials
    • Citizens
    • Businesses
    • Voluntary groups and civil society
  • What are the implications of these evolving governance relationships for democratic accountability? How important is this issue for local policymakers?

The project will rely largely on qualitative techniques to gather data, ideally from two or more different European countries. The successful candidate might come from a variety of social science disciplines, including public policy, political science, public administration, accounting or human geography.

Application Enquiries:

Entry qualifications

An applicant should normally hold a Master’s degree at distinction or merit level of a UK university or an equivalent qualification. International students will also need to meet the English language requirements - IELTS 6.5 (with minimum sub-scores of 6.0). Applicants who have taken a higher degree at a UK university are normally exempt from the English language requirements.

How to apply

Please visit our how to apply page for a step-by-step guide and make an application.

Application deadline: 15th August for 1st Oct 2022 start date, or 15th Nov for 1st Jan 2023 start date.

Fees and funding

This opportunity is for self-funded PhD students. Applicants are encouraged to apply for external funding and we will support this process if and when required. Find out about fees and funding for PhD projects.

Guidance and support

Find out about guidance and support for PhD students.

Still need help?

Dr Peter Eckersley