Newcastle city council and the grassroots: Accountability and budgeting under austerity

Thomas Ahrens, Laurence Ferry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to shed light on new accountability relationships between Newcastle City Council (NCC) and its citizens and stakeholders in the wake of the British government’s austerity politics and its budget cuts for local authorities. It seeks to show some of the ways in which various kinds of budgeting, for example, for alternative sources of funding, the use of volunteers for service provision, resource sharing, and asset transfers, as well as a diverse set of accounts of the social implications of resource diversions and service cuts, have been implicated in those changes. Design/methodology/approach – The authors conducted a qualitative field study of some of the uses of budgets in the shaping of accountability relationships through interviews with council officers, conversations with activists and citizens, analysis of council and other documents, and observation of public meetings and demonstrations. The approach focused on the relationship between the city’s political grassroots and the NCC leadership and administration. Findings – The authors find that NCC’s senior politicians and officers co-opted the city’s political grassroots and managed to reconstitute local political accountability to citizenry and stakeholders as a choice between the cessation of different types of local government services, by combining appeals to the legal framework of English local authorities, the unfairness of national politics, and the fairness of local government service provision. Local government blamed the funding cuts and the resulting resource shortages on the central government. It sought to push responsibility for cuts to the local citizenry whilst reserving for itself the role of mediator and adjudicator who makes the final decisions about the portfolio of causes that will be funded. Originality/value – This is the first study to offer detailed insight into the effects of the British government’s austerity budget cuts of local authority grants on the politics of accountability in a local authority.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)909-933
Number of pages25
JournalAccounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Aug 17 2015


  • Accountability
  • Austerity
  • Budgeting
  • Grassroots politics
  • Local government
  • Localism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Accounting
  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance (miscellaneous)


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