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Disaggregation, autonomisation and strategies for transparency in local government

Hilde Bjørnå
UiT – Norges Arktiske Universitet
Hilde Bjørnå
UiT – Norges Arktiske Universitet
Harald Torsteinsen
Open Panel

Abstract

Local governments are restructuring their platforms for political action and service provision. The implementation of public policy through more or less autonomous bodies, both public and private, has been a growing trend in OECD countries for several years. Currently this idea of disaggregation and autonomisation is gaining ground in Norwegian local government as well. On the one hand this is regarded as excellent tools for increased professionalization and efficiency, and improved fiscal and political control. On the other hand it challenges organisational coherence and coordination, transparency and the broader trust in local democracy. Our focus is directed at the relationship between autonomy and transparency in public-policy decision-making. We aim to give a broad overview of the modes and workings of autonomous bodies in Norwegian local government. How widespread are they and what kind of assignments or “mandates” do they usually have? It is particularly striking that publicly owned limited companies constitute such a significant part of these bodies. The formal structure of the autonomous bodies does not facilitate democratic transparency, and this may challenge local government legitimacy and overall reputation. Against this background it is interesting to investigate how the issue of transparency is actually handled, both by the municipalities and by the autonomous bodies themselves. Here we find that bargains between efficiency and public demands for transparency are taking place. We will illustrate this by empirical examples from public debates in three Norwegian “medium large” municipalities.