Local governance and the private sector: the role of consultants in the English planning system

Authors: Matthew Wargent*, University of Reading, UK
Topics: Urban and Regional Planning, Political Geography, Urban Geography
Keywords: planning, governance, private sector, expertise, consultants
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Stones Throw 2 - Slate, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The shift from government to governance in many Western democracies has expanded the constellation of non-state actors involved in local decision-making. The expansion of private sector expertise in this guise has precipitated the rise of a putative ‘consultocracy’, however existing research into consultant use tends to present the expanding role of private sector organizations in public decision-making as an inevitable outcome of increasingly complicated policy landscapes. This overlooks both state motivations for utilizing private expertise and underplays the agency of consultants as sociologically complex actors. Moreover the preponderance of research into local governance continues to concentrate on the perspectives and actions of political and public sector actors. There is therefore a paucity of empirical research concerning the perceptions of private actors, and in particular how the agency of consultants shapes the decision-making structures that govern both their own and others’ conduct. Drawing on qualitative, semi-structured interviews with 25 private sector consultants, this paper explores consultant attitudes towards contemporary local planning practice in England. The findings problematize the status of consultant expertise in this setting as independent or neutral, and rather show it to be co-constructed by public and private actors to suit local and national political considerations. Larger consultancies in particular are attempting to blur the roles and responsibilities of public and private planners through a discursive framing of statutory functions as collaboratively produced. In concluding, the paper posits increased consultant use as a central facet of ‘entrepreneurial’ local governance.

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