Local Democracy Research Centre

The Local Democracy Research Centre brings together experts from local government and academia to do practical research on some of the key challenges for local democracy around the World.

We are developing a broad, international programme that engages universities and local authorities to develop new ideas and approaches for governance, municipalism and citizen participation.

Our research is guided and supported by LGIU members around the world and we are seeking partners to work with us on projects, collaborations, research, fellowships, exchanges and PhDs. To find out more about how to work with us, see our guide to our research services here, or get in touch to find out more.

Current projects

Survey of electoral administrators 2024

Following our successful review of the implementation of voter ID last year, in 2024 we are launching a new survey after the general election designed to investigate the state of electoral integrity more generally. We will be asking electoral administrators for their views on recent changes to electoral processes, the greatest challenges they are facing in their work, how well they feel the last set of elections went, and what needs to change to ensure electoral processes, procedures that UK democracy relies on, are as safe and accessible as possible. For more information contact [email protected]

Local government audits

Local government audits, the process by which local authority accounts can be independently verified as reliable, are in crisis with severe backlogs that risk undermining trust in local government. We are bringing together experts in the field to examine how we have reached this point, how local audits work in other countries, and what needs to change. Read more.

Learning from local government finance across the world

This paper draws on the Local Democracy Research Centre’s ongoing project – in partnership with the University of Northumbria – exploring local government finance systems in different countries. It makes four practical proposals that could be immediately implemented in England to begin the work of fixing a system that is not fit for purpose. Read the report.

The State of Local Government Finance in England 2024

The Local Democracy Research Centre is conducting its annual survey of council leaders, chief executives, cabinet members for finance and senior finance officers to find out how councils are managing and responding to a fiscal environment that has become ever-more challenging. Find out more.

LGIU@40: For the future of local government

This new manifesto has been developed to mark the LGIU’s 40th anniversary. It sets out what we believe needs to happen to put local government on the right path for the next forty years. It is based on research the LGIU has undertaken over the last decade and on a programme of in-depth conversations with our members and, among other things, calls for a return to multi-year funding, a needs-based element to local government funding and a new covenant between central and local government. Read the full manifesto.

The state of local government finance in Scotland

This year, for the first time, our annual State of local government finance in England survey has been followed with a similar survey in Scotland. We investigated the views of senior Scottish local government figures on what local government finance looks like from behind the scenes. Read the report here.

Funding systems for local government – international comparisons

The shape and scale of funding for local government has an enormous impact on the real level of decentralisation. Systems of local government finance differ significantly around the world, with varying outcomes for local autonomy. The Local Democracy Research Centre has commissioned experts at the University of Northumbria, led by Dr Kevin Muldoon-Smith, to examine how local government is funded in different countries. The project will build up a unique system-wide perspective of local government funding in different places and policy areas. The first four reports – England, Germany, Itlay and Japan – and a detailed overview of the research are available. Find out more.

The role of the monitoring officer

The Local Democracy Research Centre, together with Browne Jacobson and Lawyers in Local Government, has been investigating the changing role of the monitoring officer in English local government. The monitoring officer’s responsibilities – to ensure legal governance and conduct in local government – are essential for good democratic governance. We explored a series of questions, including:
  • What are the contextual challenges and tensions for monitoring officers?
  • What are the existing models, and what are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • What skills, capacities, resources and structures does a successful monitoring officer require?

Read the full report | Find out more

The implementation of voter ID

At the Local Democracy Research Centre, we conduct detailed research on the important issues concerning local government and local democracy.

That is why, funded by the JRSST Charitable Trust, we are researching the implementation of voter ID – the biggest change to in-person voting for decades. By surveying and interviewing electoral administrators, we will build a picture of how this new policy, one of the greatest changes to in-person voting in years, has been managed by local elections teams. Find out more about this research.

PhD – Implementing the National Plan for the Islands

The LDRC, in partnership with the University of the Highlands and Islands, Shetland, Orkney and Western Isles councils (all LGIU members), has set up and funded a PhD to analyse the implementation of the Scottish government’s National Plan for the Islands. The candidate, Adele Lidderdale, will be working in close partnership with the local authorities. This is an exciting partnership that we hope will be the first of many similar collaborations between researchers and local government.

Previous projects

Image by jwvein from Pixabay

The future of social care in Scotland

In response to the Scottish government’s proposed national care service plan, we worked with partners at the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Care to investigate the potential implications for local authorities. The resulting report speaks powerfully to the many known concerns about adult care and also to the relationship between local and central government, council capacity and organisational change.

Based on conversations with senior decision makers among LGIU Scotland’s membership, as well as other experts in the sector, this research explores this issue from the perspective of local government. Read the report.

Building democratic support for local climate action

The Local Democracy Research Centre at LGIU partnered with Browne Jacobson to investigate local government’s democratic leadership on climate action. The research explored how councils are building consensus and support among local communities for big decisions around decarbonisation, as well as the challenges of doing so in the context of a rising cost of living and other pressures on council budgets. The final report is available here.

Inclusive local economies

This project, with the Centre for Local Economic Strategies, explored at the potential to create stable local economies that support strong social and environmental outcomes without economic growth. The project involved a practice-led commission for local economic reform, which examined the opportunities and barriers to shifting the emphasis in local economic strategy from growth to stability.

The final report demonstrates how local authorities can play an active role in building a new approach to economic development, taking into account some of the big challenges that manifest in different areas. Read the report.

The state of local government finance in England 2023

Investigating the state of local government finance is vital for understanding the capacity local governments have to deliver their essential services, the pressures faced by their staff, and the truth behind the spending decisions councils have to make.

Our annual finance report surveys chief executives, council leaders, directors of finance, and council cabinet members for every English council to construct a detailed picture of local government finance each year. Find out more about this research.

Parking strategies and innovation

We know from our members that parking can often be a challenging service for local authorities to deliver and one where potentially conflicting strategic aims can intersect. LGIU – supported by RingGo – conducted research into local government parking strategies and management arrangements and the views and awareness of future parking innovations and options. The research was based on anonymised data gathered from a survey of the sector and in-depth interviews with senior local authority parking decision makers. Read the report.

Devometrics – measuring decentralisation

The LDRC commissioned researchers from the University of Kent to develop a metric for assessing how far power is decentralised across different scales, geographies and policy areas. Paolo Dardanelli and Kieran Wright have assessed existing metrics, which tend to gloss over the range and complexity within local government systems. They built an alternative model to address this gap and tested it through interviews and a workshop with LGIU member councils in England. The final paper, which you can read here, proposes a new framework that attempts to capture the reality of local government autonomy.

Relationships not structures – systems for health and care

In partnership with Browne Jacobson the LDRC has been investigating the role of local authorities within local systems for health and care. We have drawn out useful insights from the wide literature on “systems thinking” and conducted interviews with senior council officers about their efforts to coordinate better health outcomes across local areas. The report, Local health systems: relationships not structures, was published in April with an in-person launch event in Westminster. Read the report.

Climate change – the benefits of adaptation and mitigation

The LDRC has an ongoing partnership with Kildare Council and the Eastern Climate Action Regional Office (CARO) in Ireland, which explores the economic and social impacts of local climate adaptation and mitigation. A case study report was published in 2021 that brought together innovative practice from around the world, along with analysis of governance and political structures that frame local action. The partnership is currently delivering a programme of training for councillors and officers to embed the lessons from the research and to facilitate new approaches among local authorities in Ireland. Read the report.

Place and wellbeing

The LDRC worked with Queen Mary, University of London, to investigate how councils use lenses like “place” and “wellbeing” to manage growth and achieve broad social aims. This work was supported by Research England.
Read the final report. Read the interim report.

Levelling up, governance and institutions

A series of online workshops with LGIU members in England and Scotland, discussing the future of local government as a set of institutions. The project was supported by the James Madison Charitable Trust.

COP26

Following the COP26 conference in Glasgow, and building on our work with the CARO and Kildare in Ireland, we hosted an international briefing session on next steps for local government in tackling the climate crisis. In partnership with the Heseltine Institute at the University of Liverpool, the LDRC hosted an online briefing from experts and council leaders focussing on the implications of the conference for local government. Attendees joined from across the UK, Ireland, Europe, Australia and the USA. Read a report of the discussion.