Skip to Content


Home » Library » Changing the Guard or Moving the Deckchairs: Political Change and Performance Change in English Local Government

Executive Summary: We assess whether politics matters for the service performance of local authorities in England. Does the party in control of the council make any difference to the quality of public services and citizen satisfaction, and does performance improve or deteriorate when one ruling partyreplaces another? We develop three theoretical models: (i) the ‘ideological parties’ model which conventionally suggests that ‘left’ parties will be associated with better public services, (ii) the ‘instrumental’ model which implies that all parties are vote maximizers and (iii) the ‘mixed’ model which suggests that party ideologies come into play only if the majority on the council is sufficiently large as to make the next election appear uncompetitive. We test hypotheses about control and changes in control against a five-year panel of all English upper-tier local authorities. Our findings provide partial support for the mixed model, but with the twist that ‘right’ party control is linked with better public services. Conservative control and change to Conservative control tend to be associated with higher performance and satisfaction, but only if the Conservative majority is sufficiently small (57% of council seats or less) to pose a threat of loss of office at the next council election.

Sample finding: The graph shows the impact of a change from no overall control to Conservative Party control of a council last year on its core service performance score this year. Note that a positive impact of changing to Conservative control is statistically discernible only as long as the Conservative majority does not exceed 57% of council seats—for greater majorities, the confidence interval includes zero impact of a change to Conservative control.

Change In Service Performance

Changing the Guard or Moving the Deckchairs: Political Change and Performance Change in English Local Government (full text pdf)
George A. Boyne, Oliver James, Peter John and Nicolai Petrovsky

More papers from this project can be found on their project page