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Veni grant for Joris van der Voet

Dr Joris van der Voet has been awarded a Veni grant of € 250,000 for his research into the working of savings strategies on innovation with municipalities. Van der Voet (Institute of Public Administration) compares Dutch municipalities with those in Spain and the United Kingdom. He explains by answering five questions.

What is the importance of this research, according to you?

“Because of the financial crisis and the political decision to cut back expenses, municipalities in the Netherlands are under financial pressure. At the same time, municipalities are expected to maintain their service level, or even to raise this level.  Think of the extra responsibilities  that decentralizations bring about. Thus, municipalities need to save and innovate at the same time. This research tests the hypothesis that saving is not in itself good or bad for the ability to innovate, but that the effect depends on the savings strategy that is used. For example: do municipalities choose for specific savings or do they prefer to use general  and gradual cuts?”

Why do you compare Dutch municipalities with municipalities in Spain and the United Kingdom?

“One of the objectives of the research is to examine how context, the specific situation of a municipality, influences the choice for various savings strategies and their effectiveness. Municipalities in Spain , the United Kingdom and the Netherlands are highly comparable in many ways, but there are also important differences.   For instance, in the United Kingdom and in Spain the need for savings is much bigger than in the Netherlands. Besides the countries have different governmental traditions: in Spain municipalities are  more hierarchical and politicized, in the United Kingdom municipalities are more businesslike, and the Netherlands has a tradition of consensus and consultations with stakeholders. In this way we can map under which circumstances several savings strategies are being used and when these are effective. “

Which aspects play a role in choosing the right savings strategy?

“In this research I distinguish between focused versus proportional strategies and closed versus open strategies. The first factor to influence which savings strategy is chosen is the intensity of the crisis. When quick and many cut backs have to be made, proportional savings are not sufficient, and managers will be less inclined to involve external parties such as citizens and companies. Other factors are e.g. the amount of management information available for a municipality and the quality of relations with  external parties.”

Which strategies are successful?

“Successful strategies seem to be based more and more on  involving and co-operating with external parties during savings. For instance, municipalities cooperate in the region to achieve economies of scale, or they seek cooperation with citizens, associations and companies in order to provide cheaper and sometimes even better public services.  However, this may also go wrong: in some municipalities who tried to organize input for savings through citizen panels, this mainly resulted in hostile and unfeasible proposals. The challenge for municipalities is to mobilize external parties in the right way.”

What does this award mean, apart from the amount?

“This enables a more prominent spot for the subject of savings management in the research programme of the Institute of Public Administration.  I will seek co-operation with top researchers in the United Kingdom and Spain. The research will answer questions that have not been answered for thirty years, since the last economic crisis. I would like communities to have an insight in the effects of savings strategies, and that they can learn from each other’s experiences. In the end this is important for everyone, as each citizen benefits from high-level public services on a local level, especially in times of savings.”

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