Austerity and Irish local government expenditure since the Great Recession

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Abstract

This paper sets out to establish the extent of austerity in the Irish local government system during and after the Great Recession. Austerity is measured by the adjusted change in local government expenditure from peak to trough years, and is analysed by type of expenditure, service division and local authority. Stripping out the change in local government current spending that is due to expenditure reassignments reveals that the austerity-related reduction in local government operating expenditure is not as large as often portrayed. As for other findings, there are sizeable differences across the aforementioned classifications, with, most notably, capital expenditure cuts far exceeding cuts in current expenditure. The largest decreases in total spending were on roads and housing services, and small rural county councils endured the most austerity, as measured by the initial reductions in current expenditure. In terms of policy implications, the biggest concern is the large infrastructural deficit that needs to be tackled, arising from austerity cuts in capital expenditure imposed at both central and local government level. As the economy recovers from the Great Recession and the subsequent era of austerity, failure to address this problem will hinder Ireland’s international competitiveness, constrain the economy’s future growth rate and result in impoverishment of public services at local level.

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