Academic journal article International Journal of Management

The Views of Councillors and Managers on Accountability in Local Government: An Empirical Study in Australia

Academic journal article International Journal of Management

The Views of Councillors and Managers on Accountability in Local Government: An Empirical Study in Australia

Article excerpt

This empirical study is an attempt to understand the impact of the new public management (NPM) on accountability within Victorian local government. The NPM - a private-sector version of management that has been imported into the public sector, resulting in a more "business-like" management style that emphasises efficiency, performance measurement and contracting out - has changed the parameters of public decision-making. Public decision-making has become more concerned with "process" and compliance, particularly measurement and in-house reporting, and less concerned with effective service delivery and interaction with the key stakeholder - the public. It is appropriate to consider the effect of the NPM on the concept of accountability held by staff and councillors of Victorian municipalities. Data were collected from 79 Victorian municipalities. A survey instrument was distributed to 474 councillors and 553 managers (sample size 1027), with survey statements eliciting participants' understanding of accountability. There were 325 responses (113 councillors, 212 managers), response rate approximately 32 per cent. Using factor analysis, four factors were generated that reveal the effect of the NPM on the understanding of accountability. We have named the factors: NPM-accountability (17.661 per cent of variance), new accountability defined (11.922 per cent of variance), management processes (10.169 per cent of variance), and accountability avoidance (9.130 per cent of variance). Our findings agree with the literature that, over the last few decades, accountability has moved away from the traditional stewardship notion of accountability and toward managerial accountability. Respondents' views revealed an emphasis of key elements of the NPM - performance, outputs and financial reporting - thereby associating accountability with private sector business-like behaviour.

1. Introduction

The NPM has had a significant impact on the public sector in many western countries . In particular, we are interested in investigating the consequences for accountability of the introduction of the NPM into local government. While accountability may be difficult to define (Ebrahim, 2003; Goddard, 2005) there is a consensus that it involves a rendering of an account and therefore the provision of information. Underpinning the concept of accountability is the notion that one person is responsible to another, and is obliged to render an account of their decisions and actions to another party. Accountability is thus established when an agent accepts resources and responsibilities entrusted by the principal. The NPM has had an impact on the administration of local government and therefore on accountability.

The New Public Management (NPM) is based upon the private-sector version of management, which emphasises efficiency, performance measurement and contracting out (Hood, 1995). The adoption of the NPM by the public sector has resulted in a more managerialist form of accountability in that sector. This "new" accountability has also been cast in terms of the principal/agent relationship, but in which the agent is accountable exclusively to the principal in terms of meeting the information demands of that party (Parker and Gould 1999). Historically, accountability has emphasised stewardship and considered the interests of all relevant parties, not just those of the principal. Funnell (2001, 2003) argues that this has changed - that the focus of the "new" accountability is managerial, with a strong emphasis on compliance. Managerial accountability has replaced stewardship as the core of accountability.

This paper is an empirical study using Australian survey data to gain a better understanding of the impact of the NPM on accountability in the modern context.

In the next section is the literature dealing with the nature of accountability, with specific reference to an NPM focus. This will be followed by the research question and an explanation of the research method, and then the reporting of results. …

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