The changing European context has generated a greater interest in learning from each others' political and managerial practices. In central and eastern Europe this is a matter of urgency as new government systems are established. In western Europe there are opportunities to compare the responses of different structures and traditions of government with common issues: the redefinition of the state's role in economic development and welfare; calls for new forms and levels of political participation and control; assertions of localism; demands for more responsible and accessible service provision; and efficiency in the face of fiscal constraint. This opportunity to learn has particular pertinence in the British case where, after 25 years of periodic reform, local government is once again due to undergo radical transformation in its structure and procedures.
This book takes up the question of the form of the political executive. This is not simply a matter of internal management but relates to the central question of the balance between command structures and local accountability. How do different executive systems (committees, cabinets, boards, mayors, city managers) affect the efficiency of administration and the effectiveness of democracy?
John Stewart considers the principles on which the British collective executive, combined with the legislature, is based. He identifies the implications of alternative executive systems and reminds us that change can be brought about by building rather than scrapping existing practices. The following three articles show how that evolutionary approach has been adopted in countries whose executive systems have, at least partly, shared the British collective approach.
Baldersheim analyses Oslo's experiments in shifting from an aldermanic to a cabinet system, changing not only the model of political organization but also its relationship with the administration. The executive may now further evolve into a ministerial model, consolidating political over official control of the administration.
Montin's account of reforms in the relationship between politics and administration in Sweden describes a vigorous debate which will be familiar to readers in Britain and elsewhere. Since 1945 there have been the classical shifts from top-down managerialist reforms, to a concern with political participation and decentralization, to a new managerialism combined with an assertion of the merits of privatization and user control. What is distinct from Britain in the Swedish case is the extent to which the experiments in new forms of management and contracting are locally inspired rather than centrally imposed.
Grunow describes the movement in North Rhine-Westphalia from the 'British model' to a strong executive leadership; current reforms propose a new mayoral model. He identifies the implications for majority and minority parties, for officers, and for the influence of external interests. This leads him to consider whether reform processes in East Germany are repeating old mistakes. Rolla then examines the relationship between the political and the executive structure in Italian local government.
Lastly we return to the British case and Crawford's analysis of the British central government's resistance to the signing of the European Charter of Local Self-Government. In particular he questions the government's objection to local 'general competence' and greater financial freedom.