Enhancing Scottish Funding Freedoms to Further Cities' Futures

Project Summary

Going back to the Christie Commission (2011) and before, it has long been recognised that Scotland’s local authorities are critical to the reform of public policy and the delivery of more efficient, fair and preventative local services. However, this intention has to be tempered by the long term trend, true since before devolution in 1999, to slowly and unevenly reduce local powers, financial autonomy and overall discretion.  Not only are income sources largely determined from the centre (ie the Scottish Government) but increasingly the services delivered are steered from the centre or are indeed essentially where the local government acts as agent for central government. Not reversing the cumulative withdrawal of powers and funds, in a context of long term financial austerity for local government, will damage resilience, capacity and innovation. This makes it harder for cities and local councils to play their full potential role in the future for their places and communities in terms of being able to lever local knowledge, ideas and innovation through their own financial resources – to improve services and support economic and social demand, let alone provide a testbed for local government  sharing of new ideas, practices and policies.

This is a tremendous opportunity to supervise a four year programme of work on Scottish local government concerned with: (a) a diagnosis of what is, in a context of shrinking public resources,  the nature and consequence of diminished financial and service freedoms in terms of efficiency and fairness, but also the reduced capacity it gives to customise support for future urban growth and innovation. (b) an analysis of the key ways to reshape local government funding (domestic tax, non-domestic tax, new taxes and the formula mechanics of revenue grant); and, (c) a public policy analysis of the design and implementation of a series of reforms that can increase local autonomy financially but that also considers how to overcome the political economy challenges that for so long have stymied meaningful reform. 

Project Team and where the student will be based

Supervisors: Professors Ken Gibb (Glasgow) & James Mitchell (Edinburgh)

The student will split their time between Urban Studies in the University of Glasgow (School of Social and Political Sciences) where Professor Kenneth Gibb is based; and the School of Social and Political Sciences (University of Edinburgh) where Professor James Mitchell is based. Both have thriving and well-established PhD communities and supervisory traditions and infrastructure. Urban Studies was top of its REF panel in 2014 and houses three ESRC research centres, one of which the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence, is directed by Professor Gibb.


  • 2:1 or better in a cognate social science degree, preferably with a masters in applied studies including in research methods (or equivalent to postgraduate experience will also be considered).
  • No prior experience in local government finance/public finance. Or accounts required.
  • Looking for evidence of multidisciplinary capacity, ability to engage with a range of research methods and to bridge the gap between diagnosis of system problems with a critical ability to consider the challenges of reform and how they might be feasibly overcome.


Enquiries about this project should be directed to Professor Kenneth GibbKen.Gibb@glasgow.ac.uk.