Agencies and transparency in Norwegian local government

Harald Torsteinsen, Hilde Bjørnå


The NPM portfolio offers several solutions to improve organisational performance and . One of the most crucial of them is to split up integrated organisations into more autonomous operational units. The idea of arm’s length government is gaining ground in Norwegian local government and has materialised itself through the proliferation of agencies, especially in the shape of different forms of local government bodies and enterprises. Agencies are regarded as useful organisational designs for promoting transparency and, in consequence, better fiscal and political control. They are supposed to provide a more output oriented type of democracy. But does this form of government actually improve transparency and are Norwegian municipalities attuned to and prepared for this type of democracy? This article builds on case studies of local government enterprises in two municipalities. Here we ask: how transparent are the activities and outputs of these agencies; do they have specified contracts; do they have easy-to-follow structures and are the owners in control? Our findings make us question local governments’ ability to accommodate the form of transparency associated with agencies and output oriented democracy. In our cases, arm’s length government has not led to the intended increase in transparency and political control, mainly because of weak contractualisation between local government and agencies, complex ownership structures, lack of interest among average local politicians, side-lined municipal administrations and even mayors striving to get the information and the influence they deem necessary and legitimate.

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Scandinavian Journal of Public Administration

School of Public Administration, Box 712 - SE-405 30 Göteborg

ISSN: 2001-7405, E-ISSN: 2001-7413