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Pushing it! Austerity Urbanism and Dispersed Leadership through ‘Fleet-of-Foot’ Mechanisms in Times of Crisis

European Public Leadership in Crisis?

ISBN: 978-1-78350-901-0, eISBN: 978-1-78350-902-7

Publication date: 18 October 2014



The form of crisis-governance responses to austerity urbanism that is the focus of this paper is ‘fleet-of-foot’ partnerships. These non-statutory mechanisms which champion dispersed forms of leadership are crafted in policy discourse as lean, mean, crisis-tackling fighting machines. Their perceived agility and entrepreneurialism are often lauded, yet empirical evidence for these traits remains sparse. This paper investigates this concern through the lens of the Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) in England, which are deemed by some to exude some of the defining characteristics of ‘fleet-of-foot’ mechanisms.


A mixed method approach was utilised, including analysis of socio-economic datasets and qualitative policy analysis of primary and secondary material. The quantitative element includes analysis of employment and journey-to-work data, whereas the qualitative material originated from a review of LEP proposals, and narrative analysis of transcripts of interviews undertaken since 2010, together with other textual artefacts.


The findings reveal that dispersed public leadership is problematic as a mode of crisis-governance. LEPs were adopted as a crisis-governance fix. These loose (or looser) constellations of many, varied actors, are considered to be more flexible, responsive and delivery-orientated than more traditional and statutory democratic-administrative mechanisms: lean, mean, crisis-tackling fighting machines. Flexibility is a primary trait of ‘fleet-of-foot’ configurations and perhaps the defining feature of LEPs.

Research limitations

The programme of research remains on-going, which reflects the continual shifts in the form and configurations of LEPs.

Practical implications

Detecting some of the primary weaknesses of ‘fleet-of-foot’ public leadership arrangements, the research draws attention to some of the dangers of pushing austerity down and through ‘fleet-of-foot’ formations. The practical implications are highlighted by examining the limits of LEPs to achieve efficient outcomes or to open up a shared leadership space.


Through an engagement with current conceptual and policy debates where austerity ‘blows out’ across Europe, it is observed that austerian politics may be pushing partnership bodies too far, thus risking the danger of overburdening and under-resourcing the very distributed leadership mechanisms that are expected to reconcile local economic crises and stimulate local growth. This paper also contributes to the literature on dispersed public leadership, which runs counter to traditional command and control leadership constructs.




This paper is updated and adapted from the paper by Pugalis and Townsend, ‘Trends in place-based economic strategies: England’s fixation with ‘fleet-of-foot’ partnerships’, published in Local Economy, 28(7–8), 693–714.


Pugalis, L., Townsend, A. and Johnston, L. (2014), "Pushing it! Austerity Urbanism and Dispersed Leadership through ‘Fleet-of-Foot’ Mechanisms in Times of Crisis", European Public Leadership in Crisis? (Critical Perspectives on International Public Sector Management, Vol. 3), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 1-25.



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