Austerity urbanism, local government debt-drive, and post COVID predicaments in Britain

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Conditions of local governance in the aftermath of the global financial crisis are often discussed as reflections of ‘austerity urbanism’. What forms of mutations have taken place in austerity urbanism after the initial years of spending cuts at the local level? This article investigates this question by focusing on the uneven geographies of post-austerity debt-drive in Britain. It is shown that austerity
urbanism in Britain was somewhat peculiarly combined with debt-driven ‘entrepreneurialism’ several years after the introduction of extensive budgetary cuts. The local debt-drive was instigated by austerity-urbanism as a way of resolving the challenge of financing local services and development. The relatively low level of initial debt stock among local governments, very attractive borrowing terms and various regulatory changes facilitated the expansion of borrowing. Using debt stock data for over 300 local governments, it is demonstrated how debt build-up evolved to create financial difficulties for around 40 percent of local governments. The Covid-19 pandemic, with its severe impacts on local revenues, exposed the debt-driven local development projects, leading to rescue operations and efforts to curb borrowing through new rules and regulations. For deeper international insights into the dynamics of debt-financing and urban development in times of crises, further research is needed to complement existing research in Britain and the USA, where relatively greater
evidence exists.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberlbad031
Pages (from-to)79–94
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Economic Geography
Issue number1
Early online date24 Oct 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2024


  • local governments; austerity urbanism; debt; Covid-19; Britain
  • Covid-19
  • austerity urbanism
  • Britain
  • debt
  • local governments


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