IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

The Risks of Intuition: Size, Costs and Economies of Scale in Local Government


  • Mark Callanan

    (Institute of Public Administration, Dublin, Ireland)

  • Ronan Murphy

    (Local Government Researcher)

  • Aodh Quinlivan

    (University College Cork; Ireland)


Extensive international research surrounds the optimal size of local government and associated issues of amalgamations and economies of scale in local government. Given recent structural reforms of Irish local government, this paper examines both the theoretical debates on these issues and the international experience with local authority mergers in several countries, highlighting the rationale for and some of the reported effects of mergers. It also assesses the relationship between size and expenditure/service levels in Irish local government, drawing on available data. Contrary perhaps to popular belief, county and city councils, the primary units of local government in Ireland, are already very large by international standards. Overall, the research suggests a weak link between size and costs, and that local authority mergers may have limited intrinsic efficiency value and can involve considerable transitional costs. Most local authority services appear to possess limited economies of scale, the main exceptions being specialised services, the production costs of capital-intensive services, and some administrative overheads and "back office" functions.

Suggested Citation

  • Mark Callanan & Ronan Murphy & Aodh Quinlivan, 2014. "The Risks of Intuition: Size, Costs and Economies of Scale in Local Government," The Economic and Social Review, Economic and Social Studies, vol. 45(3), pages 371-403.
  • Handle: RePEc:eso:journl:v:45:y:2014:i:3:p:371-403

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Lassen, David Dreyer & Serritzlew, Sã˜Ren, 2011. "Jurisdiction Size and Local Democracy: Evidence on Internal Political Efficacy from Large-scale Municipal Reform," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 105(2), pages 238-258, May.
    2. David N King & Yue Ma, 2000. "Local authority size in theory and practice," Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, Pion Ltd, London, vol. 18(3), pages 255-270, June.
    3. Christopher Pollitt, 2009. "Structural change and public service performance: international lessons?," Public Money & Management, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 29(5), pages 285-291, September.
    4. Charles M. Tiebout, 1956. "A Pure Theory of Local Expenditures," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 64, pages 416-416.
    5. Michael Chisholm, 2010. "Emerging realities of local government reorganization," Public Money & Management, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 30(3), pages 143-150, May.
    6. Rhys Andrews & George A. Boyne, 2009. "Size, Structure and Administrative Overheads: An Empirical Analysis of English Local Authorities," Urban Studies, Urban Studies Journal Limited, vol. 46(4), pages 739-759, April.
    7. Howard Elcock & John Fenwick & Janice McMillan, 2010. "The reorganization addiction in local government: unitary councils for England," Public Money & Management, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 30(6), pages 331-338, November.
    8. D N King, 1994. "A Model of Optimum Local Authority Size," Working Papers Series 94/1, University of Stirling, Division of Economics.
    9. Special Group on Public Service Numbers & Colm McCarthy & Donal McNally & Pat McLaughlin & Maurice O'Connell & William Slattery & Mary Walsh, 2009. "Report of the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes," Open Access publications 10197/1257, School of Economics, University College Dublin.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Considine John & Reidy Theresa, 2015. "Baby steps: The expanding financial base of local government in Ireland," Administration, Sciendo, vol. 63(2), pages 119-145, August.
    2. Gerard Turley & Stephen McNena, 2016. "An Analysis of Local Public Finances and the 2014 Local Government Reforms," The Economic and Social Review, Economic and Social Studies, vol. 47(2), pages 299-326.

    More about this item


    local government; economies of scale;


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:eso:journl:v:45:y:2014:i:3:p:371-403. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Martina Lawless). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.