Economies of scale and sustainability in local government: A complex issue

Jos L.T. Blank*, Thomas K. Niaounakis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
67 Downloads (Pure)


Local governments may seek efficient public service delivery through scaling up production, and the quest for the optimal local government size has attracted extensive attention of scholars and policy makers. Indeed, if scale matters for local government efficiency, increasing size may be a key factor in achieving more value for money for citizens. As such, getting scale right may contribute significantly to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as set out in the 2030 Agenda. Nonetheless, there is considerable uncertainty with regard to how scale shapes the average cost of local government service delivery. These uncertainties may have contributed to policy makers and public organizations disregarding the often inconclusive and sometimes contradictory empirical evidence in stimulating and allowing mergers and consolidation in many Western countries. This Special Issue is concerned with economies of scale in local government. Interesting issues to be addressed relate to the existence of general and service specific economies of scale and the implications of both for local government policy regarding various types of scaling (amalgamation, cooperation, and outsourcing). Based on a brief literature review, we inventory a number of issues which warrant further research. One of the conclusions is that the relationship between scale and sustainability is a complex issue with many aspects. Examples include the relation between economies of scale and outsourcing and cooperation, issues concerned with multi-level aspects of scale, and the trade-off that may exist between achieving economies of scale and cost efficiency (e.g., transition cost of mergers). Another conclusion is that no such thing as “one size fits all” exists. Different perspectives may play a role and should be born in mind when suggesting solutions and providing recommendations to achieve sustainable goals.
Original languageEnglish
Article number13262
Number of pages10
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Collaboration
  • Cost model
  • Economies of scale
  • Economies of scope
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Financial sustainability
  • Local government
  • Mergers
  • Multi-level
  • Outsourcing


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