The Reason Behind the Creation of Local Government as an “Autonomous” Sphere of Government

On this page, we discuss the reason behind the creation of local government as an “autonomous” sphere of government.

The Creation of Local Government as an “Autonomous” Sphere of Government

Local government systems are a critical aspect of the broader governmental structure, often charged with delivering a range of public services at the local level. This essay will elucidate why local government has been formed as an ‘autonomous’ sphere of government, referencing its origins, roles, and benefits.

History and Reasons for the Formation of Local Governments

Local governments, in various forms, have existed since the ancient civilisations (Bennett, 1997). In essence, these entities were designed to govern smaller geographical areas within larger states or countries. The reasons for the formation of local governments are rooted in practicality, efficiency, and the democratic principle of decentralisation.

Practicality and Efficiency

The vast geographical expanse and diversity within countries have been instrumental in necessitating local governance (Sharpe, 1970). A central government located at a significant distance from a town, city, or village might find it difficult to effectively administer all areas, particularly those located in remote or sparsely populated regions (Mouritzen & Svara, 2002). Local governments can be more responsive and flexible, adjusting their policies and practices to the unique circumstances of their communities (Svara, 1999).

Democratic Principle of Decentralisation

Democratic decentralisation is a key principle underpinning the formation of local governments (Cheema & Rondinelli, 2007). The premise is to distribute power from the centre to the periphery, giving people at the local level greater input into decision-making processes affecting their communities (Faguet, 2014). This decentralisation enables the democratic ideal of ‘government by the people, for the people’ to be realised more fully, bolstering democratic legitimacy and accountability.

Local Governments as Autonomous Entities

The term ‘autonomous’ implies local governments have the authority to self-govern and enact policies independently within their jurisdiction. This autonomy has two essential aspects: political and financial (Loughlin, 2001).

Political Autonomy

Political autonomy empowers local governments to make decisions about local policies without constant intervention or approval from higher levels of government. This element of autonomy often varies between countries, and sometimes within countries, based on the local government system in place (Hambleton & Gross, 2007).

Financial Autonomy

Financial autonomy refers to local governments having their own sources of revenue to finance local initiatives, although they may also receive grants and subsidies from central governments (Litvack, Ahmad & Bird, 1998).

The autonomy given to local governments is not absolute but reflects a balance of power that allows them to be responsive and accountable to their local constituencies, while still operating within the broader framework of the national government (Rodriguez-Pose & Ezcurra, 2010).


The formation of local governments as autonomous entities is a practical response to the challenges of governing diverse, geographically dispersed populations and a reflection of the democratic principle of decentralisation. Local governments’ political and financial autonomy enhances responsiveness and accountability at the local level, while also promoting efficiency in service delivery.


Bennett, R. J. (1997) Local Government and Market Decentralization: Experiences in Industrialized, Developing, and Former Eastern Bloc Countries. Tokyo: United Nations University Press.

Cheema, G. S., & Rondinelli, D. A. (Eds.). (2007) Decentralizing Governance: Emerging Concepts and Practices. Cambridge, MA: Brookings Institution Press.

Faguet, J-P. (2014) Decentralization and Governance. World Development, 53, 2-13.

Hambleton, R., & Gross, J. S. (2007). Governing Cities in a Global Era: Urban Innovation, Competition, and Democratic Reform. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Litvack, J., Ahmad, J., & Bird, R. (1998). Rethinking Decentralization in Developing Countries. Washington, D.C: The World Bank.

Loughlin, J. (2001). Subnational Democracy in the European Union: Challenges and Opportunities. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mouritzen, P. E., & Svara, J. H. (2002). Leadership at the Apex: Politicians and Administrators in Western Local Governments. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Rodríguez-Pose, A., & Ezcurra, R. (2010). Is fiscal decentralization harmful for economic growth? Evidence from the OECD countries. Journal of Economic Geography, 11(4), 619-643.

Sharpe, L. J. (1970). Theories and Values of Local Government. Political Studies, 18(2), 153-174.

Svara, J. H. (1999). Complementarity of Politics and Administration as a Legitimate Alternative to the Dichotomy Model. Administration & Society, 30(6), 676-705.

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