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Social-geographic divergence, changing relations between local and national government, changing relations between government and citizens and the recent radical decentralisation of national responsibilities to local level are all examples of contemporary changes in local government in The Netherlands. In the search for responses to these challenges, scale enlargement is a recurrent theme. There is pressure towards as well as resistance against municipal mergers in order to achieve economies of scale. Inter-municipal cooperation is seen as an alternative solution. Several authors (Derksen, 1992; Koster, Wever & Glim, 2009) suggest that, notwithstanding the desire to remain politically independent, the decision to establish inter-municipal organisations (through which services are shared or tasks are performed jointly) mainly originates from technocratic and managerial considerations.
Using three case studies from the social domain this study examines the intended and actual effects of initiating an inter-municipal public service regime and also explores how these effects can be interpreted. The study assesses whether the desired effects were actually realised and whether other unintended effects arose. Three inter-municipal social services were selected as case-studies, namely, Bollenstreek, Voorne-Putten-Rozenburg and Optimisd. Each was established within the first five years of the twenty-first century and was tracked from establishment until the end of 2011.
Analysis from four perspectives
The case studies were analysed from four perspectives. Each perspective is connected with a specific municipal role: the municipality as a business, as a political commune, as part of the ‘rechtsstaat’ and as a community. The position of the citizen varies from each perspective: customer, constituent, legal subject and resident. Choosing four perspectives provided a richer framework for interpretation. Adding the political, legal and social perspectives to the managerial stand-point recognises that public administration is more than a business. Although business-like principles from the managerial perspective can contribute in a meaningful way to the organisation, management and study of public administration, the other three perspectives demonstrate that public administration has several roles that are quite distinct from those of private businesses.

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