Lieksa development strategy 2030?
A shift to an entrepreneurial approach in local governance to strengthen vitality based on local territorial assets
Lieksa is an archetype of a peripheral and shrinking rural town in Finland. Its population has halved during the last 50 years due to demographic change and outmigration fuelled by the lack of employment and educational opportunities. Typical for a peripheral community, Lieksa, its city administration, has often been the target and receiver of policies rather than a proactive actor building on its own territorial capital.
In light of this, the case study assesses processes and outcomes of a recent change embodied by the new local development strategy adopted in 2016, aiming to raise Lieksa’s level of vitality and viability and thus improve its socio-economic position vis-a-vis other municipalities in the region and Finland. The Lieksa Development Strategy 2030 indicates a move away from policies compensating for disadvantage to those paying more attention to capitalizing on local potentials and territorial assets. Indeed, recent local government processes appear to aim at gaining more local capacities and autonomy, in the sense of more control of this town’s own destiny and development. Elements of this include a more effective and more transparent and participatory city administration; repatriation of economic policy making from the sub-regional to the local level; a proactive take on the changing role of municipalities in light of ongoing regional and social/healthcare reforms in Finland; and almost unanimous support across local party politics to change the fortune of their locality.
Overall, the private sector’s role has been consciously increased as both receiver and initiator of local development initiatives in this reform-affine environment. This intervention logic, applying a decidedly entrepreneurial approach to local development, has resulted in comparatively less attention to the potential inputs of third sector organisations and civil society at large. There is an observable need to balance between administrative efficiency and democratic responsiveness and it remains to be seen whether this primary focus on business and the economy will become a long-term policy choice or whether it is a short-term ‘fix’ on what has been identified as the crucial point for Lieksa’s development. Nevertheless, although the studied ‘action’ in Lieksa is still in its early phase and it is premature to estimate its long-lasting impacts, the more proactive, dynamic and strategic-thinking leadership offers an apparently sustainable option for tackling the spatial injustices faced by this peripheral municipality.