Fernando Barreiro

1. Introduction

This chapter provides an overview of local development (LD) in Spain, which presents a very rich texture of programmes, initiatives institutional arrangements, reflecting the processes of decentralisation in Spain and the extensive support the country has enjoyed from EU funds in the last 20 years.

The emergence of LD in Spain and its early stages of development and expansion are discussed in Section 2. These early steps tended to be associated with national programmes which were implemented in a similar manner at the local level by municipalities and other local organisations.

The new capacities and motivation created in this first phase of Spanish LD combined with the strong regionalisation and decentralisation processes led to a remarkably wide range of diverse programmes, initiatives and innovations, examples of which are outlined in Section 3. That period has allowed for the development of an institutional framework (local-regional) focused on promoting LD, the existence of professional knowledge, and new local capacities.

All these assets need to be fully exploited in the new phase that started under the current economic crisis and which presents huge challenges for local development, as discussed in Section 4. A whole host of thorny issues need to be addressed such as the unprecedented levels of unemployment to the balance between LD policies (developing each area through local actors’ initiatives) and social and territorial cohesion policies (through a coalition of national, regional and local actors).

2. The emergence and evolution of local development

Local Development (LD) in Spain originated during the crisis of the late 1980’s, focused on employment policies. It has been a decentralised derivation of the national and European programmes of active employment policies. LD strategies implemented various measures to improve the employability of local unemployed people via training and employment orientated schemes.

These were mostly national policies which were implemented in a decentralised way. The municipalities played a crucial role as proximity institutions, carrying out employment schemes supported by EU funds, principally the ESF and ERDF. LD in Spain is still strongly associated with the national Department of Labour, which is the state body that decentralizes its funds for the territorial implementation of employment policies. Indeed, the term ‘Local Development’ in Spain is only mentioned in the terminology of the Department of Labour and not in that of any other government department.

Over time municipalities and provincial governments devoted themselves to executing programmes and resources designed on the national and European level. This situation resulted in imitation and, ultimately, uniformity: local development actions in all of the territories became almost homogeneous, largely dominated by large state programmes.

However, these national programmes included some emblematic schemes, such as the Workshop-Schools (Escuelas Taller), which are worth mentioning because they played a singular role as catalysts for local development processes. Workshop-Schools, as a training and employment programme, would not have had a major value by itself. But the fact that it was focused on the cultural and architectural heritage provoked a big impact on cities, villages and rural areas with a very poorly conserved heritage. In many cases, Workshops-Schools were the first step in initiating local development processes in small towns, enhancing the employability of young people and adding value (in terms of identity, culture, tourism, etc) by recovering physical, cultural and natural assets in towns and villages.

The high degree of institutional decentralisation which has taken place in Spain has also been reflected on, and has become another important feature of Spanish LD. The Autonomous Communities (regions) have broad competences and resources in many fields of regional and local development: employment; environment; industry; rural development; social welfare. Hence, today it is really difficult to define a unique ‘Spanish LD’, and perhaps it is more accurate to talk about different forms and expressions of local development according to different regional contexts in Spain.

The regionalisation of employment policies and territorial development has many positive aspects but, also, a very significant negative one: a decrease in interregional mobility in Spain with the concomitant adverse effects on the labour market and employment.

Moreover, regional governments have not always had positive and ‘virtuous’ links with municipal governments. They have tended to play the same role as central government. They have been more concerned with delegating their own policies to local governments rather than with facilitating a ‘bottom up’ approach by actively involving local actors in the territorial development. In fact, in Spain there is no widespread use of good models of cooperation between regions and local governments to implement local policies for employment and local development.

An example of such a cooperation model can be found in the case of the region of Andalusia where different schemes, like ATIPE, were implemented among municipalities, NGOs and regional government. The ATIPE plans (Actuaciones Territoriales Integrales Preferentes para el Empleo) represent a noteworthy institutional endeavour by the regional government of Andalucia, which created a comprehensive and coherent employment programme with an area-based approach and with an effective involvement of local actors.

3. A myriad of diverse initiatives and innovations

Once the initial phase of passive use of funds for employment in the territory in a top-down way was overcome, numerous and varied experiences and initiatives across the country were generated, in diverse fields such as tourism, social economy, non-discrimination, rural development, environment, etc. In any case, public funds for employment in the territory reached a range of actors; entrepreneurs, local organisations and especially municipalities that led the majority of these new projects and initiatives. A real capacity building process, improving the skills of ‘local development agents’, was effected and consolidated throughout the country. But, very often, these initiatives were pursued with a more short-term than long-term perspective, and were very dependent on public funds.

A very large number of initiatives and programmes were implemented and several examples are mentioned below. In this regard, we must make special reference to the LEADER programme as one of the main ways that have generated local development in rural areas, facilitating cooperation among rural actors. The growth and dynamism of rural tourism in Spain in recent years has been greatly facilitated by local groups born under the LEADER programme.

LEADER made a particularly relevant intervention in Spanish rural areas and the local actors have taken advantage, especially, since LEADER II to face the main problems of these areas and those challenges linked with the new roles assigned to the rural world. It was also used as a political influence and control tool in the different administrative and territorial levels. Notwithstanding this role, the awareness and the assimilation of the LEADER approach and methodology gained ground and progressively became recognised as an important instrument for enhancing rural development and promoting local partnerships.

Third phase of LEADER (known as LEADER Plus) covered the programme period 2000-2006. Unlike LEADER I and LEADER II, during this period all the Spanish rural areas were able to take advantage since LEADER Plus was launched through 17 regional programmes of rural development covering all Spanish regions. A very important dimension of the programme application was the limits put on public sector participation in the decision making of local action groups. Likewise, networking and cooperation to share projects, practices and knowledge among LEADER actors was fostered.

The LEADER initiative has enhanced rural tourism in Spain contributing to its huge growth during the last fifteen years. Start-ups, growing SMEs and handicrafts represented along with rural tourism a major economic diversification in rural areas. Job creation, consolidation of micro and small enterprises and vocational training were the main measures to foster rural development through LEADER programme. Employment grew by an average of around 15% yearly in the 2002-2007 period. (LEADER en España, 2011)

There are several aspects of the LEADER approach that will have a growing relevance in the future, like the democratic learning, new knowledge and skills in rural development, capacity and experience improvement in the decision making processes, participative strategies, territorial approaches, etc. Definitively, an endogenous development dynamism has emerged from LEADER and several local action groups constituted by young professionals engaged with their territories are leading these processes. (LEADER en España, 2000)

Local Development Agencies have grown throughout the country and have played a major role in local development in Spain. Several of them have been consolidated while others, especially those which were very dependent on external funding, have not succeeded. The Basque Association of Development Agencies (GARAPEN) is a good example of a structure that federates local development agencies in the Basque Country.

GARAPEN is a professional association which brings together development agencies led by local authorities of the Basque Country with the following objectives:

• Provide a conceptual framework of the endogenous development at local level, improving its strategic approach and its practical application.
• Encourage information and knowledge exchange through collaboration projects.
• Providing services to the development agencies.
• Lobbying in front of other public levels and the private sector.
• Institutional representation. (La articulación Territorial, 2008)

Strategic Plans for cities had a boom during the nineties and led to a long-term urban renewal and transformation. The radical transformations of cities like Barcelona or Bilbao are good examples of innovative urban practices. But beyond these landmark cases, many cities developed Strategic Plans that often have served as a roadmap for city development.

“Local production systems" and industrial districts, which involve certain industrial sectors located in different parts of the Spanish territory, were also relevant components of LD in Spain. They led to several policies being implemented by regional governments and the Ministry of Industry. In many cases, Autonomous Communities gave support to these industrial districts, creating technological institutes, agencies and facilitating business cooperation.

The LD in Spanish cities was also supported by the EU URBAN Initiative. In the first stage, in URBAN I, the majority of operations were devoted to the physical regeneration and reuse of urban spaces. An integrated approach became more widespread in URBAN II by adding social, economic and environmental regeneration aspects. Currently there is the URBANA initiative which represents a continuation of URBAN and is creating integrated and sustainable projects in 40 different Spanish cities.

The Catalan government’s programme known as the ‘Law of neighbourhoods’ was supported by allocating special funds through local governments. This is regarded as a highly paradigmatic initiative to recover deprived urban areas and neighbourhoods. Simultaneously, the regional Employment Department concentrated ESF funding on the same urban areas which were supported by the ‘Law of neighbourhoods’, through the ‘Working in the neighbourhoods’ programme.

Third sector organisations play a significant role in Spanish LD. They have significantly influenced social inclusion policies and measures in local areas. Associations and social insertion enterprises (Empresas de inserción) have played and continue to play a leading role in the inclusion of disadvantaged groups such as disabled, ethnic minorities, ex-convicts, drug addicts, etc. The social insertion enterprises have become an efficient tool for social inclusion combining private income with public subsidies. Several social innovations implemented in the cities, neighbourhoods and rural areas have been generated and promoted by the social economy.

LD initiatives with a bottom-up approach have been a strong platform for social innovation in Spain. One example is RETOS, the network of socially responsible territories, instigated by the Ministry of Labour on the national level but funded on a regional level through various sources. Despite its modest financial commitment, it provides room for revisiting and experimenting with different approaches to local delivery mechanisms in the field of employment development. In September 2010, the Ministry of Labour presented Socially Responsible Territories as a ‘best practice’ solution under the category ‘Initiatives from public administration’, during the FORETICA fair.

In the period 2000-2005, several innovations were also developed in the field of known as ‘new sources of employment’ (nuevos yacimientos de empleo). They needed very strong and creative local partnerships to identify new social needs and new jobs linked to those social needs, since neither the market nor the public sector were able to ensure effective solutions. Third sector organisations and social entrepreneurs with the support of local authorities and the funds of regional governments have generated many local employment initiatives in the field of social services, environment (green jobs), culture, rural tourism, etc.

In recent years what might be called ‘local development with less presence of EU funds as the main source of funding’ is starting in Spain. Yet, we have to acknowledge that EU funding (ESF and ERDF) has been the main base of support for local development in Spain for almost 20 years. That period has allowed for the development of an institutional framework (local-regional) focused on promoting LD, the existence of professional knowledge, and new local capacities. All these assets should be exploited in the new phase started under the current economic crisis.

4. Huge challenges ahead

LD in Spain is being challenged by the current crisis. The cuts in public budgets demand more than ever to leverage the existing capabilities and resources of knowledge and innovation capacity. LD must find imaginative responses to face the most serious consequences of the crisis, above all the unprecedented levels of unemployment.

Among other things, the crisis will precipitate a rethink of the institutional architecture and the existing multi-level governance in Spain, in order to create solid partnerships that promote synergies and exchanges for achieving more effective and more efficient territorial policies. There is a challenge for local development in Spain considering the high level of decentralisation of the Spanish state. A friction between the growing economic interdependence among the regions and an increasing political autonomy of each region takes place. The multilevel governance becomes a crucial theme in the Spanish context.

Diverse initiatives and the myriad of local innovations associated with local development processes are not yet sufficiently evaluated nor ‘capitalised’. This implies a difficulty in drawing lessons and generating a real learning process. It also means that there is a big difficulty in measuring the real impact of the financial resources applied to local development. There is still a crucial need to calibrate the added value and the real contribution of LD in Spain.

Local development strategies need to find the so called ‘functional’ local areas. Such definitions will need to respect the characteristics of different types of area and the nature of the problems tackled by the local strategy. This issue is particularly pertinent in large urban areas where ‘solutions’ to problems of deprived neighbourhoods cannot be pursued only at neighbourhood level.

Economic integration becomes the core aspect of the local development policies that are needed to achieve a real territorial cohesion. Economic integration means: connecting better rural areas with urban areas; deprived neighbourhoods with other parts of the cities. It means connecting the underdeveloped areas with the more developed areas within each country. This is the real challenge for LD. Perhaps we need a better balance between LD policies (developing each area through local actors’ initiatives) and social and territorial cohesion policies (through a coalition of national, regional and local actors). In Spain, strong coalitions between central, regional and local governments are needed to face a new period of local development that takes into account the weaknesses and failures of the past.

Taking into account that not all the development problems find real solutions in the territory we, often, need to help local development initiatives to cross the limits of administrative boundaries. In Spain there is a sort of confusion between the municipal boundaries and the local development territorial requirements. That is why we need inter-regional cooperation trying to find appropriate scales and levels that facilitate development. Such cooperation deals with going beyond borders that limit and prevent development in a context of globalisation and interdependence.


LEADER en España (1991-2011) Una contribución activa al desarrollo rural. Red Rural Nacional. Ministerio de Medio Ambiente y Medio Rural y Marino. Dirección del proyecto. Dirección General de Desarrollo Sostenible del Medio Rural. 2011.

Javier Esparcia Pérez y Joan Noguera Tur. LEADER en España: desarrollo rural, poder, legitimación, aprendizaje y nuevas estructuras. Universitat de València. Departament de Geografia. UDERVAL (Unidad de Desarrollo Rural y Evaluación de Políticas Públicas)
Octubre 2000.

GARAPEN. La articulación Territorial. Las comarcas y los nuevos modelos de desarrollo economico local en el País Vasco. Febrero 2008 San Sebastián.

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