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Alison Gardner

Assistant Professor of Local Governance and Antislavery Policy

I am currently leading the University of Nottingham’s ‘Slavery-Free Communities’ initiative, working with statutory, business and voluntary-sector partners to develop policy and community-centred responses to modern slavery.

This project builds on proposals published in Kevin Bales' (2010) book, 'The Slave Next Door', to create an integrated place-based approach to making localities slavery-free.  Core elements include:

  • Raising community awareness
  • Civic leadership
  • Training for frontline staff
  • Slavery-free supply chains
  • Listening to victims' perspectives
  • Learning from academic and practice evidence.

The role builds on my prior experience of local policy-making and governance, gained through a career in and around local government. In 2016 I completed a PhD at the University of Nottingham, examining responses to austerity in English local governance between 2010 and 2015. My research found that although surface-level stability had been maintained in local services, local political ‘traditions’ were under coming pressure as a result of spending cuts, and seemingly minor incremental changes had the longer-term potential to transform local governance.

In addition to modern slavery, ongoing research interests include the implications of the Conservatives’ ‘devolution revolution’ for local governance, the use of collaborative and asset-based research methodologies, and exploring connections between institutional and interpretive models of change.


Practical Expertise

Prior to starting my PhD I spent 15 years working in senior policy, performance and consultancy roles for organisations including Nottingham City Council, DETR, the Improvement and Development Agency and the Local Government Association.


Gardner, A. (2017). Big change, little change? Punctuation, increments and multi-layer institutional change for English local authorities under austerity. Local Government Studies, 43(2), 150-169. doi: 10.1080/03003930.2016.1276451

Lowndes, V., & Gardner, A. (2016). Local governance under the Conservatives: super-austerity, devolution and the “smarter state.” Local Government Studies, 42(3), 357–375. doi:10.1080/03003930.2016.1150837

Gardner, A., & Lowndes, V. (2016). Negotiating austerity and local traditions. In M. Bevir & R. A. . Rhodes (Eds.), Rethinking Governance. Ruling, rationalities and resistance (pp. 125–143). London: Routledge.


  • Lipstick on a pig?  Balancing critical and relational perspectives in action research into austerity.  Interpretive Policy Analysis Conference, July 2016 Hull
  • Big change, little change? Punctuation, increments and multi-level institutional change for local authorities under austerity.  Political Studies Association Conference, March 2015 Brighton
  • Austerity, ‘spaces of power’ and community leadership. Policy and Politics Conference, September 2015 Bristol.
  • Negotiating Austerity:local traditions, hybrid narratives and emerging practice in English local government (co-authored with Vivien Lowndes). Policy and Politics Conference, September 2014 Bristol.
  • Going Underground: Possibilities for Institutional Resistance to Austerity in English Local Government. Political Studies Association Conference, April 2014 Manchester.
  • How are Local Public Services Responding to Austerity? Politics in Crisis, June 2013 Nottingham.

Public Engagement Activities

Recent public engagement activities have included
'Slavery Free Cities', a presentation at Portcullis House, Westminster, as part of a panel on the 'Freedom Blueprint' at Nottingham in Parliament Day, 25th October 2016.
'Making Nottingham Slavery Free', public launch of Slavery Free Cities program, in partnership with Nottingham Trent University.


My PhD studies were supported by a studentship sponsored by the University of Nottingham with a contribution from Nottingham City Council.
I also received a Michael Cowan Scholarship from the School of Politics and International relations in 2015-16