Abstract: Tensions between Public and Private: Water Supply in a Northwestern Spanish City under the Franco Dictatorship

Jesús Mirás-Araujo and Carlos Piñeiro-Sánchez


In this paper, we analyze the determinants of change in a public service management system, urban water supply in Spain during the Franco dictatorship (1939-1975). The case involves a medium-sized Spanish city where the city council had entrusted the service to a franchised private company early in the twentieth century. After the Civil War (1936-1939), however, a different regulatory framework erected by the new political regime provoked a change in the state's attitude toward public services. There was increasing pressure to return the water supply service to the public sector—in particular, to local authorities. The autarkic environment, changes in consumption associated with remarkable urban growth, and an increasingly interventionist institutional environment led to the gradual domination of Spain's public services management by municipalities by the 1960s-1970s. This transition may serve as a platform for debate about the applicability of recent European management models to modern urban services. We examine the impact of an anomalous institutional framework on business success (or failure) and seek to contribute to the debate on ownership and management of public services.

BEH On-Line Paper