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Intangibles and sustainability in local government reports: An analysis into an uneasy relationship

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Purpose ‐ Public sector entities are clearly catalysts, generators and managers of intangibles. However, they appear to be unaware so far of the possibility to prepare and use intangibles statements, but they often include information on the intangibles they produce and are concerned with in other forms of reporting they publish (e.g. social, environmental, sustainability reports). Accordingly, the first aim of the paper is to analyse the degree of disclosure on intangible resources and activities in public sector bodies' supplementary reports that have indeed different objectives from intangibles statements. In particular, the paper focuses on Local Agenda 21 (LA21), which is a local government sustainability report that is quite well known internationally. The second aim of the work is to evaluate whether, in more general terms, intangibles reports that are currently developed by private sector organisations would also be desirable for local public sector entities, and, if so, whether they could be integrated with LA21. This way, a more comprehensive report, including both sustainability- and intangibles-related information, could be designed and fruitfully implemented. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The tentative exploration for intangibles-related information within Local Agenda 21 is conducted through an empirical study referring to the specific case of Agenda 21 prepared by the Commune and the Province of Ferrara (Italy) in 2003. The evaluation of the usefulness of intangibles reports for local public sector entities is based on the analysis of the scope of their possible use. Findings ‐ A table is provided, including indicators that are drawn from the above sustainability report, and that could be also part of a potential intangibles statement of the local government units concerned. In generalising the results, some relevant intersection areas appear in the indicators used, even though intangibles reports and Agenda 21 serve different informational needs for diverse stakeholders. In this sense, an integration between the two documents seems possible. Indeed, a further relevant result that has also important practical implications is that intangibles reports are quite desirable for local governments as they could provide basic information that could be used not only in the perspective of communication with stakeholders, but also for internal managerial purposes of local government, such as the identification of weaknesses and assessment of the results deriving from intangibles investments and management. Originality/value ‐ This issue seems to be scarcely analysed, especially in the perspective proposed, by the existing literature.

Keywords: Economic sustainability; Intangible assets; Local government; Reports

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2006-10-01

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