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Drawing on institutional theory, this paper advances understanding of how restructuring practices are shaped by the organisational and institutional context and the concerns for legitimacy. Longitudinal case study findings from UK local government suggest a pattern of incremental deviance where repeated cutbacks are legitimised through a narrative of continuous improvement. This results in increased labour flexibility, work intensity and managerialism within services. We argue that the lack ofdoi:10.1111/1748-8583.12351 fatcat:pnw7tosryjebjjvyn4p4verreq