Municipal mergers can save billions

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Norway’s new conservative government, keen on reforms that can boost productivity and modernize the public sector, took receipt this week of a new report it had ordered to study mergers of municipalities around the country. The report recommends a dramatic reduction in the number of Norwegian municipalities (kommuner), from 428 to around 100.

Government Minister Jan Tore Sanner was handed a new report on merging municipalities by Professor Signy Irene Vabo this week. PHOTO: Kommunal- og moderniseringsdepartementet

Government Minister Jan Tore Sanner was handed a new report on merging municipalities by Professor Signy Irene Vabo this week. PHOTO: Kommunal- og moderniseringsdepartementet

The report, delivered by a commission headed by Professor Signy Irene Vabo of the University of Oslo, recommends that local municipalities should have at least 15,000 to 20,000 residents in order to attract qualified professionals and extend optimal services.

Many of Norway’s existing municipalities are too small to secure the services they’re charged with extending, from elder care to schools to psychologists and child protective services, according to the commission’s experts. Jan Tore Sanner, the government minister in charge of local governments and municipalities, supports mergers to reduce bureaucracy and give the local governments better economy of scale.

The current structure provides many public sector jobs, however, and officials and employees of several municipalities around the country are reluctant or unwilling to give up their positions or their turf. Others fear a loss of local control.

Sanner and his government colleagues, however, contend that mergers can strengthen local democracy by creating “bigger and more robust” municipalities that can take on bigger jobs and accept more local responsibility. Mergers can also dramatically cut costs, with state statistics bureau SSB predicting that taxpayers can save as much as NOK 7 billion a year in overhead expenditures. Sanner’s ministry will put forth new economic proposals regarding municipal structure in May.

newsinenglish.no staff