International publications and the UN have long ranked Norway as among the best countries in the world in which to live. A Norwegian news service that specializes in covering municipalities, Kommunal Rapport, has just released its annual rankings of which place within Norway can be the best place to live, in terms of delivering well-run services from children’s day care to schools and elder care.
This year’s winner is Førde, in the mountainous county of Sogn og Fjordane, south-central Norway. With its 13,089 residents as of the beginning of this year, it’s currently described as a modern small city with a growing economy, good schools and health care, strong communications and rich culture.
Spread over 586 square kilometers of valleys, mountains and lakes, Førde topped the list of Norway’s kommuner (townships) in Kommunal Rapport’s so-called Kommunebarometeret. The barometer is an annual ranking based on how the townships are run based on 152 publicly available key numbers within 12 sectors.
The numbers are weighted in terms of importance to the community, with elementary schools and elder care weighted most heavily (20 percent), for example, while the township’s economy, day care centers and child protective service (barnevern) have 10 percent each. The barometer is also compiled on the theory that “not everything that’s important is measured and not everything measured is important.” Kommuner where income levels are low can also place lower than kommuner with high incomes.
Kommunal Rapport, owned by the national organization representing municipal interests (KS), ranked Førde highest because it delivered key numbers that are better than its economic framework might suggest. Ole John Østenstad, rådmann (top administrator) in Førde, openly remarks that “there are few kommuner that spend as little money per school pupil as Førde. I think Førde shows that it’s possible to get good results even when you don’t pour money into the system all the time.”
Førde’s schools regularly top national rankings, not least with the lowest portion of pupils categorized in the lowest competence rankings by the 5th grade. “Elementary school is the jewel in the crown for us,” Østenstad told Kommunal Rapport. “We’ve been determined that a pupil’s schooling shouldn’t depend on whether you’re lucky or unlucky with the teacher you get.”
Førde has also been determined to shed former heavy debt levels, tighten operating budgets and get them anchored by the local politicians. Førde set clear investment goals and “disciplined” budgets. Unlike many communities in outlying areas, Førde is also growing and merging with its nearest neighbour in 2020 to become Sunnfjord kommune.
The barometer’s top-10 list of best-run townships in Norway continues with Røyken in Buskerud in the number-two spot followed by Mandal in Vest-Agder, Hole in Buskerud, Bærum in Akershus, Tynset in Hedmar, Oppegård, Nittedal and Skedsmo in Akershus and Sola in Rogaland. The rankings are important because in Norway, it’s the townships that are charged with running and distributing some of the most important social welfare services such as day care, schools and nursing homes along with other local services from water and sewage to garbage collection and street cleaning. The state government is in charge of hospitals and health care, universities and transportation, for example, but distributes tax revenues to the local governments to deliver local services.