Government still pushing for municipal reform to take effect in 2015
Helsinki region to get survey of regional reforms
The Finnish government is holding on to its original schedule for municipal reform. The goal remains that newly structured local authorities could start from 2015. Municipalities will be asked to give statements on the proposals later in the year.
The population targets for new municipalities have not been decided. The matter is to be decided by the end of this month.
The government is encouraging municipalities to make necessary changes by offering financial incentives for mergers. A condition for getting the assistance would be that they should decide on a merger by the beginning of April 2014.
In all cases, the mergers should be implemented by 2017 at the latest.
In connection with the reforms the local authorities and the possible social and health care districts would be given more responsibility for arranging services. The government will also put forward goals on commuting and community structure.
Government ministers discussed municipal reform on Tuesday morning at the Prime Minister’s residence Kesäranta. Debate on municipal reform begins in Parliament on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, a survey on the possibility of establishing a joint metropolitan administration for 14 municipalities in Uusimaa is to be launched soon.
In negotiations on the matter, the National Coalition Party has eased its stance and agreed to allow the survey to take place.
A metropolitan administration in the Helsinki region could involve a model in which a regional council would make decisions on housing, transport, and land use. It could even have the right to levy taxes.
According to the initial proposal Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa, Kauniainen, and Sipoo would have been the five local authorities in a report on municipal mergers.
Helsinki Mayor Jussi Pajunen (Nat. Coalition Party) has staunchly opposed the establishment of a metropolitan area involving 14 municipalities.
In the metropolitan region, the 13 local authorities other than Helsinki wanted to see the survey launched.
Last week Helsingin Sanomat got possession of a memo from the municipal department of the Ministry of Finance, in which civil servants presented to the government a metropolitan study alongside a study on municipal mergers. The memo proposed that the government should be allowed to decide on mergers over the objections of local authorities.
On Monday Helsingin Sanomat learned that a milder version is coming: if municipalities do not make progress toward voluntary mergers, the government will have the right to order a special study on municipal divisions.
At the negotiations the Social Democratic Party and the National Coalition Party have reportedly reached agreement on mandatory mergers. Both parties now say that mergers should apply only to local authorities which are in deep economic trouble. Such municipalities number about 40.
The talks on municipal policy have been hampered by the SDP’s adamant opposition to forced mergers. The National Coalition Party has found them acceptable in situations in which local authorities do not agree to a merger that the government considers necessary.
A source at the National Coalition Party says that the whole mandatory merger dispute has been artificial, as the government policy programme states that local authorities in crises can be pushed into mergers.
On Monday a sticking point in the negotiations was on how to define what constitutes a weak municipality.
One topic of disagreement was how a local authority with a small population should draw up a survey on mergers.
It appeared on Monday that no agreement was forthcoming on population numbers.
Another disputed criterion was commuting to work. The government wants to push municipalities together if they form a single area where people live and work.
The definition of a strong municipality is to be defined in a law on structure which is to be put forward to Parliament in the autumn.
It was reported on Monday that the new structural law could be postponed. It was originally to have taken effect at the beginning of next year. The schedule was seen to be too tight because local authorities would need to be heard again in the matter.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Minister Virkkunen says government standing firm on municipal reform (31.5.2012)
Municipal reform: forced mergers remain a possibility (25.5.2012)
Leaked map reveals plans to reduce number of municipalities to about 70 (16.1.2012)