The Swedish Agency for Public Management (Statskontoret) has completed its commission from the Government to conduct a review of the organisation of the Swedish Commission for Government Support to Faith Communities (SST, Nämnden för statligt stöd till trossamfund). SST was formed in order to allocate state subsidies to the faith communities that are entitled to them. The communities entitled to subsidies are determined by the Government. SST's decisions on the allocation of subsidies cannot be appealed.
In recent years, the Government has increasingly prioritised the work of SST. This has taken place both in light of a changing society and also because SST has carried out its work in a successful manner. This higher priority has manifested itself in a larger appropriation and in a number of government commissions that lie outside of SST's original task.
Statskontoret's commission includes assessing which managerial structure is best suited and most effective with regard to SST's current responsibilities and commissions. The commission also includes the question of how SST's organisation and governance can become more effective and appropriate. The Government states its assessment that there is a need to improve the conditions for SST's commission as an expert agency.
Today, the Swedish Commission for Government Support to Faith Communities is led by a board consisting of nine members and their deputies. This board is nominated by the faith communities and appointed by the Government. SST has a Secretary General, who is employed by the board. The Secretary General heads the secretariat and is responsible for SST's staff and day-to-day work.
The current working method is not consistent with the organisation that has been decided
SST's current organisation is not well suited to the operations it conducts. This manifests itself in several ways. One example is that SST, i.e. its management, has delegated a major share of its operations to the Secretary General. Today, the decisions of SST's board almost only concern state subsidies, which is a task that corresponds to about 25 per cent of what SST does. Secretariat staff feel that they do not receive any directives or support from the board regarding the rest of SST's operations. At the same time, there is also a need for collaboration and dialogue with the faith communities when implementing those aspects lying outside the allocation of state subsidies.
The current organisation thus has a poor level of consistency with the order that was originally intended and formulated in SST's regulations.
A variety of conceivable solutions
When making a comparison with other council agencies in order to examine different solutions for rectifying the current problems of the Swedish Commission for Government Support to Faith Communities, we have found that the Swedish Commission for Government Support to Faith Communities has an unusually broad role as an expert agency. The most common situation is that council agencies are solely a decision-making body.
As regards the other council agencies, we are able to note that the Government has in some cases tried to strengthen its control over the council agency by assigning its head of secretariat special tasks, but that this did not have a particularly good outcome.
We have also seen that several council agencies have in recent years been reorganised into agencies with another managerial structure, usually a director-general governed agency. The issues previously decided by the collective decision-making body, i.e. the board, have been arranged in different ways. In some cases, this collective form of making decisions has been abandoned completely since there was an opportunity to appeal the agency's decision to a court. In other cases, a special decision-making body has been formed to manage some of the agency's questions.
A new governance model is needed
The current managerial structure of the Swedish Commission for Government Support to Faith Communities needs to be changed since the current organisation is not suited to its purpose. The starting point for a new organisation should be:
- To improve the conditions for SST's contacts with the Government.
- To strengthen the day-to-day governance of SST, in particular its expert function.
From the perspective of the faith communities, SST is important and this should also be safeguarded in the new organisation. SST's framework allows scope for dialogue and cooperation between the faith communities.
As SST is so small, it is also vulnerable. There is cause to consider in the long term how this vulnerability could be reduced. At present, however, there is no reason to consider merging the Swedish Commission for Government Support to Faith Communities with another agency. The board is in the process of building up its expertise and needs to establish a stable trust among the faith communities in order to realise the Government's broad ambitions for SST in the long term as well.
Director-general governed agency with a special decision-making body
Statskontoret proposes that the Swedish Commission for Government Support to Faith Communities be transformed into a director-general governed agency. It should change its name from Nämnden för statligt stöd till trossamfund to Myndigheten för trossamfundsfrågor (the Swedish Agency for Faith Communities Issues). Its main task should be to be an expert agency for faith community issues in a broad sense. Issues concerning state subsidies should be placed in a special decision-making body that is responsible for decisions on these issues.
If the proposal is implemented, this will improve the conditions for governance. The proposal also means a more flexible agency. It will have the opportunity to develop, in part through an enhanced capacity to take on new tasks concerning faith communities and faith community issues.
Statskontoret also submits a proposal for how the Ordinance with instruction should be amended as a result of the proposed organisational change.