The Swedish Agency for Public Management
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Development of state governance of municipalities and county councils – an analysis (2019:2)

The Swedish Agency for Public Management (Statskontoret) has conducted, on behalf of the Swedish Government, an in-depth analysis of the overall state governance of municipalities and county councils. The purpose of the analysis is to contribute to the development of state governance and make this governance more effective. The emphasis of the analysis is therefore on the consequences of state governance in municipalities and county councils.

State governance has increased in both scope and level of detail

Statskontoret's analysis shows that state governance of municipalities and county councils has increased in both scope and level of detail in recent years, and that it is currently very extensive and detailed. This is mainly true for targeted state subsidies, but also for knowledge governance, and state governance using goals and guideline documents has also increased in scope and has become more detailed. In a slightly longer perspective, management by rule has also become more detailed and has had an increased element of application of the law, which has placed stricter requirements on municipalities and county councils.
The governance currently extends far into the activities of the municipalities and county councils. It often affects not only what municipalities and county councils must do, but also how they should do it. An example of this can be seen in the increased knowledge governance.

EU governance also contributes to the overall governance

The EU also influences the ways in which municipalities and county councils work, for example, through management by rule, financial management, and knowledge governance. However, the EU's governance is often integrated into Swedish legislation and other state governance before reaching the local and regional government level. It is therefore seldom clear to municipalities and county councils.

Widespread understanding of the state's need to govern

Our analysis shows that politicians and civil servants in municipalities and county councils are understanding of the state's need to govern. They also do not believe that the state focuses on the wrong operations in its governance. The criticism that is presented mainly concerns the scope and nature of the governance. The primary target of the municipalities' and county councils' criticism is the amount and nature of the targeted state subsidies.

The governance has both intended and unintended consequences

The state's governance must be handled from a holistic perspective

The state's governance has a major impact on municipalities and county councils. Legislation, supervision, and targeted state subsidies affect both priorities and working methods in the municipal sector, which is also the aim of the governance. There may also be good reason for the state to govern in each individual case. However, the municipalities and county councils must adopt a holistic approach to the governance in their budget and planning work. The amount of governance and the documentation requirements of legislation, state subsidies, supervision, and knowledge governance can also make it hard for individual municipalities or county councils to conduct their operations in the most efficient way. The total impact of state governance can therefore reduce the effect of individual state initiatives.

Governance risks counteracting national uniformity

Municipalities and county councils have different preconditions for handling state governance. Municipalities with small populations that often have the biggest need for state governance and support can, for example, have problems meeting the requirements that are linked to the various state subsidies. The municipalities' and county councils' different preconditions for handling the state governance thus risks reducing national uniformity, which goes against the purpose of the governance.

Increased governance has led to increased administration

The central government's extensive and detailed governance results in a significant amount of administrative work for municipalities and county councils. The administration is often a way of managing the requirements of various reviews and follow-ups. Quality and development work in municipalities and county councils has also become administratively taxing due to the central government's requirements regarding routines, processes, and documentation.

The research study that we have produced shows that much of the original state governance is conveyed, translated, interpreted, and reinforced by government agencies, municipalities, and county councils themselves, other organisations, SALAR, and private companies. This filling out of state governance in turn also increases the administrative load on municipalities and county councils.

State governance reduces the political freedom to act

Even if it was not the original purpose of the Government's initiative or the new regulations, the consequence of the extensive and detailed state governance is that the political freedom to act in municipalities and county councils is reduced.