Municipal Restructuring Finnish Style

Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen’s government program of 2003 promised to ensure the accessibility and quality of basic municipal services in the entire country with a reasonable tax and fee burden. A prerequisite for this was a workable and vital municipal structure and the sustained financing of services.

Municipal and service restructuring has actively been in preparation for just over a year. Now, as the current government is in its final fiscal year, an understanding was reached in June, 2006, concerning the content of the skeleton law for restructuring.

Current situation
Municipalities are responsible for organizing basic services. Both the national government and municipalities are responsible for financing. Basic services include health care, social services, education and library services.

Finland’s municipal structures are very heterogeneous. The most populated municipality has over 2,000 times more inhabitants than the least populated one. The municipality which is largest in area is over 2,500 times larger than the smallest. In 2006, there were 431 municipalities in total, sixteen of which are located in Åland’s autonomous region.

Objectives of the restructuring

The purpose of municipal and service restructuring is to strengthen the municipal and service structure while at the same time respecting the municipal democracy. To obtain a strong structural and financial foundation for organizing and producing services and for developing municipalities, methods for producing and organizing services are being developed, funding systems are being restructured, and task distribution between the municipalities and the national government is being revised. When considering the implementation of the restructuring, we must take into account the accessibility and quality of services, the civil rights and equality of the residents, the facility of the autonomy of municipal residents and their possibilities to participate and express their opinions, and the linguistic rights of the Finnish-, Swedish- and Samí-speaking populations.

Municipal structure shall be reinforced by combining municipalities and by joining parts of municipalities with other municipalities. A municipality should be comprised of an employment district or other functioning district. Service structures shall be reinforced by gathering together services, which require a population base greater than that contained in a municipality and by increasing cooperation between municipalities. Consolidation funding shall be allotted to municipalities upon their merging. Joint projects between municipalities may also be funded. The provision of basic health care shall require a minimum population base of 20,000 persons and special health care will be centered in large municipal consolidations. The organization of professional basic training shall in the municipality or region of cooperation shall require a population base of at least 50,000 inhabitants.

During 2007, the municipalities must design a plan of implementation, which is in accordance with municipal and service restructuring, for the Council of State and the Ministry for Internal Affairs, and present it together with a report concerning the extensity of the service network and a plan for organizing activities among the municipalities. In 2009, the government will then evaluate the measures which have already been carried out and those which are being planned. The municipalities have already anticipated new legislation. Over ten consolidations consisting of two municipalities will take place in the beginning of 2007.

The status of the library
According to library legislation, it is the duty of the municipality to provide library and information services, either independently or in partial or full cooperation with other municipalities. Libraries have been carrying out intermunicipal cooperation in many ways for decades. Municipalities share joint library buses, library directors and ADP library systems. Over 65 % of the municipalities belong to some joint regional library system.

Along with the municipal consolidations, a joint library institution is being established. Governmental library administration has directed municipal libraries into larger administrative units, including those libraries in municipalities remaining independent. Some municipalities have actually combined their library departments in recent years, despite the fact that the municipalities are still independent. Mikkeli City Library-Provincial Library already comprises library activities with three neighboring municipalities. There are three joint libraries in Finland, which are combined by two municipalities. A shared municipal library means that the number of service locations does not decrease in regionally large municipalities, although administratively the libraries operate as if they were one library. The library is therefore always a local service for its patrons.

Municipal and service restructuring is now in the hands of municipal decision- makers. The plans of implementation must also include the organization of library services. During the next couple of years, great changes are to be expected in the structure of library administration.

Photo: Nils Lund Pedersen

Translated by Turun Täyskäännös

Counsellor for Cultural Affairs Ministry of Education.