Usually, I don’t write about local politics in UmeŚ here. One reason is that the Social Democrats in general and Lennart Holmlund in particular dominate the political scene. It has always been so and there are no signs of change in the immediate future.
Not much excitement, then.
Another reason is that UmeŚ in terms of policy never has appeared that interesting to me. I really can’t think of anything, that has made UmeŚ look as a city in the forefront of public administration. Given that I also dabble with this subject, that is more than a little worrying.
Anyway, this week we have what I would label, if not a scandal, then an interesting issue which merits wider attention: The Chief Executive of the City Council’s housing company resigned after only one year. The resignation came after a conflict with the (politically appointed) board.
To non-Swedes, I should perhaps explain that the Social Democratic model of housing policy rested on rented housing run by companies owned by local councils. The idea is that public housing should dominate the housing market and in that way edge out parasitic private landlords. (There is a difference between the Swedish and Danish models of public housing – in Denmark public housing is usually organised by independent non-profit organisations, in Sweden local councils are the direct owners).
Public housing according to this model would also be the equivalent of the a-Volvo-for-every-Swede car policy – back in the good old days, Volvo only made one model, so Wallenberg and Svensson would have to drive the same car. In the same way, Wallenberg would have to live in the same house as Svensson.
In many ways, the Social Democratic strategy has failed.
First, given the opportunity many Swedes preferred owning their own houses to renting a flat (two parameters here).
Second, the rent controls has led to an over-demand and under-supply of rented housing (yes, I know pt. 1 and 2 look a bit strange together but the point is that a city like Stockholm is extremely segregated while there are long waiting-lists for public housing, especially in the central parts of the city).
Third, making public housing a top-down policy controlled by local councils also politicised it. Conservatives and Christian Democrats want to abolish public housing (case in point: Stockholm). Social Democrats want to abolish private housing. (The Danish government wants to sell of large chunks of the public housing as well, but the non-profit status has put some serious blocks on the road).
So what happens when you take a very Social Democratic local council and hire someone from the private sector to run the public housing company?
In the case of UmeŚ, relations between the board of the company and the executive deteriorated within a year to the degree that the latter left “by voluntary agreement” earlier this week. The issue was the reshuffling of managers in the company and the hiring of a poperty manager. The executive felt that she had the authority to recruit and move middle managers. The board felt that was its privilege – the executive could make proposals, but in the end the decisions were up to the board’s.
Brita Natanaelsson may or may not have been the wrong choice as executive – I don’t have any access to relevant information here – but in my humble opinion, the board of Bostaden – that’s the name of UmeŚ’s public housing company – carries the major part of the blame for the conflict.
First, this is 2007. Micromanaging a company politically is right out of the 1950s.
Second, recruiting the executive and giving her a relevant description of her competences is the board’s responsibility. If there has been any lack of clarity, the board needs to reassess its guidelines.