Okay, this one managed to get overlooked in reports until today but this weekend’s agreement between the Danish government and the Association of Local Governments (Rebranded as Local Government Denmark) includes an interesting administrative reform which will see the administrative responsibility for a number of social transfers transferred from the local governments to a state agency from 2012.
While the reform may have been born out of a predicament – the government had to offer local councils something in return for demands for budget savings – it puts Denmark into the European mainstream where state agencies handle national social security programmes while local councils are left with social services and basic welfare benefits. Denmark has always deviated from the European standard as old-age pensions since the introduction of the first old-age relief legislation were administered by local councils. Over the years a number of transfers have been added to the portfolio of local government tasks such as sickness benefits, child benefits, housing benefits, maternity benefits and lastly disability pensions. As it was, only unemployment benefits were kept out of local government control and administered by the unemployment funds.
Generally, the benefits listed above are statutory: While local councils considers and formally decide applications, the criteria for receiving the benefits and the size of the benefits have been put down in the legislation so councils and case-workers do not have any discretion.
The agreement, on the other hand, means that the present ATP, which handles a superannuation programme, will be transformed into a national agency handling a number of transfer programmes. In short: Denmark is getting an agency which in many ways equals the Swedish Försäkringskassan. One big difference – and one which will make life much easier for the ATP+ Agency than for Försäkringskassan – is that ATP+ will only handle what in bureaucratspeak is called “objective case considerations” – importantly, sickness benefits will not be transferred from local councils to the new agency, at least not to begin with.
While the agency covers the entire country, its five branches will be concentrated in the major cities so here we see a repeat of the administrative reforms of the Tax Administration (which was transferred from the local councils to the state some years ago), the police and the courts which have all seen their work concentrated in fewer, bigger branches. The expectation is that citizens (or customers or whatever we are in the world of new public management) will service themselves through websites. This, incidentally, has a parallel in recent reforms of Försäkringskassan.
Besides sickness benefits and some parts of the disability pension, local councils will be left with a number of social services and in many ways this fits with the distribution of portfolios at the ministerial level where the Employment Ministry now effectively is an Employment and Social Insurance Ministry while the Social Affairs Ministry effectively is the Social Services Ministry. The interesting question is if and when the state will move the some or all of remaining transfers from the local to the state level.