Expert warns of collapsing municipalities: ‘They are being entrapped’

Expert warns of collapsing municipalities: ‘They are being entrapped’

Municipalities are confronted with increasingly complex problems. A few years ago they were responsible for youth care, recently the energy transition was added. That would be too much, warns Douwe Jan Elzinga, professor of constitutional law at the University of Groningen.

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Elzinga: “The municipality is now responsible for child psychiatry. Of course that’s not possible,” he explains.

The professor said: “Council members are basically amateurs in this field. Then you blame them for such complex files. You shouldn’t want this. They’re trapped,” he says.

In Elzinga’s case, the municipality should never have been responsible for youth care. “Perhaps municipalities can play a role in reporting that something is wrong, but not in further steps. We just do something, it’s a lottery.”

Most municipal money buys a mandatory destination from The Hague

Elzinga has been researching the role of municipalities at the Ministry of the Interior for the past two years. At the end of last year, he published his report with recommendations for the cabinet.

For example, he recommends strengthening the position of the Minister of the Interior (now Hanke Bruins Slot), so that municipalities have more say in what they should and should not do.

Municipalities should also be given more control over the money they receive from the municipal fund of the central government, their main source of financing. Elzinga notes that this does not necessarily mean more money.

The average budget of Dutch municipalities is already high, much higher than other European municipalities. However, most of this money goes from The Hague to a mandatory destination. ‘You can’t play politics with that,’ says Elzinga.

He sees libraries and swimming pools closing because there are financial shortages in youth care. “Of course a councilor wants to do something for society. That’s why someone chooses local politics. Then you cut costs because you get all kinds of tasks from the national government.”

“A large number of tasks are added every three years”

According to Elzinga, the result is an extremely high turnover in the number of advisors. “After a four-year term, about a third of councilors will retire. This is extraordinarily high. You come to a municipality to do something, but 80% of the time you are involved in complex work.”

Minister Bruins Slot recently said in a letter to the House of Representatives that he considers Elzinga’s recommendations to be a “significant handful”. He will first talk to the representatives of the municipalities to find out what they think.

The teacher hopes that something will change. “Every three years, a large package of missions is added. From 2023, for example, environmental law will be complex. Municipalities will eventually succumb to it.”

Source: NU