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Local governments at their limit

Many local authorities in Switzerland are reaching the limits of their capabilities according to a new study. The National Science Foundation has been looking at the problems facing local government and the pace at which reforms have taken place.

This content was published on January 13, 2000 - 20:27

Many of Switzerland's local authorities are reaching the limits of their capabilities according to a study by the Swiss National Science Foundation. For the past two and a half years the Foundation has been looking at the problems facing local government and the pace at which reforms have taken place.

With 2,900 municipalities, Switzerland has many more local authorities than other European countries and around 60 percent of them have fewer than one thousand inhabitants.

Dr Andreas Ladner chaired the Foundation's study and says tasks have become more difficult and more complicated for local authorities and they are having problems filling political offices with suitably qualified people.

Reform is very much the buzzword at the moment in local authorities around the country, and it has been for the past few years, said Ladner. Merging is one option local authorities could choose, but at the moment only eight per cent of them have said this is something they are working towards.

Political and wealth differences are two factors, which prevent some neighbouring authorities from amalgamating, and Ladner says it remains a delicate subject because it threatens much treasured local autonomy. Another reform option is the New Public Management (NPM) system, which aims to treat local government services as a business.

The Science Foundation says NPM has not been easy to introduce either. It has made some headway in larger local authorities in cities, especially in the German speaking part of Switzerland. But it remains relatively unknown in smaller local authorities and in the French and Italian speaking regions.

Andreas Ladner says the Swiss system of local government is very much rooted in the past and it has not changed much in the last one hundred years. He says whatever reform path a local authority decides to take will have an impact on everyone.

Merging would create larger municipalities in which the individual's influence on local politics would probably decrease. The emphasis on cost-effectiveness under NPM leaves some unanswered questions about how it would effect local services.

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