Learning from Denmark

The Williams Commission refers approvingly of Denmark, noting that it has reformed its local government system in the last decade and asserting that Denmark has acted in accord with the principles set out by the Commission. So let’s look at the reformed system of local government in Denmark. 

Since the Danish reform, which took a decade of intense negotiation to achieve,  the 5.6 million people of Denmark have been served by 98 municipal authorities with an average population of 56,000 and a minimum population of 20,000. This means that Wales’ smallest authority, Merthyr Tydfil, would be the average local authority in Denmark. 

Danish municipal authorities are responsible for everything a Welsh unitary authority is responsible for apart from secondary schools which in Denmark are a central government function. They are responsible for social services, primary health care, primary schools, planning, highways and transport, environmental services and in addition they have responsibility for ensuring local supplies of water, gas and electricity. Over 90% of their funding is through local taxation including local income taxes and local corporation tax. Equalisation of resources according to need is achieved through a central grant of just 10% of total income. 

The Danish hospital system is provided by 5 elected regional authorities. 

Wales should not seek to mimic Denmark but we can certainly learn from this successful small country. We would learn that success is achieved by maintaining far more decentralisation than Williams recommends.

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