A study involving mayors and municipal secretaries has shown that deregulation is still a popular notion, including in municipalities. ‘It’s remarkable that deregulation in municipalities mainly leads to improved service’, according to Heinrich Winter of the University of Groningen. He conducted research amongst mayors and municipal secretaries – the leading civil servants – into what deregulation at a local level entails. ‘It’s clear that neither less regulations nor relinquishing responsibilities to private enterprise are being considered.’ The research was conducted with an eye to the founding of the Netherlands Institute for Law and Governance (NILG), a new institute that will concern itself with legal research into the relationship between public and private interests.
Deregulation is mainly associated with decreasing and simplifying rules and regulations. Improving service only comes in third place, according to mayors and municipal secretaries. Deregulation sounds good, but is mainly a tricky, elusive subject. Mayors and municipal secretaries feel it’s necessary because government wants too much. The risk-free society the national government is striving towards is alluded to in this context.
However, a decrease and simplification of rules and regulations is not what is going on in municipalities. At a local level improving service is the main field of investment. National government initiatives are also usually read in this context. In general, municipalities are sceptical of initiatives taken at a national level. Any reduction in rules on the one hand is counteracted on the other by even more new rules. It’s striking that there were many complaints about environmental licensing.
However, there is a lot going on at the local level. Municipalities are particularly creative at thinking up ways to improve service. Using IT to improve service is very popular. Municipalities also concentrate on expediting the decision-making process and simplifying licensing obligations. Concrete examples of successful deregulatory initiatives often mentioned to us were the abolition of the felling licence and the licence for small events. Another deregulatory success story that was fairly often mentioned was the scaling back of the general municipal bye-laws. Many of the other initiatives mentioned had to do with ‘smart service’: simplifying forms, having one contact point for businesses, automated application procedures, having to only submit details once and concentrating the licensing procedures.
‘Deregulation’ has been the catch-all phrase for many municipal projects that have began in recent years aimed at improving service for inhabitants and businesses. Municipalities have given a great deal of priority to implementing IT in their contacts with the outside world. Going about their day-to-day business, mayors and municipal secretaries seem completely uninterested in the more fundamental questions surrounding the marketplace and government. ‘Just let us see to the real work providing the service to citizens which is important to them at a local level and conduct the debate on principles somewhere else,’ seems to be the general opinion.
Heinrich Winter (1962) is a part-time Assistant Professor in Administrative Law and Public Administration at the Faculty of Law of the University of Groningen and head of the Pro Facto research and advice bureau. He studied Public Administration, Public Law and Sociology in Groningen and gained his PhD in 1996 researching how legislation functions and supervision and enforcement.
More information: Dr Heinrich Winter; tel. 06-5151 09 74.
The research was conducted within the framework of the founding of the Netherlands Institute for Law and Governance (NILG), a cooperation between the University of Groningen and VU University Amsterdam (see NILG)
The study results will be discussed together with a number of related studies during the congress entitled ‘Publiek/privaat: vervlechten of ontvlechten?’ [Public/private: interweave or disentangle?] to be held on 16 November 2009 in Groningen.
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