Ministry of the Interior
Copenhagen, April 1996
In this edition of Municipalities and Counties in Denmark, published by the Ministry of the Interior, the description of local authority tasks and of local authority organisation and finance has been updated to reflect the situation in 1996.
The present publication appears at a time when a total reform of the financing of municipalities and counties has come into effect - namely as of 1996. Currently, there is also much discussion of local government structure, not least in connection with a reform in the Copenhagen Metropolitan Area.
The purpose of this publication is to provide an overview of local government in Denmark - the organisation of municipalities and counties, how expenditure is financed, and who handles the various tasks. The description includes the entire local government sector comprising both municipalities and counties as well as the unitary authorities of the cities of Copenhagen and Frederiksberg.
Minister of the Interior
Before 1970, Denmark was divided into 86 boroughs and about 1300 parishes within 25 counties. The distinction between boroughs and parishes dates from a time when urban and rural districts were more clearly differentiated. In many places, however, the urban expansion of boroughs had extended across the boundaries of neighbouring parishes. In 1970, a comprehensive local government reform reduced the number of local authorities considerably. The reform restructured local government and introduced a new division of tasks and finance and equalization.
The structural reform reduced the number of county authorities to 14 and the number of primary level municipalities to 275, including the cities of Copenhagen and Frederiksberg, which are unitary authorities with responsibility for both municipal authority and county authority tasks. As a result of the reform, one urban area was now located within one local authority, and this ensured that the inhabitants of an urban community gained access to more uniform local service, and that taxes were the same in all areas of a community. In 1995, the number of inhabitants in (primary level) municipalities was between 2,400 and 473,000, and county authorities had between 45,000 and 619,000 inhabitants. The average was 19,000 and 326,000 inhabitants, respectively, in municipal and county authorities.
With the reform of tasks, more administrative tasks were devolved on local government. The reform created local authorities that were big enough to carry the costs of a professional administration. This meant that many tasks connected with the local communities could be transferred from the state to local authorities at primary or county level. The reform also made it possible to create simpler systems of economic equalization among local authorities and created more adequate population units for solving local authority tasks.
The reform of finance and equalization meant a gradual development towards general state grants and economic equalization among the local authorities. Formerly, the state funded a certain share of local government expenditure through reimbursements. The change from reimbursements to general grants was based on the desire for a stronger connection between local government competence and economic responsibility than was possible with the reimbursement system. At the same time, this change meant that local authorities could prioritise more freely among their many tasks.
Figure 1. Number of municipalities according to the number of inhabitants 1995
In the Metropolitan Area, Copenhagen and Frederiksberg authorities enjoy a special status in that they are both municipal authorities and county authorities. The Metropolitan Area comprises the unitary local authorities of Copenhagen and Frederiksberg and the counties of Copenhagen, Frederiksborg, and Roskilde - the area in figures 2 and 3.
In order to prevent too great inequalities from developing among the
individual authorities within the Metropolitan Area, equalization is
particularly strong here so that municipal metropolitan authorities are granted
more uniform opportunities.
Public administration consists of state and local government administra- tion. State administration comprises both central services and various local services. Local government administration comprises counties and municipalities. Counties do not have responsibility for municipalities. Municipalities and counties have separate tasks.
The ministries are at the top of central government administration. Most ministries administer legislation relating to particular subject areas such as housing and social affairs. Each ministry is headed by a minister, who is a member of the Government. The minister has executive administrative power, i.e. in principle s/he can take all decisions her/himself within the area of the ministry, but in practice competence is delegated to administrative bodies in several areas.
Directorates are central government bodies belonging to a ministry. Normally, their function is to make specific decisions within a specified area and to advise the minister. Normally directorates are subordinate to the ministry department, but in some cases they have a more independent position.
Other types of administrative bodies are councils and boards. They are not only found at the central level, but also regionally and locally, and may be quite differently composed and have a diversity of functions. Their common characteristic is that competence is shared by several people. Typically, they are made up of a broad selection of specialists in order to ensure that decisions are based on a variety of points of view.
At the regional level there are 14 state counties, which are geographically coextensive with the county authorities. In some areas, Copenhagen state county includes the local authority of Frederiksberg. The local authority of Copenhagen has its own Prefect's Office.
Each state county is headed by a state county governor(prefect) appointed by the Government. The state counties deal mainly with family law matters, e.g. the granting of separation and divorce. Each state county also has a supervisory council, which supervises municipalities. The prefect is chairman of the supervisory council. Furthermore, each state county has a social services board of appeal, a rehabilitation board and a pensions board. Outside Copenhagen and Frederiksberg, the state counties are secretariats to the boards, and the prefect is chairman of the boards. In addition, some state counties are responsible for the local administration of military service.
The police, regional customs and tax offices, job placement services are other instances of local state authorities.