Local government is based on the citizens' right to handle - through their own representatives - a number of local and regional tasks within their own municipality and county. Section 82 of the Danish Constitution reads as follows:
The right of the municipalities to manage their own affairs independently under the supervision of the State shall be laid down by Statute.
The section makes it clear that a number of public tasks are devolved on municipalities and counties, but also that the extent to which this takes place is laid down by the Government and Parliament. It also appears that municipalities and counties are to be subject to state supervision.
The rules concerning local government are laid down in the Local Government Act of 31 May, 1968 with later amendments. The act provides identical rules for all municipalities and county authorities - except for the municipality of Copenhagen, the government of which is regulated by a separate act. The Local Government Act contains provisions for governing bodies - municipal councils, county councils, committees, and mayors. It also lays down certain rules concerning the economic management of local authorities, and finally it contains provisions for the way in which local authorities should be supervised. The contents of the act will be described in the following sections.
The individual municipal and county councils must decide on a bylaw laying down rules for the number of committees and their tasks and other matters. Municipal and county councils are also responsible for creating administrative services.
The Local Government Act lays down that local affairs are decided on by the local council. This means that the local council is at once to lead and to be responsible for the entire local authority organisation. The local council can demand that any matter is to be put before the council for discussion and decision (except social cases involving personal matters). Similarly, the county council is the superior body in a county.
Local elections take place every four years in accordance with the provisions in the Local Government Election Act, which also lays down rules for who may vote and who is eligible for election.
The number of members of municipal councils must be an uneven figure, not less than 9 and not more than 31. The same applies to county councils.
Each local council elects a chairman among its members, the mayor. It is the mayor's duty to prepare, call and chair all meetings of the local council, and also to prepare a draft agenda. The mayor is also head of local administration and in that capacity must also ensure that decisions by the local council are executed.
In matters of particular urgency the mayor is authorised to make decisions on behalf of the local council, but the mayor cannot make decisions on matters that come within the sphere of a committee or matters that are being dealt with by the administration.
In Copenhagen, the local council is called Borgerrepræsentationen, i.e. the citizens' representation. The number of members is laid down in the Copenhagen bylaw. Currently there are 55 members. The Government Act explicitly and indispensably refers certain competencies to the local council as part of its governing function, such as passing the annual budget and the annual account, passing certain rates and charges, passing loan contracts and undertaking guarantees, etc.
With regard to other local authority tasks it is assumed that they are undertaken by the local council, other local authority bodies and the administration in conjunction.
The Local Government Act lays down that after an election each municipal council and county council must set up a finance committee and at least one other permanent or 'standing' committee, which are to be responsible for the administration of local authority tasks. The mayor is chairman of the finance committee. The chairman of a standing commit- tee is appointed by the majority in the committee.
The tasks of the finance committee are set down in all essentials in the Government Act. The committee is responsible for the finances of the local authority, for coordinating planning and administration in the authority, and is to be consulted in all matters pertaining to economic and administrative affairs before they are put before the council. The principal task is putting forward proposals for the local authority budget on the basis of budget contributions from the other committee(s).
The committee structure of the local authorities varies considerably today. However, most local authorities have a social services committee, a technical and environmental committee, and a committee for education and culture.
In practice, the standing committee(s) and the scivil servants in the local administration make decisions on the vast majority of cases.
In addition to the standing committees, special committees may be set up to attend to special duties or to perform preparatory or advisory functions for the local council, the finance committee or the standing committees. Special committees may have members who are not members of the local council. Special committees may be set up at any time in an election period.
In the four big municipalities of Odense, Aalborg, Århus, and Copen- hagen, the municipal council ('Borgerrepræsentationen' in Copenhagen) elects a so-called magistracy consisting of a mayor (lord mayor) and a number of aldermen (mayors). Unlike the committee chairmen, aldermen are elected by the method of proportional representation.
The magistracy is responsible for the tasks that come under the standing committees in other municipalities. Tasks that come under the finance committee in other municipalities are partly handled collectively by the magistracy in magistracy authorities, partly by the mayor's department.
The administration in magistracy authorities is divided into a number of departments headed by the mayor and each of the aldermen.
The Local Government Act grants local authorities permission to cooperate in ways that restrict the competence of the individual local councils participating in the agreement. Such agreements must be approved by the supervisory authority of local authorities.
An independent governing body established by approved agreement in this manner is called a joint local authority corporation.
Joint local authority corporations, e.g. transport companies, natural gas companies and refuse collection companies, are independent authorities and as such are counted as public administration. This applies even when - as is often the case - they have been established as private companies (partnerships).
In compliance with other legislation, local authorities set up numerous commissions and boards in addition to committees, each of them with separate powers.
The Emergency Act requires each municipality to set up an emergency commission, which is responsible for direct administration of local emergency rescue services. The commission is made up of the mayor, the chief constable and a majority elected by the local council.
Each municipality also sets up a youth and adult education commission with independent power to carry out tasks according to the Youth and Adult Education Act. The committee is made up of a majority of user representatives and a minority appointed by the local council.
The children and youth commission decides on placement of children and youths away from their home. The commission is made up of three municipal councillors, a city court judge, and a pedagogical and psychological expert.
The tax appeal board deals with complaints about decisions made by the local tax authorities. Each municipality has a tax appeal board. Members of the board are elected among citizens in the municipality by the municipal council.
Each school has a school board, which supervises matters in the school. A school board has 5 parent representatives and 2 representatives of teachers and other employees in the school. The municipal council decides whether representatives of the school are to have the right to vote. If this right is granted, the number of parent representatives is increased to 7. In addition, 2 pupil representatives are elected. The municipal council decides if pupil representatives can vote on certain matters.
For each municipality day-care centre for children, a parent board with a majority of elected parents is set up. The board includes 2 representatives elected by and among the people working in the institution. The municipal council decides whether or not representatives of the institution are to have a vote.
Every local authority has an administration that serves the local council and the committees. Normally the administration has several departments, e.g. a technical department, a social and health services department, a finance department, an education and leisure services department, and a tax department. In county authorities, the administration is typically made up of the central administration and various departments - for hospital administration or health service, social welfare, education and culture, and a department for technical administration.
The Local Government Act makes no provisions concerning local administration. Therefore there are no restrictions on the liberty of local councils to organise local administration. It is the responsibility of the local council, the finance committee and the mayor that the administration functions satisfactorily.
There are specific provisions regarding local authority budgets and accounts. By September 15 of each year, the finance committee of all local authorities must have prepared a budget proposal for the following budget year. The proposal must be put before the local council on two occasions, and the budget must be approved no later than October 15. The budget for the following year is accompanied by an estimate of the budgets for the next three years. The estimated budgets are revised each year. The Ministry of the Interior formulates the rules concerning specification of local authority spending and the rules governing the local authority budgeting and accounting system.
The present local authority budgeting and accounting system was introduced in 1977. Firstly, the budgeting and accounting system was standardised for all municipal and county authorities. This has made it possible to compare one local authority with another, cf. the annual key figures published by the Ministry of the Interior. Secondly, budget estimates covering several years were introduced, so that decision-making authorities receive information about the estimated development in expenditure over a period of several years.
Agreements and settlements for local authority employees are negotiated between local authority organisations and the municipalities of Copenhagen and Frederiksberg and approved by the Local Authority Wage Board. The Local Authority Wage Board has been set up as laid down in section 67 of the Local Government Act. The function of the Board is regulated by the Ministry of the Interior order concerning the Local Authority Wage Board. The function of the Wage Board is to approve decisions concerning salaries and conditions of employment for local government employees.
The Board consists of 12 members appointed by the Minister of the Interior. 3 are appointed on the recommendation of the National Associa- tion of County Councils, 6 on the recommendation of the National Association of Local Authorities, 2 on the recommendation of Copen- hagen Borgerrepræsentation, and 1 member on the recommendation of the municipality of Frederiksberg. The main task of the Wage Board is to coordinate the interests of local government employers in connection with negotiated agreements.