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Local public services - public or private management?

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Diego Alejandro Gómez. Secretary for Local Administration

The Constitution of Cadiz said that the purpose of government is the happiness of the nation, since the aim of every political society is none other than the welfare of the individuals who comprise it. Sure enough, even though in recent times we could say that we get the impression that this is, if not anachronistic, then at least romantic phrase. But if there is a political organization that historically this maxim can be applied to without fear, it is the municipalities.

After the restoration of democracy and the first municipal elections 37 years ago, at that time the town councils did what they could, since they practically totally lacked the means to provide the most basic services, not only water supply or sewage, but asphalting of roads, rubbish collection, and even, in many places, to lighting and other basic services, that to new generations would seem unthinkable today more than ever, in the recent past simply did not exist. But with the passage of time, and great strides we have seen the authentic transformation of our local government, in spite of its nineteenth century atomization, and today we can see how in virtually all municipalities of our country provide the basic needs of its population and a huge amount is paid, and unimaginable a few decades ago, as regards public services. And this despite the government's attempt to reduce this range of provision, trying to prevent municipalities promoting all kinds of activities and provide those public services that help meet the needs and aspirations of the local community through its already battered Local Reform Act, after two judgments against the rulings by the Constitutional Court.

Following what has historically been advancing in a better provision of local public services, the choice between whether that provision was to be public or private has increased. The truth is that if today we have the level of service we have, it is through public initiative, since only the government can ensure the provision of these public services and, therefore meet the needs of their residents, as the private has always shown very little interest in those cases which have in consideration the so-called "social prices", for obvious reasons, because the private sector is characterized by, not as an NGO, but companies operating for profit, which is the basis of their existence. Also, the private sector has almost always shown very little attraction for the introduction of innovative services, which, if not by the public initiative would had not been established. However, in return, the public sector has failed, even today, get rid of the yoke of bureaucracy in management and lack of efficiency and effectiveness, in general terms, in its results.

The search for efficiency has been a subject of great interest

Precisely the pursuit of efficiency in local government has been a topic of great interest in the various reforms driven by, and most arising from the crisis and have more to do with financial constraints and budget than with the quality and universality of local provided public services. So the Streamlining and Sustainability of Local Administration law provides for, among other things, that local authorities may exercise public initiative for the provision of economic activities, provided that compliance with the objective of budgetary stability and financial sustainability is ensured in the exercise of its powers, and must contain a market analysis on the provision and the demand, profitability and potential effects of local activity on business competition.

Precisely the rationalization and creation of the local public sector towards a more effective and efficient model for the performance of the powers the law gives local entities through the study and design of a municipal map according to economic and social demographic needs, current and orientated towards more logical service delivery forms to citizens, because in the vast majority of existing "micro municipalities" today, the only guarantee of minimum public services is the Local Administration because being undersized deprives them absolutely of any interest which the private sector may have in them, hence the provincial councils are important for them, although at present they are absolutely mammoth and anachronistic figures, with an obvious lack of direct democratic legitimacy, which would require their transformation and adaptation for engagement in the twenty-first century, but from my point of view, and in contrast to many of the proposals made recently, never to their disappearance or suppression.

As I said, from those first democratic councils, so far there have been situations of expansion and reduction as well as initiatives by private enterprise and the public, all from the internal point of view of the administration, because what the citizen wanted, and as the welfare society advanced, even more insistently, is the provision of useful and quality services. It is true that during a considerable time throughout this period, the municipalities have turned to the private sector for the provision of certain services, basically because it exceeded their own capacity, not only economic, but above all organizational, personal and technical means, however recently this process is reversing, in the "re-municipalisation" of public services and as well through their own means or by inter-municipal formulas or in collaboration with the provincial councils, and is recovering governance of many of these local services.

And here comes the dichotomy: is the management of local services more efficient and balanced if public or private?

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