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Innovation of sub-national governmental level
Average reader rating: 10  
by Vernieuwingsimpuls 07 the future of Countries & Democracies

Institutional en cultural renewal in provincial and local government in the Netherlands

Main problems of provincial and local government

1. The position of the political parties in the system of representative democracy is under threat. The turnout at local elections is falling. New, more direct forms of participation and influence are emerging.

2. Although the monistic theory treats the municipal council as the policy-making body of the municipality, its role tends in practice to be confined to scrutinising the policy of the municipal executive (i.e. the mayor and aldermen). Conversely, the municipal executive is theoretically subordinate to the council, but in practice it is the executive which has the upper hand. This discrepancy between theory and practice makes the relationships between the various bodies in the municipal system opaque and confusing.

3. It is hard to recognise local government as a forum of political decision-making because there is no clear separation between the powers of government and scrutiny. Political decision-making is therefore an introverted process between administrative authorities that have overlapping responsibilities.


In the view of the Dutch government, separation of the positions of the council and the executive (referred to below as ‘dualisation’) is first of all a means of establishing a clear division of responsibilities between the organs of local government at municipal level and, second, a necessary condition for making local democracy more accessible to new forms of participation. The roles and positions of council and executive will be clear and more recognisable, thereby promoting public debate, facilitating public accountability and allowing active scrutiny to take place.

Dualisation on local and provincial level will be brought about because the aldermen will not longer be a member of the council en because the executive board will be clearly separated from control on its own policy-actions and administration. Furthermore, the regulative, budgeting and controlling competencies will be strengthened, amongst other thing by introducing an audit office function, a clerk for the council and a right of inquiry. The executive board is concerned with administrative competencies and fulfils the executive tasks.

(More information about "dualisation" in English can be found in a pdf document; about 33 kb).

Structural and cultural change is essential for dualisation practice

Dutch Government strives for change of structure and culture to create a dualistic practice at sub-national levels of the public sector.
For structural change several laws will be changed (municipal law, provincial law, all kinds of laws in which competencies are assigned to sub-national institutions, and finally, the Constitution too will be changed). However, structural change will have to bring about a change of culture. This cultural change is shaped by the so-called "Innovation Boost". This programme is set up in co-operation with the Unions of Dutch municipalities and provinces.

Purpose of the process of cultural change of the Innovation Boost is to bring about a government at sub-national level which operates in a more dualistic way, in which the members of the local council concentrate more on creating conditions, setting frameworks, control and representation than on executive and administrative matters, and in which the Executive Board concentrates on preparation and implementation of decisions an administration. In this way the citizens should be assured of local and provincial government of high quality and transparency.

This is done by developing and offering means and instruments, with which and by which all those concerned with local democracy can implement dualisation in their municipality. Besides, discussion (societal debate) which already has come about, will be stimulated and deepened. The boost should lead to broad contemplation about the ways in which local democracy can be strengthened further in a "dualised" system of local government, so that in the end this regains transparency for the citizens. The ambition of the "Innovation Boost" is to bring about a continuous and especially a broadly supported process of vitalising local democracy. This "Innovation Boost" lasts from 2000 till 2007.

The following Instruments are used in the innovation-process:
a) a pilot project with 18 municipalities and 4 provinces, in which cultural changes in a dualistic sense are experienced;
b) innovation networks in which 100 local and 12 provincial authorities exchange their experiences about implementing dualisation;
c) different kinds of information about specific aspects of dualisation (support by public servant experts, election-procedures, models for profiles of representatives in local councils);
d) a website with a high hit rate ( - this site; in Dutch only).
e) organisation of conferences and smaller scale meetings;
f) research and investigations;
g) help-desk for questions and remarks on dualisation;
h) giving information about the large range of training facilities for political officials and public servants.

Please also take a look at the:
Articles, Links, the Club of Amsterdam Forum
and the Club of Amsterdam event about 'Re-Inventing Democracies for the Future'

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