Frikommuner – Lessons on local authority freedom to innovate from Denmark?

April 7, 2011 at 9:45 am Leave a comment

By Peter Baeck

As part of our work on Radical Efficiency, and its analysis of what the UK could learn from radical innovations from across the world that have delivered better, lower cost and very different public services, we recommend the establishment of Radical Efficiency zones in 20 pioneering localities across the UK:

We believe that the right next step is a series of radical efficiency zones. These would create the space and encourage the aspiration in local authorities to rethink how they can improve the quality of people’s lives in their area.(Gillinson S, et al (2010) Radical Efficiency. NESTA)

While our wish to see Radical Efficiency zones grow in local authorities across the UK hasn’t come through yet, there might be some inspiration on how to create these zones Denmark

The Danish government has just announced the establishment of 9 ‘frikommuner’ which translates in to free local authorities. The overarching concept is that these nine local authorities will be freed from many central government regulations, to enable them to redesign services within a specific area that they choose, such as primary schooling, social care or unemployment/welfare to work services.

Although it still very early days with the ‘frikommune’ concept, and most of the participating local authorities still have to decide on what area they want to focus on and how they want to redesign the solution, there are a already now a few encouraging lessons from the program. First of all, local authorities want to do this. 21 out of Denmark’s 98 local authorities applied to be in the programme. In a time where local authorities are facing significant cuts, having more than a fifth volunteering for the programme says something about the energy and aspiration to be innovative and challenge conventional thinking about what their public services should look like. Secondly, the quality of applications was so high, that the Minister of the Interior in Denmark almost doubled the amount of ‘frikommune’ pilots from the planned 5 to 9.

This is however not all bliss, and as always, there is a snake in paradise. Some local authorities are complaining that the process of becoming a free local authority is in itself so bureaucratic that many have given up on applying to participate. From my perspective, the worst thing that could happen now is that the enthusiasm shown by local authorities to participate and be pilots is stifled by central government bureaucracy.

 It will be interesting to follow the development of the Danish frikommuner’. I’m crossing my fingers for their success, both for them and their citizens, but also for the potential lessons that could generate for local authorities and central government in the UK.

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Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

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