Reform of public services: What role for social dialogue?

Supporting the Reform Process in Local and Regional Government:
Joint evaluation of the experience in different forms of service provision

This study has been carried out by the Working Lives Research Institute on behalf of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) and the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU).


Municipalities across Europe have been trying to cope with a
wide range of pressures that are leading to significant changes
to the way they manage and deliver their services. The resulting
changes to service delivery can have an impact not only on the
quantity and quality of services provided but also on the workers
who are employed to deliver those services. This report is part of
the second phase of a project commissioned by the Council of
European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) and the European
Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU), the European social
partner organisations that are involved in the European sectoral
social dialogue covering local and regional government.
CEMR and EPSU were interested in finding out not just how
municipalities were responding to the various challenges facing
them and the action they were taking but also to see to what
extent social dialogue played a role in that process.

The first section of this report provides an overview of the
drivers for change, the strategies and tactics of local authorities
in responding to these and the implications for the municipal
workforce. At various points in this first section information will
be used from a series of case studies that were carried out to
illustrate how changes have been or are being implemented in
different countries. Further details on each of the case studies
are included in the second section of the report. The aim was
to try to obtain a balanced selection of case studies both in
terms of the countries covered and the services that have
been reformed. The case studies do reflect a reasonable range
of services and different approaches to the reform process,
along with different degrees of involvement of trade unions
through social dialogue. However, it is also clear from some
countries, as earlier reports 1 have confirmed, that the social
dialogue process is relatively weak. This means that in some
instances there has been little or no impact from consultations
and negotiations between the social partners because of the
lack of any effective social dialogue at local level.

The contents of an earlier draft of this report were discussed
at a one-day conference in Brussels on 3 June 2008 involving
representatives of trade unions and employers in local and
regional government at national and European level. A number
of the key points and conclusions made in the conference
debates have been integrated into this report.

Case study background information

The case studies were chosen from an initial group of 10
countries that were agreed by the project steering committee.
The original aim as discussed by the steering committee and
researchers was to try to identify cases where there had been
a change in the delivery of local services and where social
dialogue had been instrumental in ensuring an effective process
of reform. It was agreed that even if the case study uncovered
some disagreements along the way, it would be appropriate
as long as the social partners in the example agreed that the
overall outcome was seen as positive by both sides.

The initial hope was that there would be at least one case study
per country and that it might be possible to choose between
different case studies in order to ensure that the 10 would
cover a range of different services and a variety of different
types of service reform. The intention had also been to focus on
examples where the process of reform had been completed or
at least where a specific reform had been carried out. However,
some case studies have been included even if the final outcome
is not clear because they are positive demonstrations of how the
social partners have been trying to work together in response
to pressures to reform services.

There were four instances where it was decided not to proceed
with detailed case studies but where some information about
the proposed examples is included in the main report as
illustrations of different problems and solutions in tackling
local government reform.

Once the criteria were agreed it was up to the national social
partners in each country to try to recommend possible case
studies. In the end it was not possible in the time available to
identify appropriate case studies in all the 10 countries and so
some countries provided more than one case study.

Evidence for the case studies was gathered through a mixture of
telephone interviews and email questionnaires (see appendix).
In each case at least one senior manager and one trade union
official was interviewed and/or contacted by email. These were
people who had been involved in negotiating the process of
change or who were in a position to report authoritatively on the
process. Where relevant, published information was also used in
the case studies where the facts of the case had been reported
in municipal documents, official reports or other sources.

(July 2008)