To what extent does central government ensure that subnational self-governments realize national standards of public services?

Central government effectively ensures that subnational self-governments realize national standards of public services.
National laws set standard with varying degrees of discretion for local authorities. The central government can supervise whether standards are met through benchmarks and tests and can require that performance indicators be published, such as hospital waiting lists, school performance results, and so on. Here, too, an active press plays a role in exposing problems, and the central government, which is ultimately responsible politically, can intervene by setting stricter standards or transferring extra money to certain activities. Rhetorical action, such as shaming underachievers, is also sometimes part of the strategy.

An example of the tension between central government concerns for welfare arrangements and local authorities’ push for flexibility and freedom are proposals to introduce minimum standards for various public services, which intend to reduce variation across the municipalities.
Jørgen Grønnegård Christensen et al, Politik og forvaltning. 4th ed., 2017.
Policymakers in France share a common interest in ensuring national cohesion. This is the basis for a large number of national standards and rules that frame local and regional policies. National standards are determined by national regulations and constitutional and administrative courts serve as arbiters in disputes over whether these standards are met. The application of national standards is facilitated by the fact that most public utilities are provided by large private or semi-public companies with a vested interest in having the same rules and standards across the country. Services such as energy supply, water distribution or garbage collection are run by many different companies, most of which belong to two or three holding companies. Following protests by businesses and local politicians against a flood of norms and standards, the government has started a review and implemented a number of “simplification” measures, in particular for small communes. However, no significant results have as yet been observed, with the exception of the construction sector, where norms have been simplified after the initial imposition of extremely cumbersome rules and standards. But the French state is as yet unable to control the full implementation of these standards effectively.
Central government largely ensures that subnational self-governments realize national standards of public services.
A diverse set of special laws set national minimum standards for the provision of local government services. These laws relate particularly to primary education, child protection, and standards of social services. Nevertheless, central government monitors compliance with some standards, and has even raised certain standards to an unattainable level in view of the financial support available to local governments.
Japanese government authorities put great emphasis on the existence of reasonable unitary standards for the provision of public services. The move toward decentralization makes it particularly important to raise standards for the local provision of public services. Within the central government, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications is in charge of this task, which involves direct supervision, personnel transfers between central and local entities, and training activities. While a 2000 reform abolished local entities’ agency functions in a strict sense (with direct administrative supervision losing some importance as compared to legal and judicial supervision), other channels have remained important. At the local and particularly the prefectural level, there is an elaborate training system that is linked in various ways to national-level standards. The government seeks to promote evidence-based policymaking through new data platforms, which are also meant to support local governments in the implementation of plan-do-check-adjust cycles.

A unified digital “My Number Card” system (based on the new social-security and tax number system) was introduced for citizens in 2015 to help authorities provide and enforce uniform services. However, this system is facing sustained opposition and foot-dragging by citizens. The government has implemented a variety of initiatives seeking to increase usage, including the use of these cards as health insurance cards.
My Number law takes effect amid privacy fears, The Japan Times, 5 October 2015,

Japan to Allow Use of My Number Cards as Health Insurance Cards,, 15 February 2019,

Cabinet Office, Basic Policy on Economic and Fiscal Management and Reform 2017 – Increasing productivity through investment in human resources, Overview, 9 June 2017
The Ministry of the Interior provides support to local administrations. As part of a series of territorial reforms, the administration responsible for monitoring municipal finances will be integrated within the existing national Court of Auditors (Cour des Comptes). The government is not entirely free to optimize and improve local government.

State planning has been criticized by municipalities due to the Ministry of the Interior’s failure to publish a land-use plan (“Plan d’aménagement général” or “Flächennutzungsplan,” PAG). This means that the country’s planning procedures continue to vary significantly across municipalities.

Municipalities were asked to adapt their PAGs to the Law on Local Land Use and Urban Development from 19 July 2004. As of the time of writing (October 2019), 50 municipalities have failed to comply with this request, despite the threat of sanctions.

Even after 15 years, half of the country’s municipalities have yet to adapt their development plans to the law. As a result, the Ministry of the Interior has taken some of the blame because the new municipal land-use law has proved to be too difficult. A sub-development plan (“Plan d’aménagement particulier” or “Teil-Bebauungsplan,” PAP) ultimately had to be published for all construction projects.
Gantenbein, Michèle: “Die unendliche PAG-Geschichte.” Luxemburger Wort, 13 April 2018. Accessed 24 Oct. 2019.
The Norwegian government is committed to providing public services that are as uniform as possible across the country. Given the large distances involved, and the remoteness of some regions, this implies that peripheral parts of the country receive large (and expensive) transfers, both directly and in the form of infrastructure investments.

Although services are reasonably uniform across the country, this has not been the case for local government performance in all respects, in particular with respect to financial management.

A number of bodies including the regional prefects (fylkesmannen), the national ombudsman, and similar agencies in the fields of health, patients’ rights and more have been established to ensure the effective and uniform application of rules.
Since local authorities have the constitutional right to use their own discretion, the central government has limited capacity to ensure that national standards are consistently met. Local governments are separate from the central government, with municipal authorities recognized as existing independently of the state. Still, appeals to administrative courts regarding decisions taken by local authorities are possible on grounds that the decisions were not made in proper order or were otherwise illegal. In certain and very few specific matters, such as environmental or social-care issues, local government decisions must be confirmed by state authorities. A reform of municipalities and services, now ongoing for years, aims to increase the effectiveness of public-services provision in peripheral regions and improve local governments’ fiscal sustainability. Such a reform is likely to enhance the status of the subnational level further vis-à-vis the national level. However, the extent to which these reforms will meet the stated goals remains an open and much-debated question
German federalism impedes the application of national standards because both states and local governments enjoy considerable autonomy. Public services are provided by various levels of government: the federal administration, the administrations of federal states, municipalities, indirect public administrations (institutions subject to public law with specific tasks, particularly in the area of social security), nonpublic and nonprofit institutions (e.g., kindergartens or youth centers), and finally judicial administrations. While some standards have a national character and thus have to be respected at all levels, this is not the case in areas such as education. A certain harmonization of implementation and enforcement is achieved through a process of tight coordination between federal and state governments and particularly among the individual state governments.
Most of the main public services (health, social welfare, education, public transport, building and maintaining the primary national road network, and, since 2014, the provision of water services) are provided by the central government or national public utility companies; there is little scope for subnational governments to influence standards.

The attainment of national (or, more usually now, EU) levels of public services is prescribed and monitored in other areas where local government plays a greater role, notably environmental services and standards.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plays a key role in enforcing standards across the country. The Office of Environmental Enforcement supervises the environmental protection activities of local authorities by auditing their performance, providing advice and guidance, and in some cases giving binding directions. It can assist the public in bringing prosecutions against local authorities found to be in breach of significant legislation. In other areas – the provision of social housing, maintenance of local roads and other such issues – the attainment of national standards is largely constrained by the resources made available by the central government. There is significant variation between local providers in these areas.
The provision of local services in Israel is dispersed between many agents, including local authorities, NGOs, government and municipal corporations and institutions such as public and private hospitals. The bulk of social services are provided by local authorities proportionally funded according to their revenues and share of dependents. While some local authorities fair well and offer supplementary social support, weaker local authorities (e.g., largely Arab or Orthodox Jewish municipalities) struggle to maintain government standards. This incited the expansion of central government’s authorities during the 2000s, authorizing the Ministry of the Interior to closely supervise and even to dissolve councils that fail to deliver proper services, at the cost of a less democratic local representation.

Another solution is the advancement of service treaties in local authorities which aim to standardize local services used by residents while informing residents of their rights and the level of general services in their city or town. A branch of the Ministry of the Interior reviews this process with pilot cities showing positive results. In recent years, many local authorities have taken part of this process and published information regarding local services on their website. Additionally, the privatization of social services continues to exhibit problems as weak social ministries struggle to regulate the quality and content of care. Several reports on education services point to ideological conflicts and poor management as well as an increase in the share of privately financed activities and consequent inequality.
Bersler-Gonen, Rotem, “Service treaty in local government in Israel – review,” Ministry of the interior website (December 2011) (Hebrew)

Dagan-Buzaglo, Noga, “Aspects in privatization in the education system,” Adva Center 2010. (Hebrew)

Detal, Lior, “The Ministry of Education inc.: This is how hundreds of private bodies receive some 11 billion shekels,” TheMarker 5.10.2014: m/news/education/1.2450395 (Hebrew).

Paz־Fuchs, Amir and Bensimhon־Peleg, Sarit, “On the seam between the public and the private: Privatization and nationalization in Israel: Annual report 2013,” The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, 2014 (Hebrew)

Specktor, Shiri, “Social rights and personal social services in Israel,” The Knesset Research Center 21.10.2010: (Hebrew)

“Local government in Israel,” Knesset website (Hebrew)

“On nominated councils and democracy,” Hithabrut website (NGO) (Hebrew)

Local government in Israel, Knesset website: l/lexicon/eng/LocalAuthorities_eng. Htm

“Quality of service provided to residents of local authorities,” State Comptroller, 2016 (Hebrew):

The citizen’s empowerment center in Israel: the implantation of the movement’s decision to establish a regulatory authority over hospitals – review – April 2016:
New Zealand
There is a dense network of agencies that are involved with the development and monitoring of local government, including the minister of local government, the Department of Internal Affairs, the Local Government Commission, Local Government New Zealand (representing local councils on the national level), the Office of the Controller and Auditor General, the Office of the Ombudsman and the parliamentary commissioner for the environment. Their roles range from strategic development, policy formulation, regulation and monitoring, to handling complaints about the activities and operation of local government. At the end of 2013, a comprehensive reform program, “Better Local Government” was introduced, whose provisions form part of the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Act 2014. In June 2017, the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill (No 2) passed its second parliamentary reading, which includes the Better Local Services reforms. The bill would have continued the general trend of increasing central government scrutiny and control over local government. The bill was the subject of criticism, especially in Auckland with its relatively new “super city” structure and population of 1.4 million. However, smaller municipalities had also been critical of the reforms, describing them as being undemocratic, especially the “draconian” powers granted to the Local Government Commission. Following the September 2017 election and the change of government, the bill was not moved forward to the third reading. Tensions between central and local government over the allocation of responsibility continue to be felt in areas such as housing, especially over local governments’ perceived slowness in granting building permits and in maintaining environmental standards.
New Zealand Parliament 2018. Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill (No 2).
Woolf, Amber-Leigh, 2016. Minister says Better Local Services reforms not a ‘threat to democracy’ or forced amalgamation. 3 August 2016
South Korea
The Ministry of Public Administration and Security, created through a merger of earlier agencies, is in charge of ensuring that local governments maintain national minimum standards. However, many local governments, particularly in rural areas, have much lower professional standards than does the city government of Seoul or the central government. While the provision of basic services is similar in all regions, there is a huge difference in the provision of additional services such as recreation facilities between affluent (i.e., self-sufficient) areas like Seoul and the country’s southeast and those less prosperous (i.e., dependent on transfer payments) regions in the southwest. For instance, a number of local governments have recently begun paying child benefits greater than those dictated by national standards. As local-government autonomy develops, a greater number of customized policies are being introduced for residents.
The Swiss political system is one of the most decentralized systems in the world. Cantons and municipalities enjoy very substantial autonomy not only in terms of organization but also in terms of policy. Within the scope of their quite significant competencies, it is up to the cantons and municipalities to decide what public services they want to offer, to what extent and at what level of quality. Therefore, there are no national standards for public services except with regard to those limited parts of the administration that implement federal law. However, all public services must comply with the rule of the law and the human rights set out in the constitution. A comparatively small number of issues (i.e., social policies) are decided at the federal level, and are thus subject to national standards. In these cases, federal laws are implemented by cantonal administrations, which have to follow national norms.

Multilateral agreements between some or all cantons (“Konkordate”) for common standards of public services can be seen as a functional equivalent to national policy standards.

As member-state implementation in all policy sectors leads to marked differences in both conformance and performance compliance, the federal government increasingly employs non-binding policy programs instead of legal acts to steer the cantons and secure distributive justice in service delivery. These programs often take the form of financial incentives or funding schemes for the achievement of given policy goals. They rest upon deliberative action rather than hierarchical coercion.
Ritz, M., Neumann, O. and Sager, F. (2019), Senkt New Public Management die Verwaltungsausgaben in den Schweizer Kantonen? Eine empirische Analyse über zwei Dekaden. Swiss Polit Sci Rev. 25(3): 226–252 doi:10.1111/spsr.12381
There are supposed to be national standards for service delivery by local authorities or the parallel networks of agencies for specific policies such as the trusts running healthcare, but recent scandals have shown that implementation can be unsatisfactory and thus that there can be “postcode lotteries” in standards. Recently, the Care Quality Commission, a body charged with overseeing the quality of health and social care, was criticized for a lack of transparency. A subsequent report by the National Audit Office found that, while there had been considerable improvements, shortcomings still needed to be addressed.

Although central government has the capacity to ensure national standards on this issue, it does not always do enough to “watch the watchers.” All members of the civil service are pledged to a range of codes (such as the Civil Service Code, the Directory of Civil Service Guidance) to ensure national standards in performance, conduct and delivery. In 2012, the Standards Board for England – which has scrutinized civil service commitments to the codes since 2000 – was abolished. The central government has encouraged local authorities to set up regional standards boards. This is in line with the Localism Act 2011, which changed the powers and scrutiny of local government in England. The ongoing Civil Service Reform, which started in 2012, established a new range of national standards, especially in skills, accountability, transparency and diversity, as recorded in the New Public Appointments Governance Code.

An agreement on common standards was reached between central government and the devolved administrations in October 2017 regarding powers returning from Brussels. In a similar vein, a new Appointments Governance Code came into effect on 1 January 2017.
HM Government 2012: The Civil Service Reform Plan; Service-Reform-Plan- acc-final.pdf
The federal government has a strong commitment to providing uniform national services, and it makes considerable effort to ensure that program delivery, particularly in health and education, is as uniform as possible across the country. This attempt at uniformity is necessarily complicated by differences in sizes of states and population distribution, and by resistance from state governments keen to preserve their independence. Variation in funding levels according to need (as determined by an independent statutory authority, the Commonwealth Grants Commission) helps to ensure uniformity. Moreover, contingent funding is regularly used by the federal government to achieve uniformity in minimum standards.
The national and state governments share responsibility for many issues, including schools and healthcare. Each side tends to blame the other for specific implementation shortcomings. In most cases, the parties governing on the national level also control the state governments. Party alliances do not prevent the emergence of conflicts deriving from this structural division of power, but the conflicts are somewhat muted by party links. In parallel with overall growing voter volatility, political majorities in the nine states have grown subject to greater volatility, which has prompted officials at the federal and state levels to demonstrate greater political openness toward each other.

The national government has relatively few instruments by which to make state governments comply with its formal policies. Oversight of municipalities, by both the states and the federal government, is more effective.

Conflicts between state and federal governments have to be brought to the Constitutional Court.
In many areas of provincial jurisdiction, most notably education, the federal government does not have the formal authority to ensure that provinces meet national standards. Contrary to most other advanced countries, Canada has no minimum funding levels, national educational goals or overarching curriculum. Yet despite the complete control exercised by the provinces, Canada’s educational system is arguably quite successful, and remains similar across the various provinces, which invest in mandatory education at comparable levels and achieve comparable results for their students. Graduation rates are similar, as are the results on pan-Canadian and international tests, such as the Program for International Student Achievement (PISA), operated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

In other areas where the federal government transfers funds to the provinces, it has the practical leverage to insist on certain standards. Healthcare is the main area in which this occurs. The Canada Health Act of 1986 requires provinces to meet five principles for healthcare. Care must be available to all eligible residents of Canada, comprehensive in coverage, accessible without financial or other barriers, portable within the country and during travel abroad, and publicly administered. The federal government has threatened to withhold funds from provinces that fail to meet these standards. However, no funds have been withheld since 1993. Some feel that the federal government should be more aggressive in ensuring that national standards are met in the health area.
A department within the Ministry of the Interior is responsible for overseeing subnational self-government. Its concern is compliance with existing laws and not the assessment of efficiency; laws cover such issues as regular financial accounting, the fair conduct of elections, the avoidance of conflict of interest, compliance with rules on the disposal of waste materials, and freedom of information. Its annual reports show regular monitoring of all levels of self-government, as well as substantial efforts to inform councils of existing legal constraints. The number of breaches of the law, following consultation and advice from the ministry, continues to decline. However, a gap still exists between national and EU standards; there remains a strong tradition of non-implementation.
Autonomous local government functions are subject to laws and regulations emanating from the central government. These regulations delineate common standards and define the scope of local government autonomy. The President’s Strategic Advisory Council has warned that over-regulation is seriously encroaching on local government autonomy. The council has called for a limit to bureaucratization and a reduction in the volume of regulations governing functions that are mandated as autonomous.

The executive has said it would create a new one-stop client-service system across the country, which would centralize the contact point for accessing public (central and local government) services. The new system will also introduce national standards for local government services by 2016. The policy was approved by the cabinet in 2013 and pilot projects have been implemented by a number of local governments. An evaluation conference, in September 2014, documented many instances of successful pilot projects as well as favorable client-satisfaction responses to surveys. In 2015, 59 one-stop agencies were launched. In just one year of operation, they proved to be useful, processing more than 25,000 different types of applications to state and municipal agencies. In 2019, the number of the agencies had reached 76. However, the comparability of data sets between institutions remains a challenge.
1. Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development (2019) Progress on implementing the Public 1 1. Service Development Conception (Report), Available at:, Last assessed: 05.11.2019.

2. The President’s Strategic Advisory Council (2013), Management Improvement Proposals, Available at (in Latvian):, Last assessed: 05.11.2019.

3. Regulation Regarding Concept of the Public Service System Development (2013), Available at (in Latvian):, Last assessed: 05.11.2019.

4. Freedom House (2012), Nations in Transit, Country Report, Available at:, Last assessed: 05.11.2019
National public-service standards at the subnational level are ensured through centralized or regional governance arrangements. For example, landfills are connected in a regional network of service providers. The decentralized provision of other public services at the local level has produced uneven quality in areas such as school education or the accessibility of primary healthcare services. The Public Management Improvement Program aims at defining minimal-quality standards for various public functions such as healthcare, education and social services. Though the Sunset Commission has since been dissolved. A recent report from the National Audit Office found that the central government still lacks reliable and comprehensive data on the provision of public services, which is necessary for the effective modernization and standardization of services. More specifically, the National Audit Office recommended improving the accessibility of personal healthcare services in Lithuania.
The Public Management Improvement Program (in Lithuanian) is available at ieska.showdoc_l?p_id=418407&p_query=vie%F0ojo%20valdymo%20tobulinimo%20programa&p_tr2=2
The Department of Local Government and the National Audit Office (NAO) work together to ensure that local councils meet basic standards. The former entity is responsible for monitoring and reporting on the performance of individual local councils. Central departments set the benchmarks for services provided by local councils. The NAO independently investigates local council activities both from a purely auditing perspective and from a “value for money” perspective. It is this latter perspective that has by and large driven reform of local councils. The NAO has audited local-government authorities six years in a row. In the last audit, the NAO stated that by mid-October 2019, no reply had been provided by 11 local councils, and that 16% of local councils had not responded to the issues raised by the office. The 2018 report emphasized recurring weaknesses within these councils, including accounting records that were not properly updated, procurement that was not carried out in compliance with regulations, adequate fixed asset registers that were not being maintained, and the lack of statuary documentation on websites. A review of the follow-up actions undertaken by local councils following the previous year’s audits showed that out of more than 1,500 recommendations put forward by local government auditors, only 26% had been implemented. Thus, 71% of recommendations remained completely unaddressed, and 3% had been only partially implemented. This could be construed as a lack of accountability on the part of these councils. National standards at the local level are also reinforced through the councilors’ code of ethics and the Local Councils Association. The ombudsman’s office has also suggested the introduction of a commissioner for local government within his office. In 2019, a local-council reform bill was passed seeking to strengthen regional councils, supply them with financial resources and recognize this level of government in the constitution. Furthermore, it would introduce the position of full-time mayors, increase investment in education and training for councilors and staff, introduce so-called “integration programmers,” and extend the hours in which local council services were provided.
Report by the auditor general on the workings of local government for the year 2015
White paper on local government 2018
NAO Local Government 2018
Institutionally, the regions have a centrally appointed head of regional administration (voivode) who is responsible for ensuring that national policies are implemented, and that state institutions operating in the region perform their functions properly. The politicization of the civil service under the PiS government has reduced the fulfillment of these standards by reducing professionalism within the regional administrations. Conflicts between the voivode and locally elected representatives, who often have other political priorities, have increased. Moreover, the financial problems of regional and local governments, which have resulted from tax reductions on the national level, make it more difficult to achieve high public service standards. Additional investment in infrastructure might help to mediate these problems, but they are rather directed primarily toward the more undeveloped eastern parts of Poland, which are regions in which people tend to vote for PiS.
National standards are largely uniformly applied, albeit as a result of the control and provision of most public services by the central government. However, there are differences between municipalities in some services, as in the case of infrastructure, culture and extracurricular educational offerings. Similarly, differences in service provision can result from the “luck of the draw” in terms of the specific civil servant a citizen encounters. This reflects both the complex and frequently changing policy framework and the relative lack of accountability in public-services provision.
The central government has in principle always been committed to ensuring uniform national standards for public services, but this has never been completely effective. In some cases, regional governments design and implement their own public policies without following clearly defined national standards. As a result, there may be some variation in the quality of public services offered by the autonomous communities. In general, minimum standards are set by basic national legislation, but are not subsequently enforced. The formal method for monitoring the provision of services by the autonomous communities through administrative supervision (the so-called High Inspectorate) has not been particularly effective. However, new regulations on financial sustainability within public administration and local governments have strengthened the tools through which the central government can ensure that regional and local governments realize national minimum standards. One example was the healthcare reform, which focused on a services portfolio of the National Health System. The central government tried to ensure that the decentralized provision of public health services comply with standards set on the national level.

However, the European Council underlined in 2019 the existence of disparities in educational outcomes and innovation, and encouraged the government to improve cooperation between administrations in order to guarantee market unity and cohesion.
European Council, Country-Specific Recommendations for 2019

Kölling; Colino, Jaime-Castillo (2019), Desigualdades socioeconómicas territoriales en España, working paper, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.
Public services have been extensively decentralized over the past decades. Once services are transferred from central to local government, safeguarding national standards and even defining and sustaining those standards becomes problematic. The same problem applies to increasingly privatized services, where the oversight over national standards becomes even more challenging.

Decentralization and local autonomy are essentially institutional choices and, as all choices, these arrangements have their downsides. One of the problems with a decentralized system is that it becomes very difficult to enforce national standards. This became obvious to the government after the extensive decentralization reform during the 1980s and early 1990s. In primary and secondary education, the past two decades have witnessed central government trying to regain some control in order to ensure some degree of national standards. The main strategy toward this objective has been to extensively evaluate the performance of schools and publicize evaluation reports (i.e., to “name, blame and shame” underperforming schools). Thus, government exercises a strategy of steering by auditing. In addition, central government has tried to increase equality among local authorities by revising the general regulatory framework of primary and secondary education, and by targeting financial resources to improve the quality of teaching.
Central government ensures that subnational self-governments realize national minimum standards of public services.
Formally, the national (federal) government has no authority over regional governments and administrations, but it can impose some standards and policies. Environmental policies, for instance, have been largely regionalized, but environmental standards and norms are set at the European and federal levels. As a result, environmental-policy coordination has been deadlocked since 2012. In addition, subnational and local executives have to abide by budgetary constraints set by the central government.

In general, the central government does not have the ability to enforce or control more detailed standards with regard to issues such as performance figures. The government can only try to maintain influence through more general (legal or budgetary) levers. Another informal mechanism is party discipline; whenever the same parties are in power at the national and subnational levels, coordination is facilitated.

Significant political misalignment between the regions (mainly right wing in the north and left wing in the south) and high fractionalization in the federal parliament bode poorly for coordination in the near future.
Several public services in Estonia are provided at the local level, although the quantity and quality of services varies greatly relative to the size and capacity of municipalities. The administrative-territorial reform, which merged municipalities into larger units, aims to offer residents better services, and hire more competent employees and officials. The focus is on ensuring that a basic universal list of services is available in each municipality and that the quality of services is more closely monitored. Yet, the process is at an initial stage and national standards for municipal public services are lacking.
Minimal standards for decentralized public services (e.g., public healthcare and utilities) are agreed upon and set at national level in a number of areas. The permanent conference for relations between the state, regions, provinces and cities (Conferenza Stato-Regioni ed Unificata) is an important forum in which national standards are discussed. However, the implementation of these standards is still far from satisfactory: as the administrative quality of different local authorities varies significantly, standards can differ substantially from one area of the country to another. In many fields the north–south divide remains significant, and seriously affects equality of opportunities and national cohesion. So far, efforts to overcome it have not proven very successful.

National standards have increasingly been adopted for utilities (e.g., water, electricity and communications), but in most cases independent authorities are responsible for the definition and implementation of standards. Implementation in this field is fairly adequate.
The central government seeks to ensure that subnational governments realize national public-service standards. The prefects, which represent the central government in each of the country’s 41 counties as well as in the municipality of Bucharest, have an important role in this respect. In practice, however, enforcement is often undermined by the inadequate and uneven funding of subnational governments.
Local governments themselves also try to meet mutually agreed-upon national standards. Several studies by local audit chambers have involved comparisons and benchmarks for particular kinds of services. Local governments have been organizing voluntary peer reviews of each other’s executive capacities. In 2009, the Association of Dutch Local Governments established the Quality Institute of Dutch Local Governments (Kwaliteitsinstituut Nederlandse Gemeenten, KING, renamed VNG Realisatie B.V.). As part of a knowledge platform (, the Association of Dutch Local Governments produces a comparative report on the status of local governments (previously De staat van Gemeenten, now the Gemeentelijke Monitor Social Domain) that collects relevant policy evaluations and assists local governments in their management of information. In 2019, new task fields and dashboards were added to this tool. Nevertheless, due to the implementation of strong decentralization plans, including funding cutbacks, it is likely that the uniformity of national standards in the delivery of municipal services will diminish. Instead of strict output equality, official discourse now refers to “situational equality.” This development is counteracted by increasing cooperation by municipalities in transboundary tasks (e.g., garbage collection and treatment, youth care, and care for the elderly).
National standards are implicit in the nationwide local-government fund model, which allocates a share of national tax revenues to the roughly 360 local governments on the basis of numerous variables. This funding today comprises 86% of local-government budgets. Standards diverge, depending on how local governments handle policy problems in these domains. This in part reflects incomplete and imperfect horizontal coordination between local governments.
A. Korsten, 2004. Visiteren van gemeentebesturen, Bestuurwetenschappen, 1-15, VNG Uitgeverij

P. Meurs, Maatwerk en willekeur. Een pleidooi voor situationele gelijkheid, Raad voor Volksgezondheid en Samenleving, 28 January, 2016

VNG, June 2019. Gemeentelijke Monitor Sociaal Domein Aanleverprotocol, (, accessed 1 November 2019), 26-10-2019 (, accessed 1 November 2019)
Local government, mainly elected municipalities, are subject to several supervision mechanisms such as internal and external audits, mayoral supervision, the control of local councils, and a central government audit. The Ministry of Interior Affairs closely monitors the structure and quality of services provided by municipal governments through its own local agencies and administrative trusteeship which conduct internal and external audits, and audits by civil service inspectors. The Turkish Court of Accounts (TCA) reviews the accounts of municipalities on behalf of parliament. It conducts performance audits of municipalities effectively. The Ministry of the Interior has the power to send civil inspectors and local government controllers to individual municipalities, and has, until recently done so to exercise political pressure on mayors with ties to the opposition.

While United Nations Development Program (UNDP) support for the implementation of local-administration reform in Turkey (LAR Phase 2) has been concluded, Turkey still aims to fulfill some requirements of the European Local Self-Government Charter. In this context, municipalities work to establish departments tasked with monitoring, investment and coordination. The main duties of these departments are to provide, monitor and coordinate public institutions and organizations’ investments and services; to provide and coordinate central-administration investments in the provinces; and to guide and inspect provincial public institutions and organizations. However, the most significant outstanding issues with regard to standardizing local public services are essentially financial, technical and personnel-driven. Within the OECD, Turkey remains the country with the largest regional disparities. The Union of Municipalities of Turkey also offers municipalities nationally or EU-funded training and technical support for public service-related issues.
Kamu Hizmetlerinin Sunumunda Uyulacak Usul ve Esaslara İlişkin Yönetmelik, Official Gazette, 31 July 2009, (accessed 1 November 2018)

Cumhurbaşkanlığı Teşkilatı Hakkında Cumhurbaşkanlığı Kararnamesi 1, (accessed 1 November 2018)

“Oversight on Municipalities,” (accessed 1 November 2019)
Due to the dual nature of the U.S. federal system, the issue of national standards applies mostly to co-financed federal programs, where the federal government sometimes asserts its right to set and monitor compliance with these standards. The bulk of public services are delivered by local and state agencies with minimal intervention by the federal government. The question of enforcing federal standards arises in specific areas where federal policymakers have sought to impose such standards, sometimes to enforce citizens’ rights under the federal constitution, and other times for policy reasons. The Environmental Protection Agency, for example, requires states to meet air-quality standards under the Clean Air Act. Reversing the pattern, the Trump administration has attempted to force the state of California to weaken standards for vehicle emissions. On the other hand, states exercise broad discretion in setting standards of eligibility for Medicaid coverage or with regard to unemployment insurance. A large variation in state government policies and standards of service is regarded as legitimate in most fields.
In Bulgaria, the effectiveness of national-government oversight and compliance with national standards in the decentralized provision of public services differ among functional spheres. For example, education is provided by local schools with standards upheld relatively objectively and effectively through external evaluation and regional and local inspection. However, in the sphere of environmental, waste-management and forestry standards, as well as in the local healthcare sector, monitoring is uneven, and some localities have much lower standards than others. The extent to which different municipalities’ regulations are compliant with regulatory standards set in national law also varies.
Due to the different financing structures at the regional and municipal levels, the national government can guarantee services at an adequate standard only at the regional level. The central government has clearly failed to establish nationally upheld standards at the municipal level. Relatively poor municipalities and those in rural regions often lack the capacity to meet national standards for public services, especially in the fields of healthcare and education. However, this segregation is also evident in Santiago itself, where public schools in richer districts clearly tend to show higher standards and better results than public schools from poorer districts. In comparison to previous years, a slight improvement can be noticed in the field of education and primary healthcare. Nevertheless, there is still a huge gap to be closed.
In Hungary, the quality of subnational public services has suffered as a result of the reorganization of subnational governments, since the state administration’s new subnational tiers have only gradually gained experience in providing services. The provision of those public services that have been left with subnational self-governments has in turn suffered from self-governments’ lack of financial resources and administrative capacities as well as from conflicting legal norms and the complexity of some regulations. The central government has exercised strong control but has not focused on quality issues. As a result, national standards have often been undermined, especially in the fields of healthcare, education and social services.
Public-service standards are poorly defined, especially with regard to the independent functions of subnational governments. Moreover, the monitoring of compliance with these standards is often fragmented. The Ministry of the Interior is responsible for overseeing subnational self-government, but largely focuses on formal compliance with existing laws and cost efficiency. While the ministry regularly monitors all levels of self-government, the number of breaches of the law and the extent and effects of ministerial intervention are not transparent. Clearly, there are differences between national and EU standards that negatively influence the effective use of EU structural funds.
In the period under review, there was some improvement in the implementation of national standards. It was realized that failing to implement such standards could put the state’s finances in danger, particularly since subnational self-governments are heavily dependent on the central government for their funding.
Insufficient funding, corruption and inefficiency inhibit the effective implementation of nationwide public policy standards in many sectors.
Latin American Regional Report: Mexico & NAFTA (November 2017) “Solving higher education conundrum key to 2018 election success?.”
In Slovenia, public-service standards are poorly defined, especially with regard to the independent functions of municipal governments. As the constitution guarantees the autonomy of every municipality, the extent and quality of public services differ substantially across the country. Financial controls and inspections are often ineffective due to the lack of resources and staff. Moreover, the monitoring of standards is often highly fragmented. In the case of finances, for instance, the Ministry of Finance, the Court of Audit and municipal supervisory committees all play an oversight role.
Central government does not ensure that subnational self-governments realize national standards of public services.
There are no national standards for public services in Croatia. Modern systems for the improvement of service quality such as ISO, EFQM or similar public-management standards are not implemented in the Croatian public sector. Moreover, the productivity, efficiency and quality of local self-government units are not systematically measured, and local-government budgets are currently monitored only on the basis of the economic purposes of local-government spending, rather than on its outcomes. There is not even a catalogue of services that local and regional self-government units (municipalities, towns, countries) should provide to the local community. The absence of clear national standards is felt particularly in the field of social policy. Here, the implementation of central-government regulation has differed strongly among municipalities. Some have even ignored legal requirements such as the provision in the Act on Social Welfare that municipalities should use 5% of their budgets for housing allowances for socially marginalized groups.
Standards and indicators at the central government level often lack consistency and universality. The government’s decision to revive reform efforts to create a complete framework and improve implementation is a positive sign. In the meantime, the Ministry of Finance continues to issue guidelines to subnational entities and public institutions on budget design, based on strategic planning. These guidelines set general standards and procedures, in particular on fiscal issues. No recent evaluation reports are available regarding application issues.

In the latest available report on local government, the auditor general pointed to disregard for standards and procedures. He stressed that “the situation in municipalities is not viable” and urged the government to make the approval of pending reforms an extremely high priority.

In addition to guidelines, the Ministry of Finance annually publishes evaluation reports on the fiscal risks facing each sector. These reports also include proposals for addressing problems and minimizing risks.
Local authorities, for example, are offered guidance, among others, on how to avoid risks related to non-guaranteed loans, financial claims before the courts and excessive expenses.
1. Report on Fiscal Risks, MOF Cyprus, September 2018,
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