The Decentralisation of Social Policy – reinforcing intermunicipal cooperation

As of January 1 2015, municipalities in the Netherlands have acquired important tasks and responsibilities in three domains of social service provision: youth care, long-term care and income support. The implementation of the decentralisation of social policy has given municipalities the opportunity to develop their own approaches to carry out the tasks and responsibilities of social service provision. As a result, municipalities have created different approaches to execute the tasks, in which the characteristics of Dutch local government are clearly reflected.  

Dutch municipalities face many new challenges ever since the decentralizations of social policy in 2015. Many local governments have sought cooperation with others, because they believe they stand stronger together. In recent years, collaboration with other municipalities, organizations and private companies has increased, to be able to carry out their new social policy tasks. Regional and intermunicipal cooperation enable municipalities to realize their policy objectives, to develop effective policies and approaches, and to improve their services and business.

The solution-oriented approach of municipalities becomes apparent when looking at the forms and the compositions of the collaborations, chosen by these municipalities. The Joint Provisions Act (Wet gemeenschappelijke regelingen—WGR) provides for a number of different models that municipalities can use to organize their cooperation. Dutch municipalities tend to use a functional approach, in which they search for common ground with other municipalities. As a result, Dutch municipalities do not only work together with other municipalities based on geographic proximity, but also on thematic basis or based on the level of similarity of issues, so as to be able to actually reach policy objectives and develop effective policy.
Whilst developing an approach for the social policy tasks, Dutch municipalities collaborate with each other in an informal and deliberative way. Knowledge and expertise are widely shared, and  preferences and interests are brought forward by the different participants. The municipalities listen to each other’s input and try to ‘meet in the middle’ by negotiating and compromising towards consensus.  

Continuity can be seen in the set-up of intermunicipal cooperation; Dutch municipalities clearly seek stability and long-term collaborations with other municipalities. The relatively new collaborations focused on the decentralisation of social policy often followed from previous collaborations on other themes, therefore strengthening the existing partnerships between municipalities. This means that even when the municipalities face an important change in their tasks and responsibility, they maintain continuity through – amongst others – their collaborative structures.

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