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LOCAL GOVERNMENT AXE PASSES FIRST HURDLE

Íñigo de la Serna

The intentions of the Spanish government to bring the hatchet to local authorities has passed its first landmark step this week, with the approval of the Federación Española de Municipios y Provincias, or FEMP, the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces, but with the rejection of the political opposition groups, with the plan to reorganise the skills, services, templates and salaries in the municipalities, with the intention of saving 7 billion euro between the entry into law and the end of the legislature.

The draft bill on rationalization and sustainability of the local administration met with considerable opposition, when it was proposed that many smaller administrations would be swallowed up, thus removing the local control and administration, but saving in terms of contracted rates for services shared by larger areas, as well as salary savings from the removal of smaller council members.

Principal opposition arguments saw the reduction in the political apparatus as expansion of services as leading the way towards privatisation, with other regions objecting to being absorbed into a political field that may have gone against their own independence. However, for the past year, the Government has been in negotiations with FEMP, representing the institutions concerned, although it should also be pointed out that the majority members of the federation are also serving politicians from the Partido Popular who are pushing for the reform.

The President of FEMP, who is also the Partido Popular´s serving mayor of Santander, Íñigo de la Serna, as well as the mayor of Madrid, Ana Botella, also of the Partido Popular and wife of a former President of the Government from 1996 to 2004, José María Aznar, attended parliament to show their support for the reforms, which will result in the removal of thousands of local council positions, but claims to maintain the services, in fact improving them for some of the smaller areas, capping wages for councillors and the number of people who can be hired, as well demanding full transparency and supervised accounts of all future local governments.

The government had sought an agreement with the psoe on the reform in the first months of the legislature, but those talks were abandoned in January, because, according to the PP, the socialist members refused to reduce the number of councillors and were not prepared to negotiate on that fundamental factor of the change.

According to the PSOE, they are against the reforms because they are adamant that pooling municipal services would reduce the quality and provision of services, with a detriment that would be felt at ground level.

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