Regions vs councils: Who does what?

Next month’s elections will cover two levels of government. So, what are the differences between them?

If and when you head to the ballot box on November 19, you’ll be casting a vote to influence your local government. But before you do, it’s worth knowing how the decisions of local government affect your everyday life and about the responsibilities carried out by the different levels of government.

The four levels of government that voters in Denmark have influence over are, in descending order of scale: the EU, parliament, regional and local. November’s elections are to choose representatives for Denmark’s five regions and 98 councils, the two levels of government responsible for providing a majority of welfare services.

Each year, the government negotiates a budget with the representatives of the councils and regions: Kommunernes Landsforening and Danske Regioner respectively. These deals set spending limits for the various services they provide.

Between them, they spent almost 480 billion kroner in 2010, representing 70 percent of all public-sector spending. So the decisions made by these elected representatives can have an enormous socio-economic impact on the lives of the people they represent.

Following a 2007 realignment, there are now 98 councils in Denmark that provide a wide variety of welfare and resident services.

Besides Copenhagen City Council, the Greater Copenhagen region includes 12 other councils including Gentofte, Frederiksberg and Tårnby. The majority of Danish councils serve around 20,000 and 100,000 residents, though the largest, Copenhagen, serves 562,379. The smallest, Læsø, serves a mere 1,864.

Councils are Denmark’s smallest political unit and must have between 25 and 31 elected members, although Copenhagen is the exception with 55 members. For more about how Copenhagen City Council operates, read our primer here

Councils are responsible for a vast majority of the public services enjoyed in Denmark, including schools, eldercare, sports and cultural facilities, childcare, adult education and integration programmes. While councils have to provide certain services for the funding they receive from central government, they have enough decentralised power to choose which areas to particularly invest in. This is dictated by the political priorities of the particular council.

Denmark’s five regions were also established in the 2007 realignment. They are primarily responsible for providing healthcare, but also have a role in specialised welfare, regional traffic, soil pollution, tourism and initiatives to promote economic growth in both rural and urban areas.

If you live in Copenhagen, you are covered by the Greater Copenhagen Regional Council (Region Hovedstaden), which is headquartered in Hillerød and covers northern Zealand and the island of Bornholm.

Each region is run by 41 elected representatives whose main focus is improving the quality of healthcare by, for example, getting more cancer patients treated faster, reducing mortality rates in hospitals and extending psychiatric care. Some 90 percent of a region’s budget is normally put towards healthcare. The different regions structure their healthcare systems to adapt to local demands and constraints.

The main political jobs carried out by the regional councils are finalising an annual budget, agreeing on an overall health plan and planning the services that hospitals and general practitioners carry out.

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