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Decentralize crucial skills, but “recentralize” social spending
State and society
March 29, 2022 • Agnès Verdier-Molinié
Are we doomed to pay 84 billion euros a year too much to fund our public services (according to calculations by iFrap based on the OECD’s “Public Administration 2019 Overview”)? All this because the state wants to decentralize, but does not quite want to transfer competencies. Because local authorities want to take on more missions, but not too many tasks. Because Social Security likes to be out of control. A large part of our annual government deficit comes from there.
It will be necessary to seize this case from the first weeks of the new five-year period. The regions of the other EU countries generally benefit from much larger budgets than the regional councils of France. The latter have only limited skills (transport, construction and maintenance of colleges) and ridiculous budgets (between 1 and 5 billion euros a year). At the same time, the state of France is no longer fulfilling its sovereign missions in line with citizens’ expectations. Security, defense, or prisons have borne the bulk of the unlimited increase in power for social spending.
The regular and repeated false decentralization (laws of 1982, 2003, 2015) has become a French trademark. We decentralize cleaning colleges or renovating buildings, but not hiring teachers; education but not Pôle Emploi. France is still the European country with the most local authorities and elected representatives, but which has the least power!
The complexity of funding and the entanglement of skills continues. Simplification remains an empty word. For the most part, our fellow citizens no longer understand anything about the distribution of power. Who is responsible for logistics in an Ehpad? The department, who finances? or ARS? Very clever who is able to answer this question. Following the money from the taxpayers’ pocket to the public service in question is almost impossible.
The 3DS Act – shortening the law on “differentiation, decentralization, devolution and implementation of various measures to simplify local public action”, adopted in February 2022 – does not change the situation. On the contrary, it exacerbates a little more the ambiguity that surrounds our local public leadership. For example, 11,500 kilometers of national roads will see their management transferred to departments and cities, especially Lyon, but 9,000 kilometers of national roads will be operated and maintained by the regions as part of a five-year experiment. Result: the old national roads will be managed by three sources of funding: departments, cities and regions.
In the social field, metropolises and urban communities will be able to create their own social action centers, while municipalities and inter-municipalities are already competing with theirs. The 3DS law also opens the door to a centralization of RSA for the wards in difficulty, especially Seine-Saint-Denis since January 2022. But why not do it for all wards and have the distribution of RSA (and all social) assistance) by Bercy instead of holding a host of CAFs in the territory? This a la carte vision of public missions further confuses the situation.
But the French express their desire for local authorities to take on greater responsibility, especially municipalities and regions. In its latest study, the iFRAP Foundation proposes and quantifies a new distribution of public tasks, which will transfer DKK 100 billion. of the state’s expenditure on the regions and municipalities by decentralizing the management of health, education, culture and Pôle emploi – the regions could then have placement of jobseekers administered by associations, foundations or organizations specializing in public service delegation. The same would apply to schools and hospitals. The new distribution of public missions will also reduce social security spending by more than $ 80 billion. by transferring the administration of social assistance paid in cash to Bercy on the basis of means criteria (RSA, family benefits, APL, disability allowance, Christmas, back) -to-school bonus) and combining them into a single social benefit, taxable and limited to the minimum wage . From now on, social security organizations should also apply the same rule of good governance as local authorities: no debt for operation and transparency in their activities, controlled by Parliament, which is far from appropriate at the moment.
The purpose of this true decentralization? Clarify and finally be able to save money on expenses by removing public duplicates that we have been talking about for years without ever having seen anything happen. All public actors know that France’s current public organization maintains administrative costs and bureaucratic costs.
Simply applying the principle of subsidiarity alone can save € 38 billion a year in unnecessary expenses. Why deliberately deprive us of it? It is high time to bring all the national and local elected representatives and all the public actors around the table and arrive at a mapping of public missions that can be easily explained and no longer resembles a spider web.