Bouton menu

Services of general interest in Sweden : latest developments in organization models and social housing (2007)

Publié par , le 16 mars 2007.

Partager :

bouton facebook bouton twitter Bouton imprimer

Vous trouverez ci dessous le sommaire et des morceaux choisis de l’étude sur les services d’intérêt général en Suède. Vous retrouverez la plupart des éléments sur le logement dans l’article " politique du logement et intérêt général".

Chapitre 1

1. General presentation

1.1. Institutional structure
1.2. Local self-government
1.2.1- High autonomy in the organisation of the activities
1.2.2- Independent Power of taxation
1.2.3- Local self-government principle : some debates and consequences in Sweden
1.3. Distribution of the responsibilities

2. Welfare policies and services of general interest
2.1- The notion of welfare (Välfärd) in Sweden
2.2. Evolutions in the public sector
2.3. Sweden’s welfare in a European perspective

Chapitre 2. Housing policy in Sweden

1. Historical background and policy
1.1. Good housing for everyone
1.2. The 1990s : increase of the housing costs

2. Responsibilities

3. The housing market
3.1. Market Structure
3.2. The public housing companies
3.3 The regulation of the rents

4. Situation and challenges
4.1.1 Empty dwellings
4.1.2 An increasing segregation in the metropolitan areas

5. The complaints submitted to the European Commission

6. Debates and perspectives

Chapitre 3. Freedom of choice : A new organisation form ?

1. The rising of the concept of freedom of choice in Swedish welfare

2. Definition

3. Main features

4. Experiences of freedom of choice in swedish local authorities
4.1 Schools
4.2. Childcare
4.3. Elderly care
4.3.1. Home help
4.3.2. Special housing

5. Debates and perspectives

Chapitre I.

Sweden has a long tradition of consensus and cooperation between the different actors in the society, as well in the economical as in the political field. This has been a key in the development of welfare policies and in the elaboration of the so-called “Swedish model” (which has been particularly evolving since the 1980´s). Another Swedish specificity is the strength of the local authorities. They benefit from a great freedom to assume their multiple responsibilities, notably the delivery of services to the citizens.

1. General presentation

The Social Democratic Party has dominated Swedish political life for over 70 years. It has governed constantly from 1932 to 1976. The last decades, it has shared alternately the power with non-socialist coalitions. In September 2006, a conservative coalition won the local and national elections. This centre-right coalition, the “Alliance”, takes over from twelve years of governments run by the social-democrats allied with the Green Party and the Left Party. The new conservative coalition is composed by the Moderate Party, the Centre Party, the Liberal People’s Party and the Christian Democrats. It is led by Fredrik Reinfeldt, who is the current Prime Minister.

1.1. Institutional structure

An influential Parliament

The Riksdag is the single chamber of the Parliament since 1971. It has a great role in Swedish society, which is sorely governed by law. Its 349 members are elected every four years and designate the Prime Minister (Sweden is a constitutional monarchy). Numerous MPs participate in governmental workgroups and in preparatory commissions for laws. They also exert their influence trough their presence in the central administrations’ boards.

A small-scale central government

The central government is constituted by small ministries (apart from the ministry of foreign affairs) and is working in a spirit of consultation and consensus. The decisions are taken collectively and engaged the responsibility of the government as a whole. When a decision has to be taken on a complicated matter, it is preceded by a large process of consultation (of experts, other political parties, trade unions…) and/or by a workgroup appointed by the government to prepare the decision. Under the responsibility of the ministries, governmental agencies implement the decisions taken by the Riksdag and the government. Generally, their directors are appointed by the government.

Important governmental agencies and administrations

There are around 300 central government agencies and administrations. These agencies are of major importance in Sweden and their staffs are much more numerous than those of the ministries. Their independence is guaranteed by the constitution and, when a law is voted, the government can not interfere in their activity to tell them how to execute it. These agencies supervise at both national and local levels the implementation of the policies and make recommendations. They can issue regulations if necessary.

Strong local authorities

The local authorities are an essential scale of Swedish organisation. Sweden is divided into 290 municipalities (kommuner) and 20 county councils (landstingen) from which two are pilot regions (that are legally special county councils). The size of these two regions, along with their competencies and economical and political importance, make them more similar to regions in other member states of the European Union than to traditional Swedish county councils. There is no hierarchical ranking between the two levels of local government (municipalities and county councils/regions). They are separated entities with different responsibilities and activities.

The county councils are run one the one hand by a prefect (landshövding) representing the state, and on the other hand by an elected local assembly (landstinget) which takes political decisions. The state is also present at the regional level via governmental agencies. The main responsibility of the county councils is the provision of healthcare.

The municipalities are the strongest local level.

They have been transformed through a reform implemented in the 1950’s and completed in 1974 which made decrease their number from 2500 to less than 300. Thus, municipalities had become great entities, concentrating a lot of responsibilities in particular regarding the welfare system. They are run by municipal councils. The municipalities have the possibilities to divide their territories in several areas (stadelsnämder or kommundelsnämder), transferring to these districts numerous responsibilities -notably regarding the provision of services to the citizens-.

Municipal councils and county councils are elected every 4 years, at the same time as the 349 members of the Parliament.

1.2. Local self-government

The local self-government principle is recognized in the Instrument of Government, one of the four pillars of the Swedish Constitution . However, it does not specify tasks and functions for the local authorities, thus allowing the distribution of tasks between the Swedish state and local authorities to shift over time. The content of the principle is defined by the Local Government Act from 1991 (which came into force the 1st of January 1992). It encourages the largest possible freedom for municipalities and county councils/regions to govern and organize themselves. The inclination to decentralization is very old in Sweden (municipalities and county councils were created in 1862), and this process has increased over the past 20 years. Local-government is promoted as a means to enhance democracy as well as effectiveness. Acting as close as possible to the citizens can be all the more relevant that disparities regarding population and needs from one local authority to another are really strong in Sweden, which is a really diversified country. Three cities (Göteborg, Malmö and Stockholm) contain the third of Swedish population whereas the density is very low in the northern part of the country. This situation affects notably the provision of services of general interest : it is for instance more difficult to organize healthcare in a landsting with 10 000 inhabitants than in metropolitan areas. Thus, a discussion is going on about a rescaling of Swedish local authorities´ landscape.

The amount of expenditure of municipalities and county councils taken together is almost the same as the amount of expenditure of the central state, which provides an indicator of the weight of the local level and of its broad responsibilities, notably in the welfare system and the delivery of services of general interest to citizens. Because of the importance of the local level in the welfare system, the turnout in local elections is generally high and local authorities benefit from a positive image within the population.

1.2.1. High autonomy in the organisation of the activities

Within the limits set up by the Parliament and the central government, and in accordance with the EU regulations, local authorities have the right to regulate and manage a substantial share of public affairs under their own responsibilities and in the interest of the local population. As they are responsible for providing a major part of all public services, it involves that they have a great autonomy regarding the way they want the services to be provided. Their responsibilities are regulated partly in the Local Government Act and partly in laws and statutes covering specific areas. These sectorial regulations, such as the Education Act, the Social Services Act etc, specify more precisely their competences and indicate the objectives that the local and regional authorities have to reach. There is no trusteeship control by the government over the decisions taken by the local authorities. However, governmental agencies have broad possibilities to supervise that local authorities comply with the various regulations and guarantee to the citizens the rights fixed by the law. These agencies are notably in charge of monitoring and evaluating the provision of the services of general interest. They can issue recommendations to local authorities to improve their activities. Besides, exchanges of experiments and benchmarking are quite common practices for the local authorities in Sweden. They also privilege auto-evaluations and transparency doings, notably because it is a means to prove the efficiency of local-government.

1.2.2. Independent power of taxation

Municipalities and county councils/regions have the right to levy taxes to enable them to perform their tasks. They are free to set the rates at the local level and to decide the way in which the tax revenues are employed. However, the tax base is decided by the Parliament. Swedish local authorities do not levy property taxes, which are incumbent to the State. Thus, the only component of local taxes is a local income tax, paid both to the municipality and to the county council. These taxes represent the main source of income for the local authorities : almost 70% for both municipalities and county councils. A majority of Swedish taxpayers pays only local taxes. In order to compensate the high disparity in the inhabitant’s income and in the cost of the delivery of services from one local authority to another, the State manages a local government equalisation system. It aims to redistribute the revenues of the municipalities and county councils/regions on the basis of their tax base and level of expenditure. A new system was introduced on the 1st of January 2005, consisting of five parts : income equalisation, cost equalisation, structural grant, transitional grant, adjustment grant/charge. Besides, local authorities receive grants from the central State. Among these grants some are affected to specific goals set up by the State, such as the grant covering the county council’s expenditures for pharmaceutical subsidies, whereas some are not allocated. The grants from the State cover about 21% of the county councils´ total income, and 12% for the municipalities. The government has no obligation to continue with the financial support from one year to another. The “Funding Principle”, approved in 1993 by the Parliament, states that if the central government transfers new tasks to the local authorities, the central government must provide the initial funds to carry out these tasks. If local authorities have to finance the reform by higher taxes, the State must give them financial compensations. Municipalities and county councils are required by law to balance their budgets and are subjected to detailed and specified accounting procedures. Local authorities have reproached the central government for setting very high standards in the law, creating extensive rights for the citizens and allowing them to make claim on this basis, without providing the necessary financial resources. Indeed, a huge scope of rights must be guaranteed by local authorities, thus inducing a high level of responsibilities and costs for the local levels. This is particularly the case through sectorial laws. For example, the Act on support and services for certain disabled persons (known as LSS) states that disabled persons should be able to live in the same circumstances than anyone, which is a very demanding and costly responsibility for the municipalities.

1.2.3. Local self-government principle : some debates and consequences in Sweden

There is a conflict in Sweden between the strong recognition of local self-government and an inclination to sometimes legislate in a very detailed way at the national level. To enable a great freedom for the local authorities, the central level generally tends to elaborate “framework legislations”, enunciating principles rather than detailed specific regulations. However, local authorities have in some cases denounced a shift from a framework legislation towards an increasing intervention of central government in local affairs. This tendency is partly due to the fact that some local authorities have faced difficulties with their budgets because of the increasing costs of social welfare. For instance, the growing part of elderly people in the population induces higher costs in health care for the county councils. This situation has led to an increase in the part of governmental grants affected to specific purposes. However, the main cause of the central intervention seems to be the Swedish tradition of egalitarianism, notably regarding the welfare system. The Swedish reply to the questionnaire on Social Services of General Interest launched by the European Union states that “where compulsory services are concerned, freedom of manoeuvre for municipal policies depends on the frameworks stipulated by legislation, which can vary from area to area. While in some areas, municipalities may almost be regarded as the executors of central government tasks, in others there is a greater freedom.” The law (particularly the sectorial acts) is a way to regulate and unify the standards across the country, by fixing detailed goals or for instance by unifying the ceilings for the fees in childcare and in elderlycare etc. Therefore, the reconciliation of the two principles -local self-government and egalitarianism- may be quite difficult in some cases and raises a recurring debate.
Despite these debates, Swedish government is on the whole very respectful of the local self-government principle. Sweden signed and ratified the European Charter of Local Self-Government in 1989. Furthermore, the Swedish local authorities and regions association (SALAR ) is very involved in defending the autonomy of its members. SALAR “strives to promote and strengthen local self-government and to create the best possible conditions for the work of its members”. This involves representing and looking after the interest of Swedish municipalities and county councils, following up political initiatives that may affect their areas of responsibility close to the government but also to the European Union, and take part in local authorities’ conventions, United Cities and Local Governments …

The fact that the local authorities benefit from a large autonomy has a major consequence in Sweden : some questions or experiences emerge on the local scale before being debated at the national level. For instance, a few conservative municipalities around Stockholm have experimented since the early 1990s new ways of delivering some services of general interest to the population by implementing “freedom of choice” systems. In some occasions, initiatives taken by local authorities have led to disagreements between the local and national levels. The government has notably intervened regarding housing and healthcare to introduce a more stringent regulation, “stop-laws”, following initiatives taken by local authorities (which were not on the same political side). In 2000, the social-democratic government passed a law restricting the right of county councils to contract out the operation of acute care hospitals , referring to universal healthcare to justify this intervention. A similar situation happened regarding housing, when the social-democrat government passed a law in 2002 to hamper the sale of municipal housing. The law made compulsory for a municipality to get the approval of the County Administrative Board before selling or losing its influence over its housing company. These two legislative interventions have been much debated, and criticized strongly by the right-wing parties : it concerns two highly political fields and, again, it questions the balance between local freedom of organisation and national standardisation in the provision of services of general interest.

1.3. Distribution of the responsibilities

Several changes in the division of the responsibilities between central government and local authorities were introduced during the 1990´s, mainly involving municipalities taking over responsibility from county councils for a number of services but also from the State. As stated above, municipalities have broad responsibilities regarding the daily environment of their residents and the welfare system.
Nowadays, the municipalities are in charge of preschools, primary and secondary education, elderly care, help for the disabled persons, rescue services, water and waste, libraries and transports (in cooperation with the county councils).They also have competencies which are not compulsory in regard with tourism, culture and creation of enterprises.
The county councils are in charge of the activities which would be too costly for municipalities. Their main responsibilities are healthcare and dental care. The elected counsellors fix the cost of the care. County councils are also responsible for regional development : transports (in cooperation with the municipalities), culture, public aids to industry and tourism.

Besides of the supervision by central government agencies, there are several ways of controlling local authorities’ activities. First, the citizens can contest the decisions taken by their local authorities. They can also protest if local authorities overtake competencies. Also, the justieombudsman monitors the application of the law by civil servants, notably in municipal directories (but the municipal council is not submitted to this control). Finally, if a municipality has neglected glaringly or since a long time a duty set up by the law, the government can take the necessary measures on behalf on the municipality and on its expenses .

2. Welfare policies and services of general interest

2.1. The notion of welfare (välfärd) in Sweden

During the 1930s, the approach of välfärd has been developed around the notion of Folkhemmet (House of the People). Since then the notion has strongly evolved, but still välfärd remains a broad and very inclusive concept, larger than the notion of “welfare” which suggests a particular attention on lowest socio-economic groups in the society. In the concept of välfärd everyone has access to public services on equal terms, regardless of income or any other criteria. Besides, välfärd concerns numerous aspects of the life. It aims to create an egalitarian and universal system not only regarding incomes distribution but also regarding gender equality etc. Välfärd promotes equality in terms of high standards, and not of minimal needs. The idea that everyone is included and must participate in the society is reflected by the number of taxpayers in Sweden : even people with low-incomes pay taxes, as small the amount has to be. Taxes and transfers among the society have been key elements to reach the goals of redistribution and social equity, along with an extensive public sector. The tradition of consensus and cooperation between the different actors in the society has been essential in the construction of the social model in Sweden. This has been possible notably because of the major part played by the trade unions, with about 80% of workers affiliated. There are three principal confederations in Sweden (LO, TCO and SACO ), organized according to socioprofessional categories. The notion of välfärd includes a broader content than Services of general interest.

Sweden -as well as other Nordic countries- did not have a legal definition of Services of general interest before the transposition of European directives. The notion of offentlig verksamhet refers to all the activities for which the public sector is responsible. Tjänst is the Swedish general word for service. Services of general interest have no theoretical basis in Sweden, and an explanation referring to other European countries is often necessary to brighten this notion.

2.2. Evolutions in the public sector

Since the late 1980s, the notion of välfärd is in continuous evolution. The renewal of the public sector launched by the social democrats, followed by the integration process to the European Union and the economic crisis of the 1990s, have transformed the public sector. In Sweden the public sector is based on a very practical approach and has grown up contingent on the social needs, as in other Nordic countries having developed welfare State policies. The Constitution states that “the personal, economic and cultural welfare of the private person shall be fundamental aims of public activity. In particular, it shall be incumbent upon the public institutions to secure the right to health, employment, housing and education, and to promote social care and social security” . Public sector has overall responsibility for the provision of services such as healthcare, childcare, education, defence and police services. The public sector comprises, at the central level, the central government, public agencies and public enterprises, and at the local level, the municipalities and the county councils, state-owned companies under their responsibility (mainly in the education and healthcare fields), as well as local public enterprises. The number of civil servants has been hugely decreasing since the beginning of the 1990s. However, the public sector still currently employs about a quarter of the working population. Nowadays, part of the remuneration of the civil servants is individual and based on their own performance. Very important from the 1950s to the 1980s, public sector at the central level has been reduced due to a decentralization process, which as lead to an increase of the public sector at the local level –notably at the municipal level-, but also due to privatizations or opening to competition of public services. Indeed, Sweden has earlier than a lot of other European countries began a deregulation process and showed an inclination towards liberal policy. The State has renounced to some monopolies in the delivery of network services such as postal services or electricity, which are now run by public companies which compete with private companies on equal terms. The public services, still mainly publicly delivered, have been since the mid 1980s more and more contracted out and progressively opened to private actors at the national and local levels : first cooperatives and then private companies. Sweden has a long tradition of cooperatives, which have been more recently increasingly involved in welfare provision. Private actors are now in some local authorities delivering childcare, elderly care, services for the disabled person etc. They are also present in the field of education and healthcare. This has raised political debates in Sweden, notably regarding the opening of hospitals to for-profit actors. Criticized by the social-democrats, this will be favoured soon by the new conservative majority. The government is also currently discussing the possibility for private insurances to buy some the “overcapacity” places in hospitals, thus allowing people who can afford it to avoid the waiting list for an operation. According to the law, privately-run activities that are financed using tax revenues must offer the service concerned to the citizens on the same terms and conditions that apply for similar public services. It notably means that citizens pay the same for a service irrespective whether it is provided by the public sector or a private company. However, co-operatives and private companies remain in the minority for the provision of public services in Sweden, which has a long tradition of public sector for the welfare provision. Currently, private actors represent about 10% of the delivery of healthcare for instance.

3. Sweden’s welfare in a European perspective

Sweden joined the European Union in 1995, but the integration process had already begun since several years. The opinion was then much divided about joining the EU, and the profits of the membership are still not accepted unanimously. In 2001, the SALAR published a study about the consequences of the membership for the local authorities in Sweden . It stated that “much of the cost of implementing Community law in Sweden is borne by the municipalities, county councils and regions, which is hardly surprising given their central role in Sweden as providers of public services”. The sufficient funding to compensate the supplementary costs for the local authorities has not always been transferred. The local authorities have been preoccupied regarding the extension of the EU sphere of influence regarding social services of general interest notably, trough demand of information for instance. The European construction and legislation are bringing some debates in Sweden regarding the subsidiarity issue. According to the local authorities, the membership has brought some loss of self-government. In particular, EU’s control of state aids is regarded as a limitation of the right of self-government.

Sweden has a tendency to go faster or further than the European Union. This is for instance the case regarding the total opening to competition of postal services. Another example is the Public Procurement Act . Entered into force in 1994, it already complied with European criteria and was even going beyond the European Union’s Procurement Directives. Indeed, to increase competition, the Swedish act is also covering tenders below the EU thresholds. According to the study made by the SALAR in 2001, regarding public procurments “the new rules, particularly the provision that requirements and criteria must be formulated in advance and must not subsequently be altered, are considered difficult to comply with and obviously demand higher formal competence than was previously the case. Relatively speaking, more complaints are made about small municipalities than about larger municipalities and county councils. Parallel with the more stringent legislation, control of public procurement has also been tightened. The rules on public procurement have limited the scope of the municipalities, county councils and regions when it comes to finding flexible solutions. It is no longer possible to take into account local factors such as transport distances, which was often done in order to favour local operators. The scope for ‘green’ procurement also appears to have diminished”. There also cases where Swedish rules go further than Community law due to the government agencies. They pass directly some laws and interpret themselves the EU’s regulations. It sometimes leads to over-interpretations and negative consequences for the local authorities. Besides, the regulation is not always well-known by the local authorities –although Sweden is quite good on this field-, notably the exceptions to EU’s requirements regarding state aids. Finally, Sweden’s definition of Services of General Interest differs from other member states, which can bring some misunderstandings.

Regarding an European framework about Services of General Interest or Social Services of General Interest, the SALAR has stated that Swedish local authorities were in favour of a sectorial solution only if it was necessary.

Chapitre 3. Freedom of choice : a new organisation form ?

1. The rising of the concept of freedom of choice in Swedish welfare

The freedom of choice was first implemented in 1985 in Nacka for the provision of footcare. It was then implemented in the early 1990s for home help services in some municipalities around Stockholm. This was generally conservative and rather wealthy municipalities : Täby, Danderyd, Nacka… Nacka municipality, which has about 80 000 inhabitants, has been doing a lot of experimentations to provide services to its residents and has been a spearhead in the development of the freedom of choice model. This situation is notably possible because of the local self-government principle which enables municipalities to have a great freedom in the organisation of their activities. At this time, the freedom of choice system was really a new idea in the Swedish context, prioritizing public monopoly for the welfare provision. However, although public delivery was –and still is- the dominant model, the private actors have been slowly entering the scene : co-operatives since the mid-1980s and private companies during the 1990s. In 1992, a reform was implemented to favour pupils in upper secondary to choose between independent schools and public schools. Since then, the freedom of choice has extended to more services and has been implemented by some more municipalities. It is mainly used in the sectors of childcare, education and care for the elderly (home help and special housing) at the municipal level. It is also used by county councils for the provision of healthcare. The system is currently still not broadly spread but, after the centre-right victory in the elections held last September, more local authorities are expected to choose this model. Indeed, this model is a political matter and is mainly privileged by right-wing politicians. The social-democrats are generally very critical about it. Recently, various municipalities have shown their interest to know more about the model to implement it.

2. Definition

Freedom of choice is in fact more a theoretical way of thinking the provision of services than a clearly defined system. It is inspired by theories developed by Milton Friedman in the United States during the 1950s, aiming to introduce competition in all public sectors. Nacka municipalitie´s brochure on social services reflects the viewpoint at the basis of the model : “The municipality of Nacka has a vision of the future : openness and diversity. This is supported by the municipality´s basic philosophy : confidence in and respect for people´s knowledge and ability, and their willingness to accept responsibility”. There are several ways to name the system : freedom of choice (Valfrihet), consumer choice, customer choice (Kundval), or Peng och Check system. These several designations may reflect the position of the different stakeholders : for instance, the confederation of Swedish enterprise tend to talk about “customers” and “customer choice” in its report about the model published in 2002 and named “Customer choice – For a better public sector” . There are also several ways to implement it, both from one type of service to another and for the same service between different local authorities. For instance, in Nacka municipality the providers can settle all the time, they just need to get an authorization by complying basic criteria, whereas Stockholm municipality has privileged tenders to choose the providers. As the model is diversified and is not legally framed -except for schools-, the SALAR assumed after having realized a study about the model in 2001 that some municipalities may use the model without really knowing it.

4.1. Schools

Education presents a peculiarity regarding freedom of choice in Sweden : the right to choose is regulated by law.

Overview of schooling policy

In 1991, an important reform transformed the division of responsibilities between the State and the municipalities regarding school policy, transferring full responsibility for running schools (from pre-schools to upper secondary) to the municipalities. Thus, school system is much decentralised in Sweden. Nowadays, the Parliament and the government are in charge of determining the fundamental goals and the national objectives for public sector schooling and ensuring that there is the same level of education throughout the country. Skolverket, the National Agency for Education, monitors the activities and the quality of education in municipal as well as in private schools. Within this framework, notably the Education Act, municipalities are responsible for implementing the policy and decide how to run their schools : the organisation, the funding and the management of the staff. They are also responsible for evaluating school activities.

Freedom of choice in education

In 1992, the School Funding Act favoured the possibility to choose between municipal schools and “free” schools (or “independent” schools) by opening public funding to the independent schools. A municipality must pay the fees for a pupil who chooses a free school all over the country -or possibly in a foreign country- if this school has been approved by the National Agency for Education. The municipality has to pay 75% of the fees in a municipal school. Pupils can also choose another municipal school, but only if it offers supplementary activities. As a consequence, the number of independent school has been increasing during the 1990s. According to Svenskt Näringsliv’s report on freedom of choice, there were 350 approved free schools in 2001, when they were 90 in 1992. Nowadays, there are about 15-20% of private schools in Sweden. The pupils can choose the school notably according to the evaluations published by the National Agency for Education. To attract pupils, schools have developed specific profiles in the teaching and pupils can chose contingent on their own interests : media, environment etc. Advertising has also become a very common practice for schools –even for public ones-.
In some municipalities, freedom of choice has been fully implemented for schools. That is to say, pupils can not only choose between public school on one hand and free schools on the other hand, they can also choose among the various public schools. In the survey about freedom of choice realized by the SALAR in 2001, thirty municipalities stated that they were using it for schools and/or childcare.

4.2 Childcare

Overview of the childcare policy

In 1996, the responsibility for public childcare was transferred from the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs to the ministry of Education and Science. Earlier considered as a social service in Sweden, childcare is nowadays considers as an educational activity and is regulated under the Education Act . As for school policy, the central government determines guidelines and national objectives and the municipalities implement the policy with a great freedom regarding the way to achieve the goals. The Education act defines requirements for public childcare centres, their tasks, quality standards regarding the activities, the staff training… The National Agency for Education (Skolverket) supervises the provision and the quality of the childcare. Childcare has been a priority issue over the last decades, notably to make easier the combination of parenthood and working life and to favour gender equality. There are several ways to provide childcare to pre-schooled children but also school-aged pupils, for instance : pre-schools (förskola), family daycare (familjedaghem), leisure-time centres (fritidshem). The lack of places and the boom of births have led to problems of long queues during the 1990s. To face this situation, a law was voted in 1995, imposing to the municipalities to provide childcare without “undue delay” (i.e. within three or four months) to families in which the parents are working or studying. Thus, the number of new childcare centres has increased and the problem is nowadays partly solved. Since new reforms implemented between 2001 and 2003, publicly-run centres are also required to provide childcare at least three hours a day for children whose parents are unemployed or taking parental leave to look after a younger child. Besides, the reforms introduced a maximal fee, “maxtaxa”, nowadays applied in all the municipalities. The maxtaxa is a ceiling of the fees parents are required to pay for public childcare, aiming to make childcare accessible for everyone. The ceiling is very low : 1260 SEK per month for the first child. The local authorities choosing to apply the maxtaxa receive a financial compensation from the State for the loss of revenues. During the 1980s, a debate took place about the funding of private actors to deliver childcare, leading to the Lex Pysslingen in 1984. This law was forbidding the private for-profit childcare centres. Since then, the law has changed and nowadays the company Pysslingen is running about forty childcare centres in Sweden. According to the Education Act, municipalities may contribute to fund private pre-schools if they satisfy with quality requirements under the law and if the fees are not too high. If private providers want to benefit from municipal grants, they have to apply the same conditions as the municipal childcare centres and to apply the same fees. Public sector is still dominant in the delivery of childcare. Private sector represents about 15%, from which parent’s cooperatives are the major component. The private sector is mainly present in the Stockholm area.

4.3. Elderly care

Overview of elderly care in Sweden

Swedish model regarding elderly care has been particularly attentive to offer preventive care and support for the elderly in regular housing, trough the adaptation of the homes, transportation services etc. The rights for the elderly to receive care are quite extensive. They are notably set up in the Social Services Act. About three quarters of the people entitled to receive elderly care are over eighty years in Sweden. The needs are growing, and it will be a really challenging situation for Swedish municipalities (in charge of the non medical cares) and county councils (responsible for healthcare) when the big generation born in the 1940s will reach the age of eighty. The majority of elderly care is provided in-house by the municipalities However, the care of the elderly was increasingly contracted out during the 1990s, included to municipal companies, and the companies, associations and co-operatives have a growing part in the delivery of these social services of general interest. Private sector currently delivers 10% of the elderly care. According to Svensk Näringsliv, the seven biggest companies represent 50% of the private market in this sector. Carema AB, Attendo AB and ISS Care Partner Av are among these companies. The freedom of choice for elderly care has been implemented in some municipalities for home help services and for special housing. At the end of 2006, twenty-four municipalities were using freedom of choice for home help and six for special housing . Twenty-nine were planning to implement it for home help and seven for special housing.