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Advice on district system

13 December 2008 – Last week, the Mertens Committee, which is to issue an advice on Amsterdam’s administrative system in January, presented its preliminary findings. Districts need to have at least 80,000 residents and fewer politicians, it suggested. A summary.

In addition to a central government and city council, Amsterdam has fourteen districts and district councils. In sum, almost sixty administrators and 367 elected council members. A committee headed by Rabobank director Bert Mertens is to advice the city on restructuring its administration. Last week, Mertens presented his preliminary findings in a speech to local politicians.

Uniformity: There should be uniformity across Amsterdam regarding issues such as income support, permits and bye-laws.

Flexible division of tasks: A council should be set up to regularly review the division of tasks between city and districts. Tasks that require the development of new policies should be the responsibility of the city. Mertens did not comment on suggestions to devolve the welfare agency and home care to the districts.

Larger districts: Although the committee acknowledges that smaller districts tend to be evaluated more positively by their residents, it states that ‘robust’ districts need to have at least 80,000 residents. Currently, only Noord, Centrum and Oud-Zuid have as many residents, while Zuidoost comes close. Mertens did not yet indicate whether the reorganisation should take place in 2010 or 2014.

City in charge: The city should lift the ‘taboo’ on using its powers to interfere in district policies.

Fewer politicians: The maximum number of district council members should be limited to 25 (now 29) and the maximum number of district administrators to four (now five). According to the committee, parties now have difficulties recruiting candidates, although it recognises that lowering the number of council members will raise the threshold for small parties. The committee also recommends to seek national legislation to limit the number of politicians at city level.

Mertens’ speech (at the NRC Handelsblad website, pdf). Photo BMA.


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