More attention needs to be turned to the availability of public services in counties

Toomas Mattson | 5/11/2010 | 2:06 PM

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TALLINN, 11 May 2010 - On the basis of its recently completed audit, the National Audit Office finds that insufficient attention is being turned to the availability of public services in Estonia’s counties and that there is no comprehensive plan for the formation of a network of public departments.

The audit was designed to determine whether public services which require those using them to go to the public department in person are available in counties; whether the reorganisation of public departments takes the needs of users of their services into account; and whether the costs of reorganisation are proportional to the objectives they are meant to achieve.

The services provided by the four public departments analysed by the National Audit Office on the basis of 2009 data were only available to potential clients in four of the country’s fifteen counties. From the analysis of access to the Citizenship and Migration Board and the local pension offices of the Social Insurance Board it can be concluded that even services which are provided in all county centres remain difficult to access for around 30,000 people in Estonia – more or less equal to the entire population of Põlva, Jõgeva, Saare or Valga County. The audit revealed that the greatest problems in terms of the availability of services occur in Lääne-Viru and Lääne Counties, followed by Hiiu and Põlva Counties.

The National Audit Office deemed a service to be ‘available’ if 95% of the population of a county were able to reach the centre in which the department providing the service was located within one and a half hours by public transport, with the place at which they boarded the public transport being no more than three kilometres from their home as the crow flies. County borders were not taken into account in the analysis; the assessment of the availability of services was based on the centres which people could reach by public transport most quickly.

Tarmo Olgo, the Audit Director of the Performance Audit Department, says that the problems in ensuring the availability of public services are more serious than the figures alone indicate. No agreement has been reached on general principles for the formation of a network of public departments; the development of a nationwide network of services is being guided by an understanding among ministries of where departments should be located which is department-based and lacks coherence; and more and more decisions are being made which affect people’s access to key services based solely on the available funding. “It’s just not right if you only follow the principle of equality of treatment within the limits of your budget,” Olgo remarked.

The majority of important decisions which have an impact on where specific public departments are located – and therefore on the availability of services – are taken in the course of the reorganisation of the departments. As such, the National Audit Office sought to determine whether one of the objectives of the reorganisation of public departments was to improve the availability of services. To this end it analysed, in detail, the transfer of labour market services to the Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund and the formation of the Environmental Board, the Agricultural Board and the Police & Border Guard Board.

In none of these four cases was improving the availability of services an objective of reorganisation. Labour market legislation alone states that its services must be provided in every county. The most common reason given for the formation of new offices was the need to resolve issues related to the management and organisation of work within departments.

Major cases of reorganisation, which led to the creation of new or closure of existing government departments, were not always planned in accordance with the principles of good governance. It is the view of the National Audit Office that the planning of reorganisation requires greater attention.

The recommendations made as a result of the audit conducted by the National Audit Office are designed to enable the government and ministers to take much-needed steps to ensure the availability of key public services at least at the county level and to substantially improve the process of reorganisation of public departments so that it is properly thought through and based on the needs of individuals and that the costs involved are in proportion to the benefits the reorganisation is likely to produce.

The availability of services within the Pension Board, the Citizenship and Migration Board, the Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund and the National Examinations and Qualifications Centre was analysed by the National Audit Office in association with AS Regio. Residential data contained in the population register, data from the public transport register concerning bus routes and bus stops and the timetables of passenger trains and (in the case of Estonia’s islands) ferries and aeroplanes correct as at July 2009 were used in this analysis.

In recent years the National Audit Office has turned attention to relations between the state and its people, amongst other things examining whether the state is easy to deal with. The availability of services was examined in 2009 following the evaluation of the quality of e-services carried out in 2007.

Toomas Mattson
Director of Communications Services
National Audit Office
Mobile: +372 51 34 900
Telephone: +372 640 0777
toomas.mattson@riigikontroll.ee
 

  • Posted: 5/11/2010 2:06 PM
  • Last Update: 11/10/2015 6:03 PM
  • Last Review: 11/10/2015 6:03 PM

The map shows the availability of the services of the Citizenship and Migration Board.

Regio OÜ/National Audit Office

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