“It’s like an onion, the more you peel the more layers you’ll find, and whilst peeling all you can do is cry,” I smiled at my foreign business friend across the coffee table from me. He laughed back and knowingly nodded his head. “Just when you think you’ve broke through a layer you’re greeted to your despair with another, you can see through the next layer that there are just so many hidden under the surface,” I added.
Do you know how many boroughs there are in Croatia? It might surprise you to learn that there are 555 boroughs! We have islands in the middle of the Adriatic with 5 boroughs on them! We have boroughs so small that even the head of the borough doesn’t know where they are.
“In the Republic of Croatia, there are a total of 555 units of local self-government, including 428 municipalities and 127 cities and 20 regional self-governments or counties. The City of Zagreb, as the capital of the Republic of Croatia, has a special status of the city and the county, so that in the Republic of Croatia a total of 576 units of local and regional self-government,” the exact words from the Ministry of Justice. That is a lot of mouths to fed! With a population just over 4 million we have 576 councils with countless members. Imagine the money that needs to be ploughed into the budgets of these authorities every year. Are we getting value for money?
In contrast one of the largest cities in the world, London, with a population twice that of the whole of Croatia has only 32 boroughs. Each borough in London has a minimum of 150,000 citizens. So if we work on that principle for Croatia we should have 26.6 boroughs, OK lets round it up and say 27. Meaning that we currently have 528 boroughs that we don’t need. Of course you could argue that due to geographical situations each borough has differing requirements and challenges. Point taken. And quite possibly 27 boroughs would be to radical a cut back.
But using the same argument 555 is way too many. How can there be five boroughs, well four and one city, on the island of Korcula. Do they take it in turns to be the head! If 32 boroughs can control and govern a city of 8 million why do we need 555 to govern half as many people. And to widen the picture a little. Across the whole of the UK there are 326 local authorities, or local government districts, and these include the 32 boroughs in London.
With a population of just under 55 million this means that every local government district in the UK has a population of around 1.6 million. If you use that formula, then 3 local government districts would be enough to run Croatia.
Think how much money we would save every year. On the flip side one could argue that with so many local authorities we should be living in Switzerland. There are so many layers of government that the country must be utopia. Nobody can have any complaints. The streets are clean. All our public services are running like clockwork. We must have a living standard higher than Sweden and a social care system the envy of the world. For what is the point of having so many boroughs and layers of government if everything is going badly.
Of course cutting down of the number of boroughs is a tough political question. Because what do boroughs buy you – voters. Whoever decides to do what is best for Croatia and cut down the layers of the political onion would almost certainly lose the next election. Logic and politics are never best friends. So of course nothing will change. And the citizens will continue to fund local government that is neither effective or feasible. And Croatia will carry this crippling burden on its shoulders for a few more decades.