The Council of Ministers this morning approved the law on the devolvement of powers to Portugal’s councils, with the notable exception of the Commissions for Regional Development (CCDRs) - as the Social Democrats had objected.
The first part of the devolution process can now go ahead with councils picking up the responsibility for a range of central government activities.
This "cornerstone of state reform" sees power going not only to municipalities, but to parish councils and intermunicipal communities such as the Algarve’s AMAL, mayor’s group, and is seismic shift away from centralised State services to a local delivery model.
According to the Council of Ministers, the proposal approved today, which now heads off to parliament and then to the President of the Republic for approval, defines "a mechanism for the redistribution of competences, financial resources and human resources,” in areas including education, health, social security, transport, culture, housing and civil protection.
Today’s statement outlined the key competencies that will be decentralised with a question mark remaining over who will assess properties for rateable values (VP).
Food safety was another grey area with the government earlier stating that the councils will take over this task, but against the wishes of the Food and Economic Security Authority (ASAE) within whose remit this currently lies.
Now the executive specifies that councils will be "exercising control and authority in the area of food safety, without prejudice to the competencies of criminal police agencies," meaning that the councils will not outrank ASAE.
There will be an accompanying transfer of assets too, with any “buildings and assets to be transferred and managed by the local authorities,” and staff currently running these services will leave central government employ and be taken on by the councils with their rights intact.
As for the CCDR question, this needs further work and some sort of compromise over the election or appointment of board members.