Local background of the social innovations
In the Netherlands, it is often said how Amsterdam is “arrogant” and always wants to do things in its own way, and indeed, it is a city that is keen on having its own particularities. Internationally renowned as an open-minded, tolerant and progressive capital, Amsterdam also strives to uphold this image of being an “avangardist” city that tries to remain ahead of times, both in an international context and in the Dutch context. Despite its particular history, mentality and structure, there are broader (national/European) trends to which Amsterdam is not immune, as well as national policies and regulations with which Amsterdam too has to comply. All of this has repercussions for what are considered “social innovations“ in Amsterdam and the way in which these develop at the local level.
One characteristic of the city of Amsterdam is that the Labour Party (Partij van de Arbeid, or PvdA) has been the largest party in the municipal council since the end of the second world war, and the mayor of Amsterdam has been a member of the PvdA ever since. As several interviewees of WP4 also underlined, it is the PvdA that has long been calling the shots in Amsterdam and, accordingly, the value of equality has long played a critical role within municipal politics in the sense that “everyone should be treated equally”. Although the Liberal Party has been part of the municipal coalition since the 1990s, the idea that equality is a basic societal foundation remains a deep-rooted belief that has a significant influence on the political choices that are made in the city of Amsterdam. Municipal integration policies based on the concepts of “diversity” and “citizenship” also stress the fact that, regardless of one’s socio-economic status or cultural background, everyone is, above all, an “Amsterdammer”.
Another important feature of Amsterdam is that it is divided in city districts (stadsdelen). The first city districts were established at the beginning of the 1980s. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s more city districts were created, and others were fused together again, until, by 2002, there were fourteen city districts, all of which had their own council and aldermen. In 2010, however, the number of city districts was reduced from fourteen to seven, and currently there is a discussion about the elimination of city districts all together – not in terms of the territorial boundaries that they represent, nor of the tasks that they are responsible for, but in terms of having separate councils, aldermen and budgets. Amsterdam and city districts have thus been going through a whole series of reorganisations, which, every time, cause a sense of ambiguity for the administration and insecurity among its civil servants. Yet the number of civil servants in Amsterdam is proportionately still higher than in any other large municipality in the Netherlands: a study that was carried out in 2012 (Berenschot, 2012) claimed there were nineteen civil servants per 1,000 inhabitants in Amsterdam, while other large municipalities had an average of eleven civil servants per 1,000 inhabitants (the cost of which was estimated to be 7,900 euros per inhabitant in Amsterdam, against 6,400 euros in Rotterdam, and 4,400 euros in Utrecht and The Hague).
In functional terms, city districts hold a position that is very similar to that of any other municipality,and, especially, they carry similar responsibilities regarding the provision of local welfare services/facilities. Hence, depending on the coalitions within the district councils, city districts can also set their own priorities and give their own twist to the way in which certain welfare provisions are provided. On the one hand, the formation of fairly autonomous districts within a larger municipality enables these districts to provide more “personalised” services by focusing on the provision of specific services that are deemed necessary in a particular area. On the other hand, this means that in every district there are different services, different ways of organising these services and different welfare organisations providing these services. To this day, there is a particularly large number of actors involved in the provision of welfare services and the organisation of welfare within Amsterdam is rather compartmentalised.
A national policy that clearly marked the way in which Amsterdam implements welfare policies at the local level is the “Neighbourhood Development Programme” (wijkaanpak) that was launched in 2007, following which a selection of disadvantaged neighbourhoods in Amsterdam was classified as a so-called “attention area” (aandachtswijk or krachtwijk). Major regeneration projects have been carried out in these neighbourhoods ever since. The approach of the wijkaanpak is an integrated, more holistic approach towards neighbourhood regeneration: besides improving the physical environment, the wijkaanpak aims to enhance the broader “liveability” (leefbaarheid) in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, i.e. to improve the social and economic environment too. Municipalities were granted additional governmental funds for the implementation of the Neighbourhood Development Programme, although housing corporations are largely responsible, both financially and logistically, for the completion of the programme. At the same time, in the wijkaanpak, citizen participation is key. Moreover, it encourages actors at the local level to engage in new partnerships with other actors that are operating within the same neighbourhoods. Finally, as the programme manager of the wijkaanpak at the municipal Service for Societal Development (Dienst Maatschappelijke Ontwikkeling, or DMO) also underlined, the wijkaanpak is meant to be a learning experience, open to experimentation, that promotes a change of culture, but that always stays focused on obtaining concrete results.
Another national trend that has affected the way in which welfare is implemented at the local level is the continuing decentralisation of welfare (and in particular care) policies from the central government to the municipalities. Next to the complete decentralisation of youth care services, more and more caregiving services that used to be part of the “General Act on Special Healthcare Costs” (Algemene Wet Bijzondere Ziektekosten, or AWBZ), and thus a (financial) responsibility of the central government, have been included in the Law of Societal Development (Wet Maatschappelijke Ontwikkeling, or WMO) and are now the responsibility of municipalities. Although the central government supports local governments with these transitions, in times of crisis and increasing budget restraints, this basically means that municipalities have to do more with less. Furthermore, the WMO – a law that concerns the provision of services for citizens in difficult conditions, such as, for example, the elderly, people with a handicap or psychological problems, but also people with financial problems – stipulates that citizens should have an independent life and participate in society as much as possible. To achieve this purpose, municipalities are free to set their priorities wherever they feel there is a more stringent need for support. So far, generally, the municipality of Amsterdam has been responsible for the individual provisions that were part of the WMO and the city districts have been responsible for the collective provisions. Recently, in response to the decentralisation processes that are supposed to be completed by 2015, the municipality introduced a “new vision” of the WMO: the so-called “New Style of Welfare” (Welzijn Nieuwe Stijl). This vision is based on more self-responsibility and self-reliance – it expects the people of Amsterdam to look more for possible solutions to their problems within their own networks. Hence, the focus is now on collective provisions and informal support mechanisms – which are “happening” at the level of “the neighbourhood“.
In summary, due to the particular structure and history of the city of Amsterdam, it has an extensive and intricate network of separate and rather compartmentalised actors involved in the provision of local welfare services. Every district has its own (welfare) programme and organisations, and, due to the availability of sufficient funding/subsidies, all of these actors have long had the possibility of working fairly independently from one another. Recently, the wijkaanpak and the ongoing budget cuts have encouraged all of the various actors to join forces and tackle societal problems in a more coordinated and more efficient manner. At the same time, financial “pressure” has also “made way” for the introduction of more targeted, and thus diversifying, policies. Hence, the organisations involved in the provision of welfare services in Amsterdam are increasingly “forced” to reconsider not only their (traditional) organisational culture, but also their entire approach.