Norway's public sector comprises the national government, the municipalities and the county councils. Several major changes in the allocation of responsibilities between the three administrative levels have been made in the last few years and the role of the county council has therefore also changed. It is now primarily responsible for upper secondary education and regional development.
The county council's main task is to act as a regional developer. This means it is our responsibility to help expand the labour market by stimulating creativity and innovation. We also work to provide businesses with the best possible general conditions by, for example, developing the transport sector.
The county council is also responsible for delivering those welfare services that are too large for an individual municipality to deliver on its own and for inter-municipal services. The largest service currently provided by the county council is the operation and development of the county's 11 upper secondary schools. Østfold County Council employs almost 2,500 people in departments and organisations throughout the county.
The county council's budget for 2010 was aproximately NOK 2.3 billion.
Individual politicians elected for the county council do not have any authority in their own right. As the senior popularly elected body it is the county council which takes decisions. Councillors are elected every four years by direct election. The ballots for the county council elections are put forward by the political parties. Following the last county council election there are now 35 councillors.
The county council votes on matters after they have been first been considered by the county executive board or the county council's two specialist committees (Specialist Committee 1 is responsible for education, health and culture, and Specialist Committee 2 is responsible for business, land use, transport and the environmental issues). The county executive board is primarily responsible for economic and planning matters.
All teenagers between the ages of 16 and 19 have a statutory right to three years upper secondary education, which is intended to result in the attainment of the minimum requirements for entrance to higher or vocational education in Norway, or lower level qualifications. The provision of upper secondary education is the county council's biggest service area. This entails responsibility for all education which leads to formal qualifications after primary and lower secondary education and before higher education. As well as upper secondary education, this service also includes vocational training in companies, the Pedagogic Psychological Service (PPT), the Follow-up Service (OT) in upper secondary education, and adult education under the auspices of Østfold Ressurs. The county council also follows up teenagers between the ages of 16 to 19 who are not in school or work.
As a school authority Østfold County Council is responsible for:
Østfold Kollektivtrafikk (ØKT) is a separate department of Østfold County Council with responsibility for, among other things, the procurement of transport services, the transport of schoolchildren and the sick, and the development and quality assurance of public transport provision in Østfold. ØKT's primary goal is to increase the number of people travelling by public transport in Østfold by increasing availability and quality.
The Dental Health Service in Østfold consists of 19 well-equipped, modern dental clinics. Here children and teenagers up to the age of 18, the mentally disabled, senior citizens and the long-term sick in institutions, and home nursing recipients receive free dental treatment. The Dental Health Service also serves paying adult patients. A total of 53,000 patients are treated annually.
The county council's role is to act as a pro-active, committed driving force for creativity and innovation. The Storting (the Norwegian parliament) and the national government have decided that county councils should be responsible for regional social development. This requires active leadership in the regional partnership between all the parties involved: businesses, expert groups, facilitators, professional and industrial bodies, and municipalities. The county council's areas of responsibility within regional development cover:
Østfold County Council has been given more responsibility for community and business development in Østfold. Several good collaborative projects have been established through partnerships in Østfold, which contribute to generating positive involvement and development in the county. The county council largely sets the agenda with respect to the prioritisation of transport projects in the region - both as an initiative taker and a partner. One of the most important initiatives for the region at the moment is Østfoldpakka, a collaboration between the county council, national government and the municipalities in Østfold. The project involves the E6 and E18 roads, the new Kråkerøy Bridge and Sarpe Bridge, the new main approach to Halden, and the new port road in Moss.
Other transport and business projects in which the county council is heavily involved include, among others, the port collaboration in Østfold through the establishment of Østfold port and the work being done on facilitating civil aviation in Rygge through Rygge Civil Airport.
Østfold is rich in culture, which in many cases blossoms thanks to the contribution of the county council. Individual performances by famous and not so famous artists, festivals, cultural buildings and the beautification of roads and buildings are among the initiatives that receive the support of the county council. We also support a number of cultural institutions.
It is important that someone takes overall responsibility for our shared cultural heritage. Among other things the county council takes responsibility for all municipal and development plans in order to avoid conflicts between cultural monuments and the interests of developers, and to ensure the interests of national and regional cultural monuments.
Working and participating in various international organisations results in Østfold having good links with regions in all parts of Europe and access to important European decision makers. We offer support to business, organisations and municipalities within areas such as network building, finding partners, application advice, project management and contact with EU bodies in Brussels.
One of the ways the county council actively contributes to coordinated land use and transport planning throughout the county is through the focus areas in the county plan. Working to prevent the pollution of waterways is a priority. The county council also works to bring about a comprehensive policy for agricultural, forestry and common grazing areas. In addition to this, the county council has a special responsibility to safeguard the needs of children and young people in land use planning.
By working closely with the municipalities, Østfold County Council has established a community health programme aimed at improving the general health of the community, and is the only county to have done so in Norway. The programme consists of 130 subprojects including, among others, stopping smoking courses, Health Source, and establishing public hiking footpaths. The results have been so good that the government has suggested that the country's other counties emulate the Østfold model.
The term region can mean very different things. In line with the definition used by the European organisation the Assembly of Europeans Regions, the region is "the territorial body of public law established at the level immediately below that of the state and endowed with political self-government".
When dividing the country into these administrative regions the emphasis is on ensuring that the regions function as social regions based on, among other things, economic and business related criteria.
In this context the term regionalisation means the decentralisation of tasks, responsibilities and resources from the national government to a regional, popularly elected level.