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Government to launch welfare reforms 'before election'

Published tisdag 9 maj kl 13.53
Commentator: This is about how Sweden is governed in future.
(4:01 min)
Ilmar Reepalu (right) and Ardalan Shekarabi (left) announce the final conclusions of the Reepalu report.
Ilmar Reepalu (right) and Ardalan Shekarabi (left) announce the final conclusions of the Reepalu report. Credit: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Sweden's government will move to reform the way private companies deliver health, education and elderly care before the 2018 election, a senior minister said on Tuesday.

Ardalan Shekarabi, Sweden's Minister for Public Affairs, made the promise as he was presented with "Quality in Welfare", the final conclusions of a two-year inquiry into reforms to welfare provision led by Ilmar Reepalu, the former Mayor of Malmö.

"We agree with the Left Party that the proposals will be presented during this term of office," he said. "We will make the proposals once we have worked through the report's conclusions and other issues that are included in the agreement."

In a press conference to launch the report, Shekarabi complained of the "powerful lobby" working behind the scenes to block curbs on private companies in the sector. 

"The inquiry has been carried out despite these powerful lobby groups," he said. "The power [of opposition] has been so strong because this involves enormous sums of money. I regret the efforts to try and silence this issue."

Reepalu last autumn outlined a controversial proposal for a seven percent cap on the profits companies can make on investments in delivering taxpayer-funded welfare services.

Tuesday's report focused more on how municipalities and regional governments should best measure the quality of services provided by private providers.

The report called for reforms to force private providers to be more transparent, and for municipalities to be given more support and training on negotiating and enforcing contracts.

Sweden's centre-right opposition criticised the report's failure to suggest concrete quality requirements which could be imposed on private providers.

"It is absolutely absurd that it should not be possible to set quality requirements in healthcare and schools," argued Jan Björklund, leader of the Liberal party.

Ulf Kristersson, economic spokesman for the Moderate Party, accused Reepalu's inquiry of being part of a Social Democrat political gambit.

"This is a pre-ordered inquiry. Reepalu knew what conclusions he would come to and he opposes freedom of choice," he said.

"If you can measure quality in everything else important in our society, why should you not be able to measure quality, and set quality requirements when it comes to welfare?"

From the early 1990s, Sweden brought in a series of welfare reforms which hugely expanded the role of private companies in providing taxpayer-funded services. 

But the reforms have been blamed for falling standards in schools, health, and elderly care. 

A survey published by Gothenburg University's SOM institute last September found that 57 per cent of Swedes favoured profit curbs on companies providing welfare services. 

Even a majority of voters for the each of centre-right Moderate, Centre and Christian Democrat parties were in favour of a profit cap. 

Only supporters of the minority Liberal Party wanted to keep the system unchanged.

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