All developed countries have local government in some form but how do the challenges they face compare to ours and how do they respond to them? I was, therefore, delighted to have the opportunity to discuss local government in Ukraine with Volodomyr Prokopiv, Deputy Mayor of Kyiv City Council.
Unlike in the UK where local government has evolved over centuries, in Ukraine its current form dates from independence 26 years ago. Kyiv City Council, the Kyivska Rada, is run by a directly elected Mayor with five deputy mayors and 120 councillors representing its 60 electoral districts – half elected by the districts and half on a party-list. Changes to the electoral system, moving away from the use of party-lists, are intended to ensure all Members have a direct link to the communities they serve. There are five parties but none has an overall majority meaning that decisions rely on shifting coalitions. Many of its functions are basically the same as ours and some like planning are equally contentious. They do not have to licence taxis, alcohol sales or zoos.
Funding is primarily from a proportion of income tax along with rental income and a small element of property taxation. In Kyiv and other regional centres the inner city is prosperous compared to rural areas, something which is in sharp contrast to the UK, and one of the challenges they face is to ensure all parts benefit from economic modernisation. Left over from Soviet times is a perception that local administration does things for people and another challenge is to change the culture so that residents feel they have a stake in their communities and can work with the Council. If this sounds similar to the changes we have made in Barnsley it is because they have adopted independently some of the thinking behind our Future Council concept.
One challenge we do not share is the need to accommodate people displaced by war and major Ukrainian cities, but mostly Kyiv, now have over a million extra residents as a result of the Russian invasion of Donetsk and Luhansk as well as the occupation of Crimea. This, coupled with a general movement from the countryside into the cities, places a strain on the health and education services with new school building having to be funded from municipal revenues. The Council also provides grants for English lessons as that is increasingly replacing Russian as the second language, especially for commerce. Kyiv has an underground railway originally built in the 1930s but now being expanded as new suburbs are built. It is fast and efficient with any journey costing the equivalent of 14 pence.
Whilst we have much in common with our Ukrainian counterparts we are fortunate not to have all their challenges although I got the impression they were pleased not to have to licence meerkats!
First published in the Barnsley Chronicle - Penistone Living October 2017