The Yomiuri ShimbunHow can the livelihoods of local residents be sustained as population decline progresses? Local governments must consider measures to deal with this from a long-term perspective.
The 32nd Local Government System Research Council has compiled an interim report on issues that are likely to emerge around 2040 and administrative systems to address these challenges.
The population of people aged 85 or older is expected to top 10 million in 2040, double the current figure. The demand for nursing care is expected to increase, as is the need for public transportation. The working age population of people aged 15 to 64 will decrease and population flow to urban areas will advance.
It will be no easy task to maintain the necessary administrative services and sustain local vigor under such severe conditions. The current system of one local government providing all administrative services is approaching its limits.
As a direction for reforms to take, the interim report calls for promoting cooperation beyond the boundaries of cities, towns and villages. The report encourages “a shift from competition for population growth to cooperation in enhancing regional charms.”
The number of core urban cooperation zones across the nation, each centering on a city with a population of 200,000 or more, has increased to 32.
In the Bingo regional zone consisting of six cities and two towns centering on Fukuyama in Hiroshima Prefecture, facilities related to child-rearing are jointly operated and cooperation in operating public hospitals is promoted. The municipalities have cooperated over the expansion of sales outlets for local specialties, including wine and denim fabrics.
It is highly significant that municipalities that share the same area for daily activities and economic zone display their strong points and supplement each other.
Considering the future labor shortage and tax revenue decrease, it will become necessary to consolidate administrative service centers.
Ensure local integrity
Among the municipalities that are considering creating core urban cooperation zones, there is a strong concern that only the core city will become vigorous while neighboring municipalities will weaken.
It is indispensable to deepen discussions on measures to maintain the integrity of municipalities taking part in these zones, including through the utilization of information technologies.
Working out measures to maintain infrastructure such as water supply, sewage systems and roads is also an important task for regional communities. The facilities built during the period of high economic growth have become increasingly superannuated so the maintenance and management costs for them are anticipated to increase 1.4 times by 2040 over the present level.
Some observers have pointed out that municipal governments are suffering a shortage of not only budgets but also technical officials in charge of maintenance work.
In Akita Prefecture, a system has been established for municipalities to cooperate in the inspection of and removal of snow from roads under their jurisdiction. It is essential for municipalities to ramp up cooperation over infrastructure maintenance and expansion, just as for administrative services.
Excessive burdens should not be left for future generations. It is necessary to take a long-term perspective and enhance administrative efficiency by promoting consolidation of public facilities as well.
Municipal governments are called on to explain to residents how severe the situation is and tackle challenges while obtaining their understanding.