Why LEPs (basic levels of service) and service objectives can reduce the country's historical gaps

#LeParoleDiOpenCivitas is a communication campaign by SOSE and openpolis to explain the key concepts of fiscal federalism through the publication of podcasts and in-depth articles.

Rome, 10/11/2021

Defining the Basic Levels of service (Italian acronym LEP) means establishing the services to be guaranteed throughout the country since they concern citizens' civil and social rights. We want to explain this complex process and why service objectives are the first step towards its implementation.

The place where we live is the variable that most affects our daily experience with public services: health, transport, social care, education. The level of services offered on the territory changes a lot throughout Italy, both in terms of quantity and quality.

For this reason, it is essential to define standards throughout the territory using different tools including - as we will see - service objectives and the Basic Levels of Service.

In metropolitan and southern areas, citizens report longer waiting times for public services

Furthermore, our country's complex orography often makes services difficult to reach. About half of the Italian households report difficulty getting the nearest emergency room, and the percentage rises to 63% in the south and almost 68% in small municipalities. For nearly a third of households (32.9%), the municipal offices themselves are difficult to reach, and the percentage rises to 38% in the centre and the south.


In Calabria, 70.2% of households report some or many difficulties in reaching the nearest emergency room.

These daily and apparently trivial problems constitute one of the main challenges our country must face, as the Constitution itself in Article 3 states:

All citizens have equal social dignity and are equal before the law (……) It is the duty of the Republic to remove those obstacles of an economic or social nature which constrain the freedom and equality of citizens, thereby impeding the full development of the human person and the effective participation of all workers in the political, economic and social organisation of the country.

The Italian Constitution Art. 3

As regards public services, reducing disparities means establishing an adequate threshold for the whole national territory, from Bolzano to Ragusa. The central government must define this threshold complying with the Constitution through the basic levels of services - LEPs.

LEPs are essential services connected to civil and social rights and must be guaranteed throughout the national territory. Following the 2001 reform, they were introduced in the Constitution, which assigned the task of defining them to the central government.

The definition of LEPs also entails higher spending by the central state. Establishing them means defining, for each essential service, a level guaranteed and valid everywhere. This is a principle of the fiscal federalism reform and is perhaps one of the most complex issues to be addressed.

The reason is quite intuitive. If each local authority must guarantee a standard level of service established by law (for example, a maximum ratio between the number of pupils with disabilities and assistants in schools), the central government must support the territories which cannot provide those services due to a lower fiscal capacity.

With this aim, following the reform of Title V, the Constitution establishes an equalization fund with no allocation constraints and further special measures to reduce disparities between local authorities.

State legislation shall provide for an equalisation fund - with no allocation constraints - for the territories having lower per-capita taxable capacity. (…) The State shall allocate supplementary resources and adopt special measures in favour of specific municipalities, provinces, metropolitan cities and regions to promote economic development along with social cohesion and solidarity, to reduce economic and social imbalances, to foster the exercise of the rights of the person or to achieve goals other than those pursued in the ordinary implementation of their functions.

The Italian Constitution, art. 119 paragraph. 3 e 5

Pending the definition of LEPs, the service objectives introduce the same mechanism to reduce gaps.

On this path, the standardization of nursery schools' expenditure needs in 2019 and the 2021 budget law led to defining the service objectives for social services and nursery schools.

Although LEPs are not yet defined as provided for by the Constitution, the service objectives introduce a similar mechanism: they define target thresholds valid throughout the national territory for each indicator (for example, the number of nursery school places available per 100 children). In other words, a virtual minimum level that all municipalities should reach.

The 2021 budget law also provides additional resources for municipalities increasing the Municipal Solidarity Fund. When fully operational, the fund will allocate over 650 million euros to develop social services and 300 million to strengthen nursery schools.

It is possible to estimate the effects of this choice already this year. The data published by SOSE on the OpenCivitas portal allow comparing the resources allocated by the Municipal Solidarity Fund to each municipality between 2020 and 2021.

The increase of the Municipal Solidarity Fund under the budget law was positive for all municipalities. However, it is interesting that the centre and the south recorded more significant increases (+8% and 5.7%, respectively) than the municipalities of the north-west and north-east (on average + 4.4% and + 3.3%, respectively).

The resources of the Municipal Solidarity Fund increased above all in municipalities in southern and central Italy

Increase per capita of the Municipal Solidarity Fund between 2020 and 2021 in municipalities in regions with an ordinary statute


The comparison among the ten largest Italian cities in the regions with an ordinary statute highlights that the resources of the Municipal Solidarity Fund per capita are higher - in both years - in Naples (over 300 euros per capita), Genoa and Turin (both above 200 euros per capita). Between 2020 and 2021, all municipalities, and therefore also the most populated ones, have seen a positive change in their Municipal Solidarity Fund.

The increase exceeds 20% in the two cities with the lowest per capita share of the Municipal Solidarity Fund. Between 2020 and 2021, Milan ranges from 10.08 to 12.77 euros per capita (+ 26.7%), while in Rome, from 68.2 to 81.98 euros per inhabitant (+ 20%). In absolute terms, the increase in the Municipal Solidarity Fund is 28% for Milan (from 13.9 to 17.8 million euros) and 19.4% for Rome (from 194.8 to 232.6 million euros).

Among large cities, Milan and Rome show the highest increase in the Municipal Solidarity Fund

Change in the total and per capita Municipal Solidarity Fund in large cities in regions with an ordinary statute (2020 vs 2021)

The increase, both per capita and in absolute terms, is over 5% also in Venice (+9,82%), Bari (+6,26%) and Verona (+5,36%).