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The Reform of Local Public Utilities in Italy

Giuseppe Bognetti () and Lorenzo Robotti

Annals of Public and Cooperative Economics, 2003, vol. 74, issue 1, 117-137

Abstract: The Italian system of local public utilities has recently undergone an important reform process. The first round of reforms, introduced in the 1990s, represented a remarkable change in the social welfare function with regard to the management of local public utilities. The legislation was specifically designed to cut costs and reduce deficits. A second round of reforms, required by European directives, started around the mid‐1990s. Several laws were passed introducing important innovations and regulating specific sectors: public transport; electricity; and gas. Article 35 of the 2002 Financial Law was the final step in a comprehensive reform of the whole local public utility sector. The main innovations of the Financial Law concerns liberalization. Article 35 states that the general rule for awarding service provision contracts is competitive tendering; the rationale is obviously that of competition for the market. The general rule as expressed by Article 35 is nevertheless limited during the transition period. In the long run, competitive tendering will become the normal way of awarding contracts for local public utility provision. Even if there are doubts that full competition will be introduced into the sector, liberalization does appear to be having an effect, forcing many local public utilities to become more efficient. The changes introduced have brought about a better and a more efficient system with a greater number of large size enterprises and on the average a more active management. In the future, the liberalization process may come to a standstill due to an insufficient number of competitors. Strong public administrations are therefore needed to prevent opportunistic behaviour by private firms.

Date: 2003
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