75 Visions for Berlin – Episode 25: “Hopefully this exceptional situation will turn into a spirit of optimism” – Berlin

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It is not easy to write about a vision for Berlin at this time and after these unusual holidays, when Berlin was so calm and at the same time so tense.
The -only answer has to be that in 2021 Berlin should be as good as it was before the crisis – no: it has to get better!

For this, Berlin has to face the challenge of developing positive effects from the crisis and emerging from it stronger. Based on previous experience, this will not be easy.

The -Court of Auditors has accompanied the development of Berlin and its administration for decades. In doing so, he had to find out again and again that the administration is only changing slowly and that essential issues only change over a longer period of time. This is particularly problematic in a city like Berlin, which is developing very quickly and always differently.

Berlin needs a strategy for recruiting

One example is the topic of personnel. Decades of savings and downsizing have been replaced by a phase of the growing city that urgently needs to be rebuilt.

The -focus now is on the problem of attracting sufficiently qualified staff. Even during the crisis, the lack of staff in important areas, such as the health authorities, was painfully felt.

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Another massive shortage of skilled workers is to be expected in the future. In the next five years, almost 30 percent of the employees in the Berlin administration will retire due to age. Nevertheless, the personnel law regulations and procedures in Berlin are still partly shaped by the years of savings and more inflexible than the regulations in other countries. These Berlin special regulations now have a negative effect where Berlin urgently needs to recruit new staff.

End of April 2020: Employees of a Berlin health department make phone calls with face shields. To stop the flood of paper … Photo: Britta Pedersen / dpa

The -strict Berlin career law, which sets the time frame for the further development of civil servants, will hardly motivate employees from other countries to switch to the Berlin administration. And the Berlin peculiarity of attaching great importance to the description of the respective individual workplace is based on the lack of opportunities to change jobs in the past and today makes it difficult for staff to be deployed flexibly.

For the Berlin administration, the issue of recruiting is an existential question of the future. However, it has so far not been able to keep up with the development of the city.

The -administration must regularly review the objectives and effects of its administrative actions and adapt more quickly to current requirements.

The -personnel regulations should be subjected to a fundamental screening and evaluated with regard to the topicality of their objectives and the reasons for deviations from the regulations of the other countries.

The -2016 master plan for digitization has not been implemented

Another example of an urgent need for reform is digitization. In the current crisis, Berlin’s need to catch up was very clear. For example, there is a lack of adequate infrastructure for digital teaching and for the administration’s online work. This concerned both the lack of equipment with mobile devices and the provision of a sufficient connection or bandwidth for secure connections.

This is astonishing, given that the 2016 E-Government Act was actually a master plan for reforming the IT landscape in the state of Berlin. According to this, the IT structure of the districts and main administrations should be standardized and centrally managed by the IT Service Center (ITDZ), the e-files should be introduced nationwide at a time specified by law and the administration’s online service should be significantly expanded. In 2020 there was disillusionment with these plans.


The -digitization of the authorities is to be organized here:

The -IT service center (ITDZ) in the district … Photo: imago / Stefan Zeitz

The -merging of the IT structure at the ITDZ has hardly succeeded, the introduction of the files will be significantly delayed and the crisis has shown that there is an urgent need for action in the case of online services for citizens.

Digitization is one of the most important levers for the future development of Berlin.

The -big vision from 2016 has not yet been implemented. What was missing was not so much the idea, but rather the common will of all actors and the constant hard work in the implementation.

The -current crisis situation has exacerbated the dynamism of the lack of digitization, the issue now urgently needs to be promoted. It should become one of the main focal points for future administration development.

[Die Autorin Karin Klingen, geboren 1966 in Bonn, hat Rechtswissenschaften studiert und war als Leiterin verschiedener Referate der Landesregierung von Sachsen-Anhalt tätig. Seit Juni 2018 ist sie Präsidentin des Berliner Rechnungshofes.]

After all, there must also be a constant willingness to change with regard to the country’s financial planning.

The -pandemic has turned budget developments in recent years on its head. Between 2011 and 2019, Berlin experienced a phase of growth, high surpluses and ongoing debt repayment. Here, too, there were critical points, such as Berlin’s fourth-highest per capita debt in a country comparison. But there was a positive development. This ended abruptly in 2020. In the pandemic, a credit authorization of 7.3 billion euros, i.e. a higher possibility of debt than Berlin has paid off debts in the last eight years, was resolved.

Debt must also be reduced again

To make it clear at this point: It is permissible and right for Berlin to take on debt in order to cope with this crisis.

The -debt brake that has come under discussion enables precisely this flexible reaction in an emergency situation as we are now experiencing. But it also demands that the debt be used only to combat the emergency situation and then reduced again.

[Lesen Sie hier alle Beiträge unserer Serie “75 Visionen für Berlin”]

It is not yet clear whether the pandemic will only have a financial impact as a short interlude or as a prolonged slump. A number of financial policymakers tend to take the first view and expect the economic situation to improve quickly. Then it would be possible to reduce the debt through growth alone. Others point out the need for future savings. A discussion also begins about the distribution of the costs of the crisis.

Regardless of which forecasts are correct, there is one task that needs to be accomplished now: government spending needs to be re-examined. A clear turning point is required. Leaving everything as it was and simply adding new debts and expenses is not an appropriate response to the current exceptional situation.

The -pandemic has also changed future opportunities. This now requires a rethink – the existing plans and projects must be checked to ensure that their objectives and effects are up to date, and new priorities must be set.

Let’s use the crisis for a new start!

The -crisis also had positive effects. Decisions by politics and administration were not only taken quickly and decisively, but also partially implemented.

The -dynamic with which the world of work has switched to mobile working is remarkable. During the crisis, many administration employees relocated their work to the home office with great commitment.

The -subject has been controversial for years, now it has simply been realized.

The -positive experiences and the willingness to change should definitely be evaluated and used for the future.

The -current situation shows that the Berlin administration urgently needs to develop further. But also that quick changes are possible if there is a common will and great determination.

My vision these days does not include a demand for major reforms, but the wish that this exceptional situation could result in a common spirit of optimism for the necessary modernization of the Berlin administration. Then Berlin will come closer to the big task of becoming a city that is well managed in all areas.

The -Court of Auditors will continue to support this process constructively.

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