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Maria Mindhammar takes helm at Sweden's battered PES

Maria Mindhammar takes helm at Sweden's battered PES

| Text: Gunhild Wallin, photo: Johan Karlberg, Peter Kroon

On 5 December Maria Mindhammar was appointed the new Director-General of the Swedish Public Employment Service. It is a job she gladly goes to, while also calling the situation at the Public Employment Service “exceptionally challenging”.

“I am very proud to be the new Director-General for this large and important agency," said Maria Mindhammar, as she held a press conference on 10 December to talk about the new labour market forecast for the next two years.

This was five days after she started work as Director-General for the Swedish Public Employment Service. She was introduced by Sweden’s Minister for Employment Eva Nordmark, who praised her long and comprehensive experience as a public servant. Eva Nordmark underlined the importance of the Public Employment Service and how crucial strong leadership is in order for the service to succeed with the restructuring it is undergoing. 

“Maria Mindhammar is the right person to take up the position as Director General and to provide the clear leadership this agency needs in order to provide the correct support for job seekers and employers across the country. She will also play an important role in the ongoing work to reform the agency,” said Eva Nordmark.

Broad experience

Maria Mindhammar is a lawyer and has broad experience from public authorities. She has been the regional tax director and tax director in Västra Götaland County, at the Swedish Enforcement Authority and at the National Agency for Education. She has also served as a judge. She joined the agency as Deputy Director-General in September 2017 and has now taken over from Mikael Sjöberg. Because she has served as his deputy, she is well informed about the major reforms and challenges facing the agency.

“I approach this big and tough task with much respect and humility, but for me it was never an option not to take this on,” she said.

The publication Arbetet asked why she had accepted to lead an agency that is facing a situation which she herself described as “exceptionally challenging”. Her answer:

“Because I believe in this agency and I am passionate about these issues. I believe we can make something really good out of this, but I realise it is going to be tough.”

Rough seas

The Swedish Public Employment Service has been facing rough seas in the past year, to put it mildly. The agency got less money than expected in the 2018 budget after the Moderates and Christian Democrats got parliamentary support for their proposed cuts. 

Then there was the so-called January agreement, which allowed the Social Democrats and the Greens to form a coalition after conceding certain issues to the Centre Party and the Liberals. A reform of the Public Employment Service formed an important part of the January agreement. The Centre Party in particular wanted to see a rapid and comprehensive process which would contract out many of the benefit allocation processes – including matching – to private players, in accordance with the Public Procurement Act (LOV).

For the agency’s 14,000 staff the consequences quickly became apparent. In early spring 2019, 4,500 people got their redundancy notices and it was decided that 132 local job centres would close. So far 1,900 people have left voluntarily. According to the January agreement, the entire reform would be carried out rapidly, and the new organisation should be up and running in late 2021.

A no-confidence motion

But a few weeks ago a no-confidence motion against the government, and Eva Nordmark in particular, was proposed. The Left Party leader Jonas Sjöstedt wanted to stop what he called the “privatisation chaos” at the Public Employment Service.

He claimed there no longer was parliamentary support for the far-reaching privatisation which was part of the January agreement, and that the rapid reform was hurting both municipalities and the long-term unemployed.

Pressure on the government mounted as Jonas Sjöstedt secured support from the Moderates and the Christian Democrats. After talks with the Centre Party and the Liberals, they managed to modify the January agreement, which was presented on Monday 9 December. This means the Public Employment Service next year gets to keep 900 million Swedish kronor (€ 86m) which was not spent in 2019, and that the reform will be postponed with one year. It is now due to finish by the end of 2022. 

The new compromise also means a softening of the demand for putting all matching services out to tender.

This is the reality and reform task facing Maria Mindhammar as leader in the coming six years. There are still not many stories written about the person Maria Mindhammar, but on 5 December, in front of the press, we saw a person who time and again praised her colleagues and who was open to dialogue with the government, the social partners and not least the independent players who will get more responsibility for the matching of job-seekers and employers.

She also highlighted the role of public servants. An agency carries out the government’s orders, so she will now be waiting for the government’s letter, due in December, that will detail the Public Employment Service’s future.


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