There are 184 joint authorities in Finland. Joint authorities are set up by two or more local authorities to tend to specific tasks on a permanent basis. The most important joint authorities include regional councils, hospital districts, districts for care of the disabled, and joint authorities set up to perform functions related to public health and education. Three-quarters of all joint authority expenditure is incurred from organising health services.
To establish joint authorities, individual municipalities enter into a mutual basic contract, which also allows them to decide on the manner in which decision-making is organised within the joint authority. Joint authorities are independent legal public entities governed by municipal legislation.
Small municipalities in particular have set up municipal offices shared jointly by more than one local authority. It is possible to establish a joint municipal committee and an organisation functioning under the committee to perform the common tasks.
Limited companies, co-operative societies and foundations are suited for commercial activities. Also private partners can be involved, which makes it possible to combine municipal and private capital to implement a wider range of projects. For instance, local authorities have established joint waste management companies, enterprise service companies and travel bureaux.
If a local authority is a major shareholder in a company, or exercises dominant influence in a community, the said company or community, together with the local authority, make up a municipal corporation. The regulations on municipal corporations determine the policies of the participating companies and communities and their obligation to report to the local authority.
It has become increasingly common for the participating local authorities to agree on the performance of functions without a need to form an organisation. Contractual co-operation is common in the areas of waste management, water supply, rescue services, building inspection, consumer and debt counselling, and education. Some contracts are statutory, such as co-operation agreements on rescue services and contracts for building and maintaining regional emergency dispatch centres and purchasing health-centre services.
A local authority is also allowed to purchase services from another local authority or the private sector. Competitive tendering for purchased services, and quality management require specialised knowledge. The Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities has initiated a project on service competition to help accumulate this knowledge. Regular feedback from service users and open communication play a significant role in service purchasing. The section on information in the Local Government Act prescribes that when some local function has been delegated to a corporation or a foundation, local authorities must inform their residents about these operations in some suitable manner.
Sub-regional co-operation among local authorities has traditionally involved economic development policy and lobbying. In the future, local authorities will be able to provide basic services for their residents on a sub-regional basis and agree jointly on land use planning, land policy, the development of municipal engineering, communication networks and environmental care. Access to local health care services, and social, educational and cultural services can be organised through sub-regional co-operation.