La Línea Mayor Juan Franco is confident that his new City Plan will allow the local economy, which is currently excessively dependent on small businesses and hotels, to diversify.
The economic crisis created by the lockdown measures taken in Spain, and indeed throughout Europe, to stop the spread of Covid-19 is already beginning to manifest its true gravity in the Campo de Gibraltar. The Campo de Gibraltar is a district which has been hard-hit by other crises in the past, despite its untapped potential and many attractions, and will now see development halted again for reasons beyond its control.
La Línea is one of the municipalities with the worst unemployment rates (36% of the labour force, as of March), which is in Cádiz, a province with the worst highest figures in all of Spain (around 24%). The crisis is taking its toll, mainly in the small business, hotel and catering sectors, which, along with Gibraltar, are the main economic engines of La Línea.
The municipal government team led by Juan Franco (from the independent “La Línea 100×100” party) is very much alive to this, and says that he will do everything in his power to ensure that the economic “tsunami” that is ravaging the whole world due to the pandemic does not destroy years of effort, or the future of the city.
The Mayor shared his view that this crisis has highlighted the “duty” that those La Línea and other cities have in supporting local business and promoting regional cooperation, added to the need to innovate and diversify the economy. “We are delighted to have many bars and restaurants, and that without a doubt La Linea is known for its tapas, the montaditos, its bustling atmosphere and small shops… but we cannot stop there,” he warns.
According to Mayor Franco, the main tool to allow for this, will come from the approval and implementation of the General Urban Planning Plan (“PGOU” in its Spanish initials). “The new Plan will allow us, among other things, to put land to best use in order to diversify our economy”, explains Franco, detailing that “industrial and commercial land can be developed in one of the main entrances to the city, in the area of the Higuerón highway and a business center, with associated offices and services, will be developed in the immediate vicinity of the border with Gibraltar”.
Cooperation with Gibraltar
Regarding the neighboring city, the intention is to continue to promote and further strengthen good relations, which have become evident, once again, during this health crisis. “Currently, the relationship with Gibraltar is magnificent, we have constant communication with Fabian Picardo and the Government of Gibraltar, and we are convinced that we will have to continue pooling our efforts in the future.”
In addition, the mayor of La Línea has publicly praised “the sensitivity that Gibraltar has shown towards Spanish workers since the beginning of this crisis, with measures that have taken them into account from the outset and have provided an important respite to many families”. And the municipality’s thanks go not only to No 6 Convent Place, but also “to those businessmen and the groups in Gibraltar who have collaborated with donations.”
In this sense, although the de-escalation set in motion by the Government of Spain has brought some hope to those municipalities that entered Phase 1 on May 8, allowing a little more economic activity, and with sights increasingly focused on the future, Juan Franco acknowledges that the city has experienced very difficult moments and that some basic necessities still have to be addressed. “Now that we have reached this phase, we have had to reorganize the municipal services to the public in order to continue providing them, because there was a moment where there was a risk of collapse,” he acknowledges.
Food and basic supplies for the most vulnerable
Franco recalls that, as soon as the State of Alarm was declared on March 14, the first and most urgent act, was to provide direct help to the most vulnerable families, even providing “vouchers” that could be exchanged for food in shops in the city, depending on numbers of family members.
“At first, we approved an extraordinary aid package of €68,000, with which we were able to attend to 500 families in need, and we had to expand it with a second package of €62,000.” In addition, the Mayor of La Linea explains that the first efforts were not only aimed at enabling the most vulnerable citizens to eat, but also at arranging aid to guarantee basic supplies such as electricity and water, in addition to granting moratoriums and aid for the payment of the rents of the public housing company (Emusvil), which has about 200 tenants, and which includes both the so-called VPO (subsidized housing) and social housing.
“Now, we are waiting to see how the subsidies of the central government and the Andalusian Government are delivered, and, from there, what margin the municipality has to expand this aid, aimed at the groups that are going through the toughest time,” adds Juan Franco, assuring that, during these months, the Department of Social Affairs has become “overwhelmed”.
Municipal tax and fees “relief”
Once the most difficult moments of this crisis are overcome, the next objective of the La Línea City Council is to try to facilitate the return to activity of small and medium-sized businesses and self-employed persons in the city, beginning by allowing the payment of some municipal taxes and fees to be deferred or paid by installments in some cases, and reduced in others.
“For example, bars that have gone from paying €76 to €16 a month for rubbish collection, and others, who pay license fees for having external canopies, will not be charged for those months in which they have not been able to trade ”. Efforts have also been made to “relieve” other small business owners and the self-employed, as much as possible, among them those who trade from kiosks, shops or street markets.
These days, and to be able to face the most immediate future with some guarantees, the municipal government team is “studying how to redo the 2020 Budget, so as to include more social measures.” In this sense, Juan Franco recalls that the City Council has a surplus of 5 million euros, which could be accessed if, finally, the claims to the Federation of Municipalities and Provinces come to fruition.
150th Anniversary Fair Suspended
In truth the next few months, for La Línea and all the other cities, remain uncertain, and “we must be prepared in case this situation lasts longer than it initially seemed or that we would all like”, Franco cautions, aware that the future cannot be planned without solving the requirements of the present in the meantime.
The Mayor had already confirmed one of the most “feared” events have come to pass, although at this stage of the pandemic almost nobody was surprised by it: the suspension of the mid-July Fair. Every year the fair coincides, with the high point of the tourist season, and this year, in addition, was planned to be even more special, with a commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the city, which before 1870 had belonged to the municipality of San Roque.
Obviously, the Fair, with its crowning acts, the cavalcade and its bustling “Domingo Rociero”, will be among the events scheduled for 2020 that will not take place because of the Coronavirus … and yes, without a doubt, these are events which normally attract the greatest number of visitors from here and abroad, and whose cancellations will hurt the most in the pockets and the hearts of Linenses as we wait for better times.