Positive signs, tough challenges

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For Finland the period since the 2008 downturn in the world economy has been difficult, both politically and economically. While some major world economies – in Europe too – have returned to solid growth, the recovery in Finland has been slow to materialize. While growth forecasts for the next few years are positive, they are also delicate and vulnerable to negative global influences. During these years Sweden and Finland have followed very different economic paths and with very different results. In Finland, outside the greater Helsinki area, unemployment is still unacceptably high. Exports are still a third lower than in 2008 and generally speaking flatlining. The present government’s efforts to depress labour costs and cut public spending, particularly in education and research, have been especially poorly thought through.

Against this background it is something of a miracle that the City of Jyväskylä’s budget is now in balance despite an unemployment rate currently running at around 17%. This has been achieved via a strategy of tight budgetary control and actively encouraging inward investment, not through unwise layoffs and job cuts. Quality healthcare and education continue to be the cornerstones of the Finnish welfare state and deserve greater funding, not less. Now is the time to invest, cautiously, in infrastructure, in green energy and lay the foundations of the circular economy of the 2020s.

Central Finland’s Hospital Nova is a fine example of this. Scheduled to be opened in 2020, it will not be bigger than the current hospital but has been designed to be far better in all other respects – superior in terms of logistics, energy consumption, comfort and security, and – most important of all – in terms of healthcare processes. Construction in the Kangas area of the city is in rapid progress and the first of 5 000 residents are already enjoying their new homes. The Hippos 2020 project takes a novel, ambitious view of how sport and wellness facilities can be provided, not only for the local community but also with a global audience in mind. Jyväskylä faces two particular challenges. The first is job creation. Every effort must be made to cut the unemployment rate in half. This will not only ease pressure on the social welfare and healthcare budget but will boost the city’s tax income. It is vital that the city’s re-formulated enterprise policy is a success. Such a policy cannot rely solely on infrastructure projects, it must also include a clear image of what Jyväskylä wishes to be and a strategy for achieving the same. The second challenge is managing successfully the reorganisation of social and health services, we must ensure that people, particularly those on low incomes, do not fall through the safety net. As a candidate in the municipal elections I hope to be involved in finding answers to these questions.

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