A week of news and views from the Algarve…
Under imminent threat from the new IKEA store and its accompanying shopping ‘experience,’ local business association ACRAL has asked the Algarve’s mayors to chip in to a new rescue fund to pay for an advertising campaign in support of local shops and to run buses to collect shoppers from outlying areas and deliver them to town centres.
Many of the Algarve’s towns already have patchy high street offerings with a quarter or more of shops lying empty.
Well-run local shops with trained, knowledgeable staff should not suffer from IKEA’s presence but those shops with high prices and surly staff well may find their local monopoly is eroded. Much of the competition affecting shops has been from the Internet and growth of online shopping with high-ticket items ordered online and shipped at significant cost savings.
Whether a ‘buy local’ campaign will work or not may depend on high streets having a wide range of shops; this currently is not the case in many places. Time will tell what damage Ikea will do to the Algarve's retailers but at least ACRAL is making an effort.
The new generation of transport providers such as Uber and Cabify have managed successfully to push for new legislation to allow them to trade legally.
The government has acted fairly swiftly to provide a framework that recognises consumer demand for the new app-based option favoured by many, especially in Lisbon and Oporto but increasingly in the Algarve.
The union, representing drivers hampered by red tape and years of accumulated bureaucracy, seems to have missed a trick and instead of pushing for changes that could have freed their members to operate with more flexibility, has called yet another strike.
If the taxi drivers as a group embraced this change to the transport market and planned accordingly, their trade could continue, but in a new niche. A simple look at ‘product, price, promotion and place’ would be a good start to see what the traditional taxi offers that is different and how the union can help redefine its members’ place in the market.
Markets find their own level and there is a demand for the services offered by Uber and its competitors. The taxi drivers union needs to accept this and then worry about the bigger threat of driverless cars just a few years down the road.
Wily José Sócrates has convinced his legal team that he is whiter than white and his arrest on suspicion of abuse of power, corruption and money laundering was all a big mistake. The former prime minister now is spending much of time wheedling his way into the Socialist Party’s favour by appearing at party functions and making speeches.
By accepting Sócrates back into polite society, is the party management leaving itself open to accusations of gross stupidity if Sócrates is found guilty, should he ever get to court that is, or is it displaying an admirable open-mindedness by not judging a man before he is convicted?
Sócrates never does anything without good reason. The party needs to decide what his reason is and act accordingly.
What is certain is that the ‘silver fox’ was living a life of luxury in Paris at the expense of his friend, Carlos Santos Silva, whose business benefitted to a remarkable degree during the Sócrates premiership.
Whether the money in Paris was his friend’s, or whether it was illicit money paid to Sócrates and held by his friend, will be a key part of the court case.
In November 2014, 403 people became ill and 14 died at Vila Franca de Xira downwind of the cooling towers of a fertiliser plant. The police report is just out and shows that only five died as a result of Legionella bacteria that were found in the chimneys.
The report concludes that it will be hard for the State to prosecute the company as under current Portuguese legislation, the spread of bacteria from industrial cooling towers is not categorised as 'a pollution offence that puts the public at risk.'
Yes, I had to read that twice as well.
The options left include the families of the dead taking the State to court for compensation, a process that from the experience of many can take at least a decade.
What a neat way of denying justice to those killed and injured: fertiliser companies seem to be more important than people in the eyes of the law.
The Tax Authority surely must be celebrating that about 705,000 visitors this year have booked rooms or homes in Portugal during the summer months using Airbnb, an increase of 76% over the same period 2015. This means that tax income to the State will rise proportionally from those involved in the local lettings market.
I jest, the taxman seems as disinterested as the local councils, the national tourist board, the government, ASAE and the Foreigners and Borders Service (SEF), in the proper registration of short-term rental properties.
As one reader points out in the comments section, “only 18% of the legal Alojamento Local owners pay their IVA, social security, insurances and IRS,” as only 18% are registered under the AL scheme.
The Secretary of State for Tourism, Ana Mendes Godinho, said early this year that she would look at what’s wrong and fix it. This has not happened but then she wisely gave no deadline to hold discussions and make changes.
The Alojamento Local registration process is relatively simple but while so many agencies and government departments are involved, owners will stay well clear and this area of tax evasion will continue, almost as if blessed by those who are charged with running it.
Another failure which Secretary Godinho inherited from her lacklustre predecessor is the Algarve’s ‘ecovia’ bicycling route across the width of the Algarve.
This shameful excuse for a tourism project represents the way that free money is treated. The EU-funded cycle path was never joined up with some councils not interested in the route and failing to join in. One section of what should be an internationally recognised ‘cycle route of distinction’ involves dismounting and staggering up a railway embankment to walk along the Algarve’s railway track, quite illegally. Signage is deplorable, vandalised or missing and in some places electricity and telegraph poles have skilfully been mounted in the centre of the track.
Other sections of the route are fine, it all depends on the attitude of council involved, and Godinho has pledged to get the route finished “whatever the cost.”
One aspect of cost will be to push through the purchase of the land to the west of Faro’s Riverside Park, currently being sat on by the owner who wants the council to buy it at the agreed price, as this will negate the need for exasperated cyclists to trespass on railway property. This will open up one bottleneck and allow westbound cyclists to speed their way to Faro island across the Bacalhau Memorial Bridge (2018 and counting…).
Lagoa council is to redesign its historic centre (this is the triangular area near the market and post office from the Praça da República to the Rua Coronel Figueiredo) and asked locals to comment on the council’s project.
While not banning traffic completely, the plan is to reduce its volume and make the area a pleasant leafy one for pedestrians to enjoy. I hope this works as Lagoa only has the Largo de 5 Outubro, the one with the bandstand, in which to sit and chat.
The more combative Olhão council, on the other hand, announced last week that it is to dig up one of the twin parks that give the city its balance and enviable green space, to make way for more cafés and restaurants of which Olhão has ample.
Incorporated in the new design is more car parking and this indeed is a problem but will not be resolved by a few spaces occupying prime seafront space.
Mayor António Pina has his own way of going about these developments and locals were just getting used to the idea that the area to the west of the park in front of the Real Marina Hotel was to become the new café and restaurant zone. This would stretch the city to the west into unused land in preparation for the building of a second hotel.
By gouging out an historic and much-loved park at the eastern end of the city’s riverfront, the mayor will face some heavy opposition, but will enough people make their voices heard?
The resident foreign community no doubt will but it’s the locals who have the vote and can affect these sorts of decisions.
The government seems stuck for words and has got itself into a public relations conundrum over its licensing of oil exploration and drilling. The best the Secretary of State for Tourism could manage was to assure the public that the oil companies that have the oil and gas concessions will be very careful indeed and that the government fuels authority will be keeping a very close eye on things.
This laughable attitude fails to take into account a fuels authority that is at the beck and call of those oil companies it is meant to be regulating, and the fact that oil companies of course are as careful as they can be but accidents happen – the Deepwater Horizon disaster was not deliberate.
In Godinho’s latest attempt to fool us, she said “nothing will be done in opposition to the population, hence the concern is that nothing will be done to undermine our wealth."
The population, she knows full well, has sent in more than 42,000 signatures opposing oil drilling in the Algarve, both onshore and offshore. Her reference to wealth is particularly insulting as the Algarve will receive zero from any oil or gas royalties yet is shouldering 100% of the environmental risk, any drop in tourism and the inevitable fall in property prices near land-based drilling operations.
The Samson and Goliath story continues for the Ria Formosa islanders who had their day in Lisbon last week to put their case to a cross-party environmental committee.
Two days before this key meeting the Minister for the Environment, João Pedro Matos Fernandes, informed MPs that the demolition of properties in the islands would be considered on a one by one basis, next the PM’s assistant said all was calm and that everything would be sorted out in good time. The minister concluded by stating that “We have no furious destructive intent. We have nothing against anyone. We are examining the processes in each case.”
Things were looking positive for the doughty campaigners until on Wednesday, ‘Demolition Man’ Sebastião Teixeira from the Polis Ria Formosa company signed and sent out 81 eviction and demolition notices giving certain islanders in Farol until the end of October to move out, kindly adding that they would not be charged for the cost of demolition if they abandoned their homes before the deadline.
This is when the shellfish hit the fan as the Minister in charge had just told parliament that nothing would be done in haste and that he could give a comprehensive answer in a couple of weeks time.
Teixeira admitted that he had not informed his boss that he was sending out demolition notices, thus leaving the minister floundering on the sandbanks as the accusations flew.
If Teixeira is not sacked for this act of political sabotage, the minister will appear even weaker than he already is.
On Saturday, journalist Natasha Donn writing for The Portugal Resident accompanied Left Bloc MP João Vasconcelos on a six hour walk-about on the Ria Formosa island of Culatra to review the irredeemable stupidity of the demolition plans and hear of the lies perpetuated by the government in order to justify the island clearances to make way for high-class tourism developments.
The conclusion from a shocked Vasconcelos was that "if the government continues ignoring the people I cannot see how long the parties like ours can go on supporting them."
Natasha's report is shocking and lays bare the deceit and lies being employed to make citizens homeless for the convenience of big business.
Faro’s beautiful Belmarço Palace has found a new owner after years of State abuse. The building lies near the north-eastern entrance to the old city and is being refurbished by the Faro-born millionaire João Rodrigues to use as the head office of his business empire.
Faro mayor, Rogério Bacalhau, is full of praise for the sensitivity of the repair work and perhaps hoped that the media would not mention the cost to the taxpayer the recent sale represents.
Rodrigues has a bargain at €481,000, he clearly was not born stupid, but the local and national taxpayer has lost over €500,000 on the deal, a figure that many would prefer to see quietly swept under the municipal carpet…
The Jean Miró collection of paintings, owned by the State on our behalves, has found a home in Oporto where it will remain on display to attract art-lovers from far and wide.
Looking back over the events leading up to the current exhibition at the Serralves Museum, it is surprising that not one person involved in the affair has been dismissed. The tale is a litany of lies, excuses, double-dealings and a waste of court time.
The result, thankfully, is that a grateful nation now owns a fine and coherent collection and for once the taxpayer was not scammed, seemingly the intent of many of those involved.
Pope Francis is coming to Fátima and will boost Portugal’s religious tourism market.
The Pope said, "Tengo ganas de ir a Fátima," for he hails from the Argentine - and ‘ir’ he shall early next year to take part in some of the centenary celebrations of the mysterious apparitions of 1916 and 1917.
His Holiness Pope Francis will be the fourth pope to visit Portugal, after Paul VI (1967), John Paul II (1982, 1991 and 2000) and Benedict in 2010, some readers may remember them all and we wish the current Papa a safe and successful journey.
For other news you may have missed during the week, CLICK HERE
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