With Longyearbyen looking to the national government to stay afloat, next year’s proposed budget for Norway does just that – if in a very limited and specific way.
An allocation of 18 million kroner to allow the governor’s new Polarsyssel service vessel operating for nine months during the year instead of the usual six months is among the most notable provisions of the 451 million kroner in total proposed spending for the archipelago. The total is 33 million korner, or about eight percent, higher than 2015.
Other notable items include 10 million kroner for ongoing upgrades to the coal-fired power plant, 10 million to maintain government housing as part an effort to boost employment and 15 million for planning work on a new harbor in Longyearbyen.
The latter is the most significant – and for some, disappointing – allocation for Longyearbyen leaders hoping to diversity the city’s economic base as Store Norske prepares to downsize most of its workers due to a collapse in coal prices that has no end in sight.
“The state budget as presented and seen from the top of the world is a real disappointment,” wrote Longyearbyen Mayor Christin Kristoffersen, who is departing office this month after making the harbor a priority project during her past term, on her Facebook page. “That there are no funds for development/restructuring seems to me just sad.”
Øyvind Korsberg, a Progess Party member who is the first vice-president of Parliament, stated in a response to Kristoffersen that the government approved a 500-million-kroner assistance package for Store Norske earlier this year (the mayor subsequently noted the money is a combination of loans and acquiring the company’s property). He noted the oil industry and other mining towns are also struggling, so prudent assessments are needed before funding big-budget items.
“There will come measures targeting Svalbard in collaboration with a constructive political leadership on the island,” he wrote.
The power plant funding is to meet emissions and other state-mandated requirements in anticipation of keeping the plant in operation for another 20 to 25 years. The government is paying two-thirds of the total cost and the city the remainder.
The increase in Polarsyssel funding is “in response to the increased activity in the fishing industry, and in the cruise and tour boat industry – both in the area and for larger parts of the year,” according to the itemized budget. Combined with rescue and other operations, the document states it’s no longer possible for the ship to perform other duties such as cultural heritage and environmental surveys without extending its service season.