If it’s a supplement to Store Norske’s request for help it’s a blessing. If it’s a substitute it’s a curse.
An allocation of 50 million kroner for “restructuring measures” in Svalbard was announced Friday by the Norwegian Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries. The funding includes 23 million kroner for job “innovation and development” through Innovation Norway, and 22 million to Longyearbyen’s city government for infrastructure maintenance and improvements.
“We will have a dedicated industry and innovation strategy for Svalbard, and give Innovation Norway a role in the restructuring of Longyearbyen,” said Minister of Trade and Industry Monica Mæland, in a prepared statement. “This will set the foundation for new economic activity in both the short and longer term. The government will help Svalbard with solving a difficult situation.”
Left unstated is whether the allocation is the government’s answer to Store Norske’s request for 285 million kroner during the next three years so it can main its mines at Svea and Lunckefjell in the hope of reopening them if coal prices recover from a slump that has resulted in record-breaking losses. The company, which had about 400 employees a few years ago, is now in the process of eliminating all but 100 of its 270 remaining jobs by next summer, and will have to eliminate about 50 more if the government rejects the company’s request.
Longyearbyen Mayor Arild Olsen, contacted shortly after Friday’s announcement, said he believes there will still be “an announcement with regard about to do with the company,” but stopped short of guessing whether it might be affected by the money now being provided.
“Fifty million is a lot of money so I can a see connector with the company, but I won’t speculate on that,” he said.
Another question is how the funds will specifically be used. Olsen said it’s important the city and Innovation Norway coordinate their planning in order to ensure people wanting to start business projects here have a realistic opportunity to do so.
“My concern is can we cope with the growth?” he said. “We need to have infrastructure for that. We will have lot of isolated projects that are good, but can’t be realized because we are behind in infrastructure projects.”
The allocation announced this week also includes 4.5 million kroner to the Longyearbyen Community Council and 500,000 kroner to the Svalbard Business Association for planning purposes, according to the ministry’s statement.
The announcement also stated the revision of Svalbard’s “white paper” outlining the government’s policy goals for Svalbard will be submitted to Parliament in the spring of 2016.