Longyearbyen will get an addition 20 million kroner and Ny-Ålesund 18 million kroner in Norway’s national budget this year to help cope with the impacts of the coronavirus crisis, the Norwegian government announced Tuesday.
The additional funds – which fall far short of the 180 million kroner in help requested by Longyearbyen’s municipal government – are nonetheless a significant boost to the 7.5 million kroner already provided to help laid-off residents from non-EU/EEA countries who are ineligible for normal unemployment/insurance benefits. The city is hoping to use additional funds for infrastructure projects that can be done by idle workers/companies, and allow a reduction in municipal fees that in practice would allow landlords to reduce rents for tenants.
But numerous local government and business officials have said considerably more help is needed to ensure the area’s unique businesses and community remains viable – noting cornerstone industries such as tourism are almost completely inactive and may be much of the rest of the year – and there are far more than local interests at stake.
“What happens if we and other local businesses here do not survive financially?” Stig Henningsen, a local tour company owner, told High North News on Tuesday. “This is not just about business in Svalbard, it is also about Norwegian sovereignty. Having an active, vibrant society in Svalbard is vital for maintaining Norwegian sovereignty.”
Deputy Mayor Kjetil Figenschou told Svalbardposten he expects a reply from the government to the city’s overall aid request later this month.
The 18 million kroner for Ny-Ålesund is being provided to Kings Bay AS, which is responsible for management of the international research settlement. While the crisis has not seriously disrupted research among those already in the community, a travel ban on non-residents of Norway and other restrictions, plus the near-certain loss of most tourism this year, are pose difficulties both economically and for many ongoing research projects.
The supplements for Svalbard announced Tuesday are part of a revised national budget calling for the use of about 420 billion kroner in petroleum revenues “to compensate municipalities and counties for extra costs and revenue shortfalls linked to the virus outbreak, thereby enabling local governments to maintain their activities.”