BENIDORM’S rubbish collection service is the latest in a long line of casualties arising from apparent previous poor financial management within the local government system.
The town is said to be in debt to F.C.C., the sub-contractor who has the concession for waste services, for between €30 million and €50 million, depending on which source is quoted.
The problem has now reached the stage where Benidorm’s refuse collectors have threatened strike action, as they had not been paid their December wages.
The strike was prompted by the sub contractor’s decision not to pay its staff wages in protest at the alleged debt owed to itself by Benidorm, given the €44 million debt that it claimed the town owes to it.
The sub-contractor claims it is only trying to jolt Benidorm into paying its debt. The result could be catastrophic for Benidorm if refuse is left uncollected.
Benidorm disputes the amount owed, saying it is closer to €30million according to Natalia Guijarro, financial councillor for the town.
The additional funds are disputed as being accumulated interest penalties which Benidorm rejects. The cost of waste collection and processing accounts for 46 per cent of the town’s budget of €96 million in the current financial year.
Refuse collection alone accounts for €1.5 million per month in the high season, dropping to 500,000 in the winter months. With what Mayor Agustin Navarro has termed “this unsustainable debt”, the town last week announced it was looking to hike business rates in order “that hotels pay a fairer contribution to the costs of refuse collection,” said Councillor Guijarro.
“A residential unit (apartment) pays €125 a year towards refuse collection, whereas a hotel room pays on average only €40,” she said. “This imbalance is due to the previous Party Popular regime, which in 2009 increased residential contributions by 80 per cent, but business’ by only 20 per cent.”
The town hall has attracted the ire of the Costa Blanca’s hotel and tourist association (HOSBEC), with their proposal to increase rates to the towns 136 hotels to make their contribution “more equitable.”
At a press conference, Councillor Guijarro appeared with Benidorm’s Councillor for street cleaning, Conrado Hernandez, wielding the above statistics and asking hoteliers to “lend a hand” according to the Councillors, hotels contribute only €816,000 to the costs of street cleaning, where its total cost was €7.6million last year.
In return, HOSBEC President, Antonio Mayor, denied that hotels had some “privileged position.” Benidorm has a serious problem with waste. The proceeds from the rates cover approximately €10million.
This “does not cover all the service” said Councillor Guijarro. For this reason, the council will be carrying out a six month feasibility study to determine what savings can be made.
“We will be looking to streamline services without harming the image of the town,” said Councillor Hernandez. HOSBEC are concerned that their members (the hotels) will be forced to bear the brunt of increases which “are the results of ineffective public administration over the past 15 to 20 years” said Sr. Mayor.
“One sector (hotels) should not be asked to pay for everything,” said Sr. Mayor. Councillor Hernández, announced last week that the Council was negotiating with the F.C.C. to pay an amount less than one million euros, so that the subcontractor pays its staff and the strike can be averted.
“The talks are well on track,” Sr. Hernandez said. “The F.C.C. are using “blackmail tactics” by using a strike to enforce a debt,” said Councillor Guijarro. However, HOSBEC demanded more action to correct what it termed structural faults within the waste budget, citing that taken in Catalonia where 300 staff were laid off, in a drastic attempt to bring their waste budget into line.
The worrying thing for the council is that the debt to F.C.C. has doubled in the last three years. Savings through such cuts have been estimated to save the council some €400,000 per annum.
Despite the mutual bluster, both sides see the doomsday scenario which would be detrimental all around. Unpaid workers strike, street refuge go’s uncollected and streets uncleaned.
Bad publicity depresses tourism and hotels suffer. Unless a solution is found, this is a lose-lose situation for anyone associated with the tourist industry in Benidorm.