July 13th 2020

At the beginning of July, VNG International interviewed Mayors from three foreign cities, as input for an item on international good practices with regard to COVID-19 in the VNG magazine. You will find the interview with Mayor Peter Danielsson from the city of Helsingborg, Sweden below. Information about the three interviews can also be found (in Dutch) in this article

Interview with Peter Danielsson, Mayor of Helsingborg, Sweden, about local COVID-19 policies

1. How has Helsingborg Municipality been affected by the Coronavirus pandemic?

The full scale of the consequences from the Covid-19 pandemic will probably not be visible for the years to come. When entering the late pandemic phase, it is still too early to pinpoint the long-term effects of the pandemic, except for growing unemployment and a dwindling tax revenue base. In terms of short-term consequences, there is of course the tragedy, which comes with a premature loss of life. Local business struggle and some go out of business. Others report of a status quo and even increased revenue, depending on in which sector they operate.

2. How has Helsingborg Municipality been handling the dilemma of mitigating the economic impact vs. protecting public health?

The city of Helsingborg adheres to the recommendations and decrees issued by the government and the Public Health Agency in Sweden. The harsher and more intrusive interventions as a means of protecting public health used in many countries, e.g. lockdown, have not been a part of Sweden’s strategy to combat the pandemic. The position of the Public Health Agency in Sweden is that if a less intrusive intervention, for example imposing movement-control, closing down daycare and primary schools, can achieve the same effect when it should be used instead, A balance between public health and virus-containment is pursued alongside efforts to mitigate economic impact. At the central level, the government has launched several crisis-packages encompassing e.g. liquidity reinforcements, short-term layoffs (halved wage cost), reduced sick pay responsibility and so forth. Additional measures that were taken at the local level, include free parking in city centre, deferral of rents and invoices, targeted support to local business, and providing trainings in e-commerce.

3. Does Helsingborg Municipality take a potential second COVID-19 outbreak into account? If so, how has it been preparing for this?

Sweden has recently entered the late-pandemic phase. In this phase, we see declining numbers of people infected and in need of intensive care. It is a good opportunity to regain strength and stock up on medical items and protective gear in order to improve the preparedness for a second wave of the pandemic. As in many other countries, the pandemic in Sweden has not affected all regions the same way. In south of Sweden the “curve” has remained relatively flat throughout the period. Hence, we have had opportunities to strengthen our preparedness as we go through it. That means agile crisis management, lessons learned discussions, exchange of best practices with regions that have been hit harder etc. Building resilience in critical municipality operations is a key concern right now.

4. Do you also see opportunities coming from the ongoing crisis? 

The crisis has provided us with opportunities to try new and different solutions and services that we might not would have tried otherwise. There was – and is – no time to overthink and to over-problematize. We launched a civic engagement platform in a week instead of 6 months, just to name one thing. We have made massive leaps when it comes to using digital solutions and services which we have been talking about for years but now we finally stopped talking and started doinginstead . 

5. Many municipalities are working on recovery plans. In the Netherlands these often include plans on how to support vulnerable populations in the recovery phase. Is this an issue of interest to Helsingborg? If so, can you share a concrete example of an activity that you have undertaken/foresee?

Some of the measures at the local level mentioned above intended to mitigate the economic impact are also, in effect, measures intended for recovery purposes. The impact of the pandemic on the civic society and all sport clubs and other organisations has been severe and the city of Helsingborg is working on comprehensive plan in order to support the civic society and enable them to recover. Another important measure is increasing the number of enrolments at professional schools administered by the municipality. It will allow vulnerable groups affected by the pandemic (lay-offs) to get a degree and practical training. Thereby making them more attractive to future employers.