Spain's town hall meltdown

Cuts are now biting deep into civic life. One council has even bet its budget on the lottery

If Carmen Martinez Gomez, a nurse, wants to see the effects of the dramatic spending cuts Spain is currently enduring, all she has to do is glance down from her seventh-floor balcony at the building work below on the Metro, Granada's first underground line.

It is less than 10 miles long, but the Metro has already been five years in the making. And with its workers unpaid since January, its inauguration has just been put back again, reports said last week, until 2013. "It feels as if it's never going to be finished," Ms Martinez says. "The whole of Camino de Ronda" – three miles long and one of Granada's main arterial streets – "looks as if a bomb hit it. Shops are going out of business because there's virtually no through traffic, and for the elderly and disabled it's very difficult to cross the road. The project has split the city in two."

The reason for the interminable delays in Granada's Metro is simple: no money – and it's a grimly familiar story. As early as this summer, Pedro Arahuete, mayor of Segovia and president of the country's federation of municipalities, said that 40 per cent of Spain's town halls or ayuntamientos were in severe economic difficulties, or, as he graphically put it, being "financially strangled". And all across Spain, ayuntamientos and regional councils such as Andalusia's Junta, which is financing the Granada Metro's construction, are in the process of making massive cuts, with about €5bn due to be pruned from budgets across Spain in 2012's last quarter alone.

But with a total town hall debt government figures show to be nearly eight times that amount – €37bn – the cuts are far from being the last notch set to be tightened on Spain's collective belt. They are largely designed to bring a public deficit into line with EU ceilings of 3 per cent of GDP in 2013 at a painfully fast pace. The most dramatic steps to try to balance the books are being taken in the village of Cacabelos in Castile. With his village facing debts of €1m, the mayor's brainwave was to bet the annual budget on the national lottery. Their number did not come up.

In the southern city of Jerez, with debts of €957m, local police now use cars impounded from convicted drug dealers. However, at least that is one step up on their colleagues in the Murcian town of Moratalla, who are now forced to carry out their patrols on foot after they ran up a debt of €120,000 in petrol at the local garages. Further south in Coin, meanwhile, the street lighting now works only intermittently because of an outstanding debt of €240,000 to electricity company Endesa. Even in Catalonia, one of Spain's richest regions, there are near-bankrupt towns such as Moia, where in August the debt reached €25m or 400 per cent of its annual budget. The town's mayor warned that it could no longer afford to bury the dead.

All this is nothing in comparison, though, with the village of Peleas de Abajo in western Spain, whose villagers – faced with a debt of €18,400 per inhabitant – will take a mere 500 years to pay it off. The municipal properties are now reduced to just one building, the town hall itself, and one employee.

The ayuntamientos are far from being the only Spanish institutions up to their necks in debt. In the region of Castile-La Mancha, for example, its health service, Sescam, admits it has no fewer than 159,000 separate unpaid bills. As a result, women there can no longer have abortions because the private clinics Sescam uses, at a rate of 1,000 terminations a month, have not been paid since last December.

While Castile-La Mancha is now cutting its public spending by a whopping 20 per cent, the central government has led by example. The Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, has already cut civil servants' wages by 5 per cent and government ministers' salaries by 15 per cent, frozen pensions for year, and ended the €2,500 "baby cheque" given to each family with a newborn.

Last month, with a general election looming, Mr Zapatero took things even further. In the first big change to Spain's constitution since 1978, he pushed through a constitutional budget cap for deficits – a policy his Socialist Party had previously criticised.

Yet the roots of the problem stretch seemingly beyond the control of any single government. Across Spain, before the economic recession started in 2009, what felt like an endless series of credits allowed town halls to spend way beyond their means. Take Granada's Metro. Building work began in 2007, and by May this year, 73 per cent had been constructed. But since then, only 1 per cent more has been built – and three local town halls, including Granada, have said they are not paying a cent more to fund it.

It is hard to find a Spanish city, in fact, without its own particular white-elephant project from the boom years. In Aviles in the north, the €44m Niemeyer arts centre which had been compared to the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao has closed after six months. In Tardienta, Aragon (population approximately 1,000), the gleaming high-speed train station is used by 22 passengers a day. In Huesca in the Pyrenees, a new €40m airport has received four commercial flights in three months of service. In Castellon, close to Valencia, a €150m airport was opened in March, but its first flights will not be until at least April next year.

Sebastian Martinez, a town councillor in Linares, a medium-sized Andalusian city with one in four adults out of work after a car factory shut its doors, said: "You can't help wondering how far this will go before there's some kind of major social fracturing."

If this does happen, then a completion date for the Metro in Granada will probably be the least of Spain's worries.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
people
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
people
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
Arts and Entertainment
Warner Bros released a mock-up of what the new Central Perk will look like
tv'Friends' cafe will be complete with Gunther and orange couch
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Junior Analyst - Graduate - 6 Month fixed term contract

£17000 - £20000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

SAS Business Analyst - Credit Risk - Retail Banking

£450 - £500 per day: Orgtel: SAS Business Analyst, London, Banking, Credit Ris...

Project Manager - Pensions

£32000 - £38000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone