Icelandic Government Raises Artist Salaries

Lilja Alfreðsdóttir is one of the people nominated for Person of the Year.

Iceland’s government raised its artist grants known as “artist salaries” to ISK 428,000 [$3,330, €2,908] per month this January, Fréttablaðið reports. The salaries were ISK 409,580 [$3,187, €2,782] per month last year. Minister of Tourism, Trade, and Culture Lilja Alfreðsdóttir has decided to increase funding of artists salaries by a further ISK 100 million [$779,000, €679,000] this year and says the government is also considering restructuring the artist salary grant system.

Fewer months than in 2020 and 2021

“This is not a high figure in my opinion and we aim for it to rise in stages throughout this term because I consider it important for our artists and this system has worked very well,” Lilja stated. “I would say that the entire government agrees with increasing support to this system.” In fact, the 2022 artist salary recipients, who were recently announced, will receive ISK 490,920 per month [$3,825, €3,335]. The government has, however, decreased the number of months granted to artists as compared to 2020 and 2021. An additional 600 months in artist salaries were granted in 2020 and an additional 550 in 2021 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The artist salaries for 2022 have however decreased back to 1,600 months in total, the same number granted between 2009 and 2019. 

Special grant for young artists is a possibility

Lilja says the government is considering restructuring the artist salary system, including by having a special category for young artists. Culture and Trade were brought together under a single ministry this term under Lilja’s leadership, and she says that presents certain benefits. “Everything that is connected to culture and art is now in one place. The reimbursement system for literature, the reimbursements for film, recording, so now we have for example the Icelandic Film Centre and the big reimbursement system in one place which creates new opporunities.” Last term, the government abolished sales tax on Icelandic books and increased contributions to writers grants. This term, Lilja says the focus will be on the music and film industries.

Lilja says that the government chose to work toward raising artist salaries rather than increasing them in number to “send a message to the entire industry.” She says there is still a ways to go, as salaries in comparable professions average around ISK 550,000 [$4,285, €3,736] per month.

Residents and Local Council Oppose Silicon Plant Reopening

Stakksberg Silicon Plant Helguvík.

Arion Bank has plans to sell the silicon plant in Helguvík, Southwest Iceland, to PCC BakkiSilicon. The two parties have signed a statement of intent for the sale. Kjarninn reports that both residents and municipal authorities oppose the reopening of the plant. The plant opened in 2016, but was quickly plagued by operational troubles and ultimately went bankrupt amidst widespread community outcry over the environmental and health impact it was having on the surrounding communities. 

“The Municipal Council of Reykjanesbær has repeatedly expressed its views on the operation of the silicon plant to Arion Bank,” local councillor Friðjón Einarsson stated, adding that there is opposition both among residents and local councillors to opening the plant. “We have formally requested to work with with the bank to dismantle the plant and start collaborating on developing employment in Helguvík. Unfortunately, that has not happened.”

Arion Bank has drawn up plans to renovate, reopen, and expand the plant. The Icelandic National Planning Agency (Skipulagsstofnun) released a report on those plans on December 31, 2021, which stated that the changes would likely reduce malfunctions at the plant, a repeated issue when the plant was still in operation. The report also stated that while the renovations would lessen the plant’s impact on air quality, the impact would still be negative in the first phase of operation and quite negative if all four ovens were to operate at once.

Read More: Emissions Will Increase by 10% if Plant Reopens

“We will try everything we can to stop the reopening and will continue to ask the bank to halt [its plans],” Friðjón stated. “In my opinion, the bank has no right to do this and it’s really unbelievable that the bank isn’t listening to the area’s residents.” He points out that it was Arion Bank that funded the plant, a project that “failed miserably and [the bank] thus holds a lot of responsibility for how it went.” Friðjón says Reykjanesbær authorities have heard there is interest from abroad in buying the plant, dismantling it and exporting its parts abroad. Friðjón says local authorities have told PCC BakkiSilicon that the local residents have no interest in their purchase and reopening of the plant and will fight against it.

As Gasoline Use Drops Iceland Must Find New Ways to Fund Infrastructure

driving in reykjavík

Icelandic authorities are looking into new ways to tax vehicle use, Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson stated at a tax conference this morning, RÚV reports. Road and transport infrastructure in Iceland is currently funded by tax revenue from gasoline, and that revenue has decreased significantly in recent years, due to electric car use and other factors. 

“It’s important that we create a bridge from the old system and into the new one to ensure the treasury has enough revenue in the long term in order to support the development and maintenance of transport infrastructure,” Bjarni stated, adding that creating a new revenue system for transport and infrastructure was one of the biggest tax-related projects of this government term. The government would look at other ways of taxing vehicles, including by the distance driven, according to Bjarni. Any new taxation system implemented would need to continue to encourage consumers to buy greener vehicles, however. “We’ll see how it goes, that’s one of the big projects and we have already started,” Bjarni stated.

The Finance Minister also reviewed the government response to the ongoing pandemic at today’s conference. The taxation system had been amended to support homes and businesses due to the pandemic and help them grow out of the ensuing difficulties. Bjarni added that the Central Bank’s rate hikes could be taken as a warning, and that public funds in support of businesses and individuals must be reduced when possible.