Municipalities in Iceland Raise School Lunch Fees

iceland education

School lunches and after-school activities will cost parents in Iceland more this year than last, RÚV reports. The country’s eight largest municipalities are all raising the fees for these services, though mostly in line with price level increases. The CEO of national parents’ association Home and School expressed concern about the changes, which he says will leave some parents with no choice but to cancel their food subscriptions or withdraw their children from after-school programming.

Despite being encouraged to keep their fee hikes to a minimum, all of the country’s largest municipalities have raised fees for school meals, after-school activities, and afternoon snacks. The fees also vary greatly between municipalities, with the highest and lowest fees for school lunches showing a difference of 71%. As last year, parents in Seltjarnarnes pay the highest fees for elementary school services and those with children in Mosfellsbær pay the lowest fees.

Public health issue

Arnar Ævarsson, CEO of Home and School, a national parents’ association, says the price hikes will have the greatest impact on those who are less fortunate, disabled, or immigrants, and those who have the smallest social support networks. The consequence can be very serious, and Arnar points out that stress, anxiety, and guilt that parents or guardians might feel over not being able to provide their children with the same things other children receive also impact the children themselves.

Arnar says there’s a need to change the rhetoric around school meals and discuss them as a public health issue rather than a service. “In the long term, there is a risk that poor nutrition will later affect the health of individuals. Then this is a cost that comes down elsewhere in the system,” Arnar stated. School meals are also a social equaliser when all children can partake in them, he added.

Funding for Municipal Services for People with Disabilities to Increase by ISK 5 Billion

Alþingi Icelandic parliament

Local municipalities will now receive a permanent increase in funding for legally required services for people with disabilities. RÚV reports that this increase will amount to ISK 5 billion [$35.028 million; €33.043 million] a year.

Per an announcement on the government’s website, the agreement was c0signed by the chair and executive director of the Association of Local Authorities and the Ministers of Finance and Economic Affairs, Infrastructure, and Social Affairs and the Labour Market on Saturday. It is aimed at helping local municipalities “achieve established performance and debt targets according to the current financial plan for the years 2023 – 2027.”

Under the terms of the agreement, local taxes will increase by .22% against a corresponding reduction of state income tax. The tax burden on individuals will not change, however. Rather, the agreement deals with the specific transfer of funds from the state to local municipalities.

Local municipalities have long called for increased funds to provide services for people with disabilities and are still calling for higher contributions. Per Saturday’s agreement, both local authorities and the three undersigning ministries agree to conduct expense analyses for services provided with the aim of renegotiating the agreement next year.

City Will Not Make Cuts Despite Deficit, Says Reykjavík Mayor

Dagur B Eggertsson Reykjavík Mayor

Reykjavík Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson told RÚV the city will not resort to service cuts or price hikes as a result of its operational deficit. He adds that construction and urban consolidation in Reykjavík will yield profits in the coming years. Socialist Party councillor Sanna Magdalena Mörtudóttir says the city’s new budget does not address poverty or the ongoing housing crisis while other councillors say the city’s debt is too large.

The City of Reykjavík will be operated with an ISK 3.4 billion [$26.1 million, €22.6 million] deficit next year, according to the budget presented by city authorities earlier this week. This is the third year in a row the city runs on a deficit. Its debt is expected to increase by ISK 24 billion [$185 million, €160 million] and will be almost ISK 174 billion [$1.34 billion, €1.16 billion] by the end of next year. That applies to the city’s operations that are funded by taxes, or the so-called “A” section of city operations. The “B” section, which includes businesses in part or whole ownership of the city, such as Reykjavík Energy (OR), Associated Icelandic Ports (Faxaflóahafnir), Sopra bs. and Strætó bs., among others, is projected to produce a surplus of ISK 8.6 billion [$66.1 million, €57.2 million].

Long-term loans for construction projects

“We are going to grow out of this problem and our plans allow for that. We have low tariffs [compared to other municipalities], especially for those who have less, and we intend to keep it that way,” stated Dagur. He added that the city’s debt was nothing to worry about. “As a percentage of revenue, it is far south of something to be concerned about and we are in good standing compared to other municipalities.” According to Dagur, part of the city’s debt is due to long-term construction projects including the building of new neighbourhoods. “We take part of it as a loan and the development pays for it over a long period. That’s just sensible economic management and responsible financial management, as we have done here in recent years.”

Social housing and public transit overlooked

Socialist Party councillor Sanna Magdalena Mörtudóttir wants the city to increase its revenue by taxing capital income, “to ensure that we can build up the good service that people have the right to receive.” She criticised the budget’s housing plan, which she stated did not address the waiting list for social housing, which was around 850 people long. “This budget does not account for eradicating poverty, eradicating this housing crisis that people are experiencing here. And that’s something that is unacceptable.”

Both People’s Party councillor Kolbrún Baldursdóttir and Independence Party councillor Eyþór Arnalds expressed concern at the city’s rising level of debt, with Eyþór stating that the budget did not account for funding the Borgarlína rapid bus transit line, though its construction is scheduled to begin soon.

Stykkishólmur Works to Improve Integration of New Residents

Stykkishólmur - Stykkishólmshöfn - Breiðafjörður - Snæfellsnes

The West Iceland municipality of Stykkishólmur (pop. 1,193) wants to be more accessible for new residents, especially those of foreign origin, RÚV reports. The municipal authorities have appointed a task force that will work toward this goal, placing its focus on immigrants. The measures are aimed at the community as a whole, including businesses, social organisations, and municipal services.

“The women’s club, the Lions Club, the sports club,” are just a few examples of organisations that the task force will assist in making more open to new residents, Stykkishólmur mayor Jakob Björgvin Jakobsson stated. The proportion of immigrants in Stykkishólmur is close to the national average, or around 15% of all residents. Nearly one quarter of children in the municipality are bilingual or multilingual, or 23%.

According to Jakob, Stykkishólmur hopes to set up a procedure to help new residents adapt. That procedure would include subsidies for children to join local sports activities and meetings and interviews with other locals that could help new families adjust. “These are the procedures that we are implementing here in Stykkishólmur with the emphasis on multiculturalism.”

Efling Workers Resume Strike Next Week, Affecting Schools

Efling strike Reykjavík

Efling Union workers employed by five municipalities in the capital area and South Iceland will resume striking on Tuesday, May 5. The members working for the municipalities of Kópavogur, Seltjarnarnes, Mosfellsbær, Hveragerði, and Ölfus voted overwhelmingly in support of strike action. The union’s negotiation committee postponed strike action during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, but announced that the strike would be voted on again after Easter.

“The members of Efling who work for these municipalities demand an agreement with comparable benefits as those found in agreements between Efling and the City of Reykjavik and the government of Iceland,” reads a statement on Efling’s website. Efling members working for the City of Reykjavík reached an agreement with the municipality last month following a three-week strike that affected preschools and welfare services in the capital.

All members of Efling Union working for the five municipalities will stop work indefinitely on Tuesday, May 5, the day after COVID-19 restrictions are loosened and schools return from reduced to regular programming. The strike will affect elementary schools and home services.

Voter turnout among Efling members was high, with 65% of eligible members voting on the strike. A notable 89% voted in favour of a strike in elementary schools and 88% voted in favour of a strike in other workplaces.

“These are incredible results. They show amazing courage, the will to fight and the unity of our members. Low wage workers are going to get the recognition that society cannot function without them. Pandemic or not – The members of Efling will not allow themselves to be forced into submission,” said Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, Chairman of Efling.