Marco Borradori - Mayor of Lugano - Solidarity at unprecedented times
Updated: Jun 23, 2020
MARCO BORRADORI INTERVIEW - During these intense and unprecedented times Marco Borradori Mayor of Lugano answers questions directed toward the future of business, innovation, technology, economy, and communication.
By Dina Aletras /AMG
Firstly, how are you?
It is difficult to summarise in a few words the mood experienced in the last month and a half. Ticino, unlike other cantons immediately found itself at the forefront of coping with a health emergency that unsettled our habits and the perception of individual health and well-being. This insidious and invisible virus - which sadly affects the most vulnerable people - has eliminated traditional social and cultural relations, has blocked the economy and tourism along with depriving us of the embrace of our loved ones and our personal freedom. The initial concern for an unimaginable situation until recently, however, immediately left room for the desire to react in the wake of the values that have always distinguished our city: responsibility, solidarity, sharing, civil commitment, respect for the rules and support for the most frail population and economic sector.
How do you organise, plan, and prioritise your work during these days?
These are intense and demanding weeks, in which the intervention priorities are aimed at limiting the infection, protecting the health of citizens, but also at making ourselves ready at the time of the restart. The Town Hall closely follows the evolution of the situation and evaluates day by day the punctual measures necessary to accompany and support the population and businesses during the emergency period. A municipal coordination unit is active which aims to promote prevention and protection measures, in line with cantonal and federal provisions. We are in contact with the Cantonal General Staff with which the exchange of information is constant.
The efforts of the city are now aimed at limiting as far as possible the negative impact of the crisis, now and in the future. In compliance with the provisions issued by the cantonal authority back on the 15th March, the administration's activities were reduced until the 26th April to limit the risk of infection and protect employees, while continuing to ensure essential services to the population.
Is the municipality still working on prioritising key issues we are facing daily and if so, what have been the challenges you have been facing?
The Town Hall made choices focused on Lugano's needs and peculiarities, modulating the cantonal indications if necessary. I remember, for example, the timely decision to close schools, the measures introduced in the context of events, sports infrastructures and to protect the city administration's collaborators.
“Protecting public health remains our top priority”.
The decision to close public spaces such as Parco Ciani, the entrance of Cassarate, the Gandria path and some stretches of the lakefront to the public was painful but necessary to avoid the gatherings and thus minimise the spread of the virus.
We are close to lonely, elderly, or adult people, who cannot leave their homes for health reasons or preventive isolation: we have activated a toll-free number for those who are in a particularly vulnerable condition. The Lugano hotline is an enhancement of proximity interventions to protect the citizens most exposed to the emergency. The city has also promoted communication campaigns on all its channels and aimed at different targets to raise awareness of the importance of following the provisions issued at federal, cantonal and municipal levels. The ongoing pandemic will have major long-term global social and economic repercussions. We are already working to implement timely interventions to support the population and economic sectors affected by the pandemic.
This intense time will have a knock-on effect across the world & especially in smaller cities & towns, what contingencies will you put into place to assist the businesses of Lugano?
What we are seeing is unprecedented. The virus is having and will have significant repercussions on the economy.
“Nevertheless, following the 2008 financial crisis, the economy of the City of Lugano has become increasingly diversified”
this will allow us to bounce back quicker. We have been among the very first municipalities to implement a comprehensive set of measures of support for economic activities back on the 18th March, thus contributing to preserve the liquidity of small and medium-sized enterprises. For instance, the suspension of rents for commercial tenants or the deferral of payment for taxes and municipal fees. Additional measures were adopted on 9th April, such as the reduction of public space permit fees for the first half of 2020. We are closely monitoring the situation and will not hesitate to undertake further steps in synergy with what done by the Confederation and by the Canton.
What have you found have been the most supportive changes in policy and financial support from Bern? What policies fail to capture the distinctive economic picture here?
The federal government acted swiftly. Access to unemployment benefits has been extended to prevent parts of the population from being left without any income. Economic activities have made large use of the latter measure so far,
“in Ticino about 8’000 guaranteed loans have already been granted for ca. 800 million CHF”.
Going forward, it will be important to keep monitoring the situation and where needed adjust the existing measures or introduce additional ones. This is happening, as we have seen recently with regard to self-employed people.
Have you assessed the financial runway of small and medium sized enterprises? In the United States, Europe & the UK a large percentage cannot withstand closures for more than 30 days, what are you finding here? Do you believe the policy response has been sufficient?
At this stage, it is impossible to measure with accuracy the economic fallout of the crisis. Nationwide forecasts show a pronounced drop in GDP and important losses are expected for our region and Lugano as well. The measures adopted are aimed at helping businesses weather the COVID-19 crisis, keeping their employees and avoiding foreclosures. The measures undertaken so far in Switzerland have been generally praised by economists in our country as well as abroad. The situation is evolving and so is the response.
What are the long-range positive objectives being put into place to assist the tourism of Lugano in coming months? Has a plan been put into place?
Ticino tourism has been severely tested by the pandemic emergency. The recovery is likely to be slow, considering that in the near future travel from abroad to Switzerland will be very limited and that restrictive measures will be maintained for longer in the hotel and restaurant sectors. In addition to the accompanying economic measures to support the activities, it will be important to promote in the short and medium term a marketing strategy aimed at the needs of an indigenous clientele. The tourism sector in all its facets, leisure, business conferences, events, etc, is important for Lugano. With the peak season starting now, it is hard to imagine a full recovery until a vaccine becomes available. With a gradual reopening of the infrastructures in the coming weeks we can expect to welcome back to Lugano tourists from our region and from the rest of Switzerland.
Is Ticino going to be more reliant on the global economy or will it find a rationale to focus on local markets? And what does this mean for the English-speaking community?
Lugano is an international city. It could not be different, considering its location on the Southern side of the Swiss Alps and the proximity to Italy. This will not change. At the same time, it is entirely plausible that the virus will force us to discover (or rediscover) and appreciate more what our region has to offer. Technology can assist us in this as well, see for instance the online platform "chilometrozero” for producers, food retailers and consumers launched by the City of Lugano.
We have all been heavily reliant on technology during this crisis to hold meetings and business requirements, how have you found this?
Technology has also played a valuable role in this situation: it has allowed us not only to cancel distances, keeping in touch with our loved ones, but also to continue working and studying in completely new and innovative ways. My colleagues and I from the Municipio have complied with the rules to limit the infection and have continued with video conferencing. I would add that our administration has placed digitalisation at the basis of its development lines and has long been committed to supporting change to improve the efficiency and quality of the services provided to citizens.
Progress presents us with infinite opportunities that must be seized with intelligence and critical spirit. There are several projects under development that illustrate this vision and I am happy to mention one: the Lugano Living Lab platform - conceived and promoted by the City in 2019 in collaboration with the University of Italian Switzerland, the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Italian Switzerland and numerous companies active in the area - promotes innovation and the integration of research into the economic, social and environmental development strategy of the City of Lugano, in particular in the areas of artificial intelligence and data enhancement. The goal is to improve the quality of life and competitiveness of our economic fabric. This already activated base of skills and contacts has been of great help to us.
Are any 'incentives' being considered to entice 'start-ups' and new businesses to choose Lugano as their place of business?
“Over the past several years a lot has been done to promote our region as a top destination for innovative start-ups”.
It would be a tragedy to see them disappear as a consequence of the virus. Often, the people behind these companies have used their savings to embrace self-entrepreneurialism. Many of these companies are still in their infancy, with modest reserves. Now the deal flow on which they depend has dried up. The problem affects the entire country; the possibility of adopting tailor made support is being discussed in Bern and at cantonal level. The City of Lugano collaborates with Fondazione Agire, the cantonal innovation promotion agency and it is our priority to keep our region as attractive as possible for start-ups as well.
In this time of crisis what message would you like to share with your citizens?
Our community has shown great solidarity and closeness. I would like to extend a thank you and a virtual affectionate hug to the health workers who assist the sick, to the volunteers and to the numerous associations active in Lugano committed to reaching out to those who are most in difficulty due to the pandemic. You are the most authentic expression of the generosity and feelings of humanity that must always guide our path.
I also thank the many male and female workers in all sectors, from sales, to cleaning, to transport, who have continued to operate with discretion and courage. I am grateful to the towns and citizens who acted responsibly, limiting travel only for actual needs. Thanks to everyone's sacrifice and collaboration, it was possible to save human lives and alleviate the onerous task with which the Ticino health facilities are confronted.
To those who unfortunately lost a loved one due to the new coronavirus, I express my condolences.
The road to normality is still uphill and we will have to get used to living with new habits for a long time. However, I am sure that, united and with the support of citizens and institutions, we will be able to look to the future and to share together with confidence and renewed hope.
Thank you Mayor Borradori it has been a pleasure talking with you.