The Government will today approve plans to clean up finances with the portfolios of Health and Public Works being amongst the areas hardest hit (read article in Castilian here, El Periódico). The Generalitat have scheduled a special meeting to approve a financial feasibility plan designed by Andreu Mas-Colell, the minister of Economy, in order to consolidate public finances in the autonomous Catalan region. This special Consell Executiu, one of the first emergency measures to be ordered by Artur Mas, is being brought about in order to seek control of debt and to try and curb the deficit, which according to some estimates could exceed €7,000 million, an amount that is two or three times to that forecast by the tripartitie formalised in November. Artur Mas is due to address the financial situation of the Generalitat with José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero at a meeting scheduled for February 7th. The Consell Executiu, is to try and establish criteria to be followed this year that does not let the deficit exceed 1.3 percent of GDP, about €2,600 million. Statements issued to all departments say that they must spend 30 percent less than planned in the extension of the 2010 budget. One of the sectors with the biggest budget issues is that of the department of health which last year spent €850 million more than expected. With regards to the public works department, it is assumed that this year there will be no new tenders and the pace of some projects will be slowed. Artur Mas and Andreu Mas-Colell are to announce to the media the new plans at a press conference later today.
The government is set to scrap the 80 kilometres an hour limits currently in place on the circular roads that enter Barcelona (read article in Castilian here, La Vanguardia). The minister of planning and sustainability, Lluís Recoder, is to reveal details of his department's proposal today which will end the 80 kilometres and hour limit imposed on the access roads to the city. The speed limit was one of 73 measures devised by the department to improve air quality in order to meet the limits set by the EU on emissions. The proposed change will now make the limit more flexible allowing faster travel at certain times of the day. After a meeting with the secretary of environment and sustainability, Josep Enric Llebot and the director general of environmental quality, Assumpta Farran, Recoder will announce the decision. A spokesman for the government, Francesc Homs, said that the limit does not have a cause-and-effect relation to the environment saying, "it was taken for other reasons", adding that if it had been a strict question of the environment then cities like Madrid and other big metropolis areas would also have adopted it. However, information from the monitoring of the limit has revealed that reducing the limit to 80 kilometres an hour has reduced the levels of pollution carbon dioxide (NO2) by 450 tonnes, which is the equivalent of removing 22,100 vehicles from the roads. Proponents of the speed limit, amongst which is the director of traffic, Pere Navarro, says that the measures also reduces queues on the roads in question and reducing mortality on those roads by 60 percent.
The boards of La Caixa, Criteria and Microbank have approved the creation of CaixaBank (read article in Castilian here, La Vanguardia). The boards of the three banks have sent forward a document to the CNMV (Comisión Nacional del Mercado de Valores) which confirms the approval of the reorganisation of the group into CaixaBank, which is to have a core capital of 10.9 percent and liquidity of over €20,000 million. The new financial institution, now adheres to the new minimum requirement of 8 percent core capital announced by the government earlier this week. In practice the change will involve 81 percent the banking business of La Caixa being moved to the new banking group with Criteria moving parts of its industrial holdings, including Gas Natural, Abertis and Aguas de Barcelona. CaixaBank will now also be responsible for the financial contributions, insurance and industrial shares, for Telefonica and Repsol. The operation aims to "strengthen the equity structure" of CaixaBank, according to the new capital requirements announced on Monday by Elena Salgado, the minister of economy, which in turn aims to increase the solvency of the Spanish financial system and dispel distrust in the markets. According to Isidro Fainé president of La Caixa and Critieria, creating CaixaBank is a "milestone in the centennial history of our state. I am convinced we have chosen the option that best fits the new challenges of the international financial environment and the historic values and vision of our institution." The formalization of the merger will take place on February 24th.
Also in the news: Dr Eduard Estivill, an expert in clinical neurophysiology says that 30 percent of the Spanish population have trouble sleeping and that sleep disorders have increased due to the financial crisis. (Read full article in Castilian here, La Vanguardia).
A much loved and iconic building, La Rotonda is to be given a new lease of life with the finalisation of plans to transform it into an area of shops, restaurants and interior gardens. (Read full article in Castilian here, El Periódico).