A last-minute agreement has been reached between the Town Hall of Cartagena and the city’s bars, restaurants and cafés, avoiding the threat of mass closures and protests on the dock on the days when cruise ships are in port.
The dispute was caused by the massive increase in council taxes on those establishments using street terraces outside their hostelries, which provoked immediate protests from Hostecar, the association representing the city’s bars, restaurants and cafés. The average price of permission to offer a ten-table terrace was to go up from about 1,000 euros to nearer 2,500, but the agreement reached last night means that the new rate will be reduced by 35%.
The rise in taxes came about after Hostecar requested that a new system for calculating licence payments be implemented, considering that the old one was unfair. By the terms of the new system, bar-owners will now pay per square metre of the street occupied rather than per table, plus a 35% surcharge for awnings, and the Town Hall responded by raising the rate from 18 euros per square metre to 45.
This caused considerable concern among the bar-owners affected, and Hostecar´s first reaction was to ask all members to delay payment until the very last day possible. This was followed by a campaign to force the Town Hall to back down, which was to consist of closing all the affected establishments whenever a cruise ship docked in the port, beginning with the visit on Friday from the “Aidavita” (with 1,262 passengers on board). Rather than opening their bars and restaurants, the members of Hostecar were planning to spend the day protesting on the quayside in full view of the hungry and thirsty tourists.
Another imminent visit is that of the French aircraft carrier “Charles de Gaulle” on Sunday, and this was to be the date of the next bar strike. The “Charles de Gaulle” is the second largest European warship, and its two thousand crew members are to be in Cartagena for almost a week: the proposal suggested to Hostecar members by Francisca Naranjo, the organization’s president, was to stage a mass protest on the quay, accusing the Town Hall of discouraging tourism in the city.
Another proposal was to replace the terrace chairs and tables with placards denouncing the hike in taxes.
Although the 35% reduction in the new tariffs is only a partial stand-down on the part of the Town Hall, it will come as a relief to the owners and managers of the city’s bars and eateries. Recently business has been bad enough as it is, with Hostecar’s figures showing a drop of 40.65% in sales over the last 18 months, resulting in a reduction of over 36% in the number of people employed in the sector locally. This comes on top of the reforms undertaken by many businesses to provide separate smoking and non-smoking areas, only for this expense to be rendered useless when the total smoking ban came into force at the start of 2011.
In the face of the protests by Hostecar members, Fátima Suanzes, the councillor for Hacienda, initially remained intransigent, saying that it was too late for any changes in the new rates to be made. Sra Suanzes maintained that the increase simply brought the local taxes in Cartagena into line with other large cities, but after Mayoress Pilar Barreiro joined the discussions Hostecar will be pleased to have at least salvaged some concession from the local administration. Whether this concession will be sufficient to keep the city’s bars and terraces in business, appeasing the owners and avoiding any further decline in the sector, remains to be seen.
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