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SDP's Skinnari: Finland like a Baltic country compared to Sweden

David Mac Dougall
SDP's Skinnari: Finland like a Baltic country compared to Sweden
SDP's Skinnari: Finland like a Baltic country compared to Sweden
Lahti MP Ville Skinnari talks about the lack of investment in Finland's regional infrastructure on the new episode of Newsmakers with David Mac Dougall. He also discusses the price of ice hockey success, and SDP party politics.

Social Democrat MP Ville Skinnari says levels of infrastructure spending in Finland are so low, that it makes Finland seem "like a Baltic country" compared to Sweden.

The Lahti politician makes the comments on the latest episode of HSTV's English-language current affairs show Newsmakers.

Skinnari says his party is "always for investments" in the Finnish regions, and he believes strong transport links and knowledge hubs can strengthen the economy.

"When you look at Sweden, there is a commitment for more than €60b investments" says Skinnari.

Finland's centre-right government coalition recently announced new transport projects in eastern Finland, Helsinki, Tampere and Turku totalling €700m.

"We are a Baltic country, if I'm honest, compared to Sweden" says freshman MP Skinnari. "And it has an impact also on employment, growth and so forth".

Commenting on the government's latest plans for more decentralisation of services, Skinnari says Prime Minister Juha Sipilä's Centre Party's message is "messy".

"The Centre Party has a tradition of strong regional politics and therefore it's been a little bit odd how the government does things on the one [hand] to centralise things, and right after, on the other hand, says that we are going to decentralise".

Skinnari says it's inevitable that in Finland, like other EU countries, the capital city has been a magnet for investment, skills, and young people moving from the regions. "It's obvious that capitals develop fast" he says. But he also notes that Finnish cities have a strong history of success, and the capital shouldn't be bolstered at the expense of the regions.

During his business career before becoming a politician, Skinnari worked in regional development in Oulu, and says there is "good know-how and skill base" there, even after the collapse of Nokia lead to widespread job losses in the northern city. "So I'm saying, why not try and build up something again, and that is what they are doing".

"If you look at tourism in Lapland, eastern Finland, [there are] excellent opportunities" he says. "You have to look at the region, infrastructure, what kind of communication, what kind of rail, road opportunities we have. And that's why it's important that Finland has a strong domestic airline, strong domestic railroads and roads. It's essential. Because otherwise the other cities won't develop".

Earlier in his life, Skinnari played in the Finnish ice hockey SM-Liiga for a Lahti team. He says he's "very proud" of the achievements of the national under-18 team this week, who won the World Championships in the USA, beating the Americans and Sweden on the way to clinch the gold medal.

But Skinnari concedes the financial cost and commitment expected of young players, puts enjoyment of the sport out of reach of many lower income Finns.

"If you look at the cost side, if you look at the parent's free time, and having a normal life as a child, so it has a side effect" he explains. "If you have an average 10-year old, 12-year old, 14-year old the monthly cost here in Helsinki region and in bigger cities is even 200, 300 euros".

A 2014 study by the Ministry of Education found that a the cost of an average 17-year old, who had been playing ice hockey for ten years, could be as high as €90,000.

Skinnari's two sons both play hockey, and he has coached junior teams in Lahti as well, so he says he understands the expenses involved. But he is adamant that getting children involved in sports shouldn't depend on their income, and that more could be done at primary schools, and in municipalities.

"I'm a member of the Ministry of Sports committee which is making a strategy for these kind of things. We are trying to build up different models. So it's not just charity work, it's not just having certain funds. I think it's more down to earth. You must have an opportunity to do sports without being a member of a club".

Turning finally to Social Democrat party politics, Skinnari says his party, and the country "need the trade unions" but that they must also change, to help bring about the structural reform that experts say is needed to make the Finnish economy more competitive.

"What I'm saying is that also the trade unions must renew themselves, and the way of thinking, because the world is changing very very fast. And the same goes for employers side. I think it's not just the one side, it's something in Finland we call for long term bilateral or trilateral bargaining agreements, and that's something that i am worried about, especially [Finance Minister Alexander Stubb's ] Kokoomus Party and certain people in politics are not willing to continue with this kind of society where we made long-term agreements".

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