Lord Mayor of Helsinki
Eva-Riitta Siitonen

A Message from the Lord Mayor
Development in the Hands of the City Council
The Lord Mayor´s Sector
A Wide Range of Services
City Planning and Infrastructure
Municipal Business Enterprises and Technical Services
Brief facts about Helsinki


The celebrations marking the 80th anniversary of Finnish independence naturally set the tone for life in the city in 1997. Helsinki has been the capital of Finland for even longer than the country has been an independent state. It acquired that status in 1812, when Finland was an autonomous grand-duchy within the Russian Empire. Nearly 540,000 of the national population of slightly more than 5 million live in Helsinki. Besides being the seat of government, the city is the country's main centre of business, science, research and education. The demographic structure has a youthful bias and Helsinkiites are well-educated. The economic structure is services-dominated and several knowledge-intensive occupations and information production are important sources of employment.

Where East meets West

Throughout history, Helsinki has straddled the interface between East and West. We have strong historical ties with Scandinavia, but our contacts with the Baltic States and Central Europe as well as the proximity of Russia have also contributed to the spirit of Helsinki as it manifests itself today. Right now, Helsinki is living in very interesting times. We are active participants in cooperation within the EU framework and the European cities network. The eventual enlargement of the Union to include more countries in the Baltic Sea region will further increase Union interest in the potential that northern areas offer. Increasing cooperation between the EU and Russia will likewise offer businesses growing opportunities in our immediate geographical environs. Already now, Helsinki offers an excellent working environment for international companies that are interested not only in Finland itself, but also in the growing markets of neighbouring countries that are so ideally accessible from Helsinki.

Development in the hands of the City Council

I would like in this context to emphasise the very significant role that local government plays in Nordic societies. The Finnish Constitution guarantees municipalities the right to self-government, which is supported by a right to levy taxes. As can be seen from the economic review, municipal tax is of crucial importance in the finances of the City of Helsinki. A thriving local economy and a good employment situation are also mainstays of a healthy municipal economy. In Finland, as in the Nordic countries generally, the range of matters for which local government bears responsibility is exceptionally broad. A municipality is responsible for ensuring that the general prerequisites for development are fulfilled in its area. In addition to that, it provides residents with social-welfare and health-care services, education, cultural and leisure services and amenities. Housing, land use and building as well as energy, water supplies and traffic planning are also municipal responsibilities.

Services for a growing population

The population of Helsinki has been growing strongly in recent years, and this has naturally posed new challenges on the services-production side. The number of people moving to Helsinki from abroad has likewise substantially increased. The growing population, its structure and the wide scope of our activities are reflected in the size of the workforce. At the end of last year, the City of Helsinki had more than 38,000 employees, 72 for every 1,000 inhabitants. The vast majority of them are engaged in the production of basic services; 23% in health care; 16% in education and 31% in social services, the sector with the biggest workforce.


Central operating principles

I shall highlight a few of the most important principles that guide the City in its work. Sustainable development is one of them. The effects that decisions will have on the environment are a central criterion in planning and operations. Another factor on which we have specially concentrated is that of making technological know-how accessible to all citizens. Providing schools with computer equipment and developing children's skill at using information technology are priority goals. In addition to that, the City's libraries enable residents to use the Internet free of charge. Opportunities to communicate electronically with City institutions and offices have likewise been increased in recent years. In health care and in care services for the elderly we are determinedly shifting the emphasis onto open care and preventive measures. In the development of administration, the key considerations are the real needs of residents and quality management.

Major projects

The projects that featured most prominently in our activities in 1997 will continue to keep us busy for several years to come. They include, to mention only a few examples, the construction of an entirely new city district in east Helsinki, planning a new harbour, an extension of the Metro, planning an ecological residential area close to the University of Helsinki's Science Park and the transformation of an old industrial milieu into a design and media industry centre. Another matter that has been strongly reflected in our preparations is that Finland will hold the EU Presidency for the latter half of 1999, in addition to which the following year will be both the city's own 450th birthday and its 12 months in the international spotlight as one of the European Cities of Culture. Looking further ahead, Helsinki, the Finnish winter sports city of Lahti and Lillehammar in Norway decided last year that they will make a joint bid to host the Winter Olympics in 2006.

Finances on a steady growth curve

The general economic trend was favourable. The economic policy practised by the city, strong investment inputs and an easing of the tax burden likewise supported growth and job creation. We have grounds for confidence that this positive development will continue. The City's final accounts, which are presented in this report, reveal that the favourable development of the economy boosted tax revenues and thus we were able to meet the additional costs that arose, especially in the social services and health-care sectors. As always, a pleasant and green living environment, social and physical security as well as services with which residents can be satisfied were our goals in the past year. As you read this report, you can assess our success. As Mayor, I cannot but express my great satisfaction that the international organisation Corporate Resources Group recently ranked Helsinki eighth in the world in terms of its pleasantness and safety as a place to live. It is my hope that as many as possible of those who read this review will come here to find out for themselves that it is true.

Eva-Riitta Siitonen
Lord Mayor of Helsinki

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