May 30, 2013 6:05 pm

Stockholm moves city service offices out to riot-hit areas

A burned-out van is towed away after youths rioted in Husby, northern Stockholm on May 21, 2013©AFP

Stockholm is to move as many as 1,600 of its council workers out of the city centre to its riot-hit suburbs and its mayor is urging the national government to do the same.

Sten Nordin, the centre-right mayor, said that whole departments would be moved to about eight suburbs where this month cars were burnt and stones thrown at emergency services.

“To move the city administration to the suburban areas is an effective way of adding work and business opportunities,” Mr Nordin told journalists.

Husby, the epicentre of the week-long riots that raised questions about how well Sweden has integrated its growing immigrant population, will get a call-centre. The move is already under way.

Other suburbs hit by the rioting such as Rinkeby, Tensta, Farsta, Skarpnäck and Skärholmen will also get some of the city’s 38,000-strong bureaucracy, including the departments for education, culture and elderly care as well as the municipal companies for broadband and water.

Mr Nordin, from the same Moderate party as prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, urged the central government to consider doing the same, underlining that public transport including the metro meant the suburbs were easy to reach.

Nearly all of the suburbs to which the city council is moving jobs are part of the so-called Million Programme, a housing plan from the 1960s and 1970s to build 1m affordable houses. But the programme has attracted criticism, as some of its most high-profile developments in Sweden’s three big cities of Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö have high immigrant populations with more unemployment than their surrounding areas.

Stockholm has largely been quiet since Sunday after a week of rioting erupted, seemingly over anger at the police killing of a 69-year-old Portuguese man who had allegedly been brandishing a knife. A police officer is under suspicion of involuntary manslaughter over the incident, officials said this week.

The rioting has shone a spotlight on the relatively high unemployment rates for young immigrants as well the de facto segregation of some immigrant communities. But the rioting was on a smaller scale than took place in London in 2011 and Paris in 2005, with no deaths or serious injuries and no looting.

Many of the city job moves were planned before the riots, and will cut costs by 25 per cent. It is unclear what effect the moves will have on local employment but they have been given fresh impetus by the unrest.

“The push from the top is: get going,” said an aide to the mayor. City hall officials say the investment is designed to help reduce marginalisation in the suburbs by trying to overcome the social problems festering because of the architecture of much of the Million Programme housing.

Those who threw rocks and burnt cars got enough attention last week. Now it’s about trying to show we care about those who live in the area

- Erik Ullenhag, integration minister

A debate has broken out in Sweden over the cause of the riots, with the centre-right government blaming it not only on “hooligans” but also on the difficulty some immigrants have with integrating into Swedish society. The centre-left opposition has, by contrast, tried to pin some of the blame on the government’s welfare cuts and privatisations.

The anti-immigrant rightwing Sweden Democrats, the third-largest party, have in turn blamed large-scale immigration, which has seen Sweden accept more asylum seekers relative to its population than any other OECD country aside from Malta.

Erik Ullenhag, Sweden’s integration minister, on Thursday became one of the first senior politicians to visit the suburbs since the rioting and warned that there could be a rise in prejudice among outsiders against its residents.

“The people who threw rocks and those who burnt cars got enough attention last week. Now it’s all about trying to support the positive trends and to show that we seriously care about those who live in the area,” he told the TT news agency while visiting Tensta, which neighbours Husby.

Mr Ullenhag deflected concerns that the segregation of many immigrants from native Swedes was to blame.

“The problem is that for those who it’s gone well for, they have chosen to move on. We must ensure that we have positive cycles. Why, for example, is there no mosque in Tensta? I think that’s strange,” he said.

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