HAVING just watched on TV the weather problems in your region, it would be nice to bring in a little cheer from the Costa del Sol.
Alas, there is much gloom here for some – especially those pensioners who sold everything for a ‘life in the sun’.
The plummeting value of the pound means that an average monthly pension of £628 (850 euros) in 2007 is today worth only 650 euros.
Numerous reports state that pensioners cannot sell their homes and face rising food and fuel costs. Three million apartments stand empty, unemployment is at a 12-year high with 3.2 million queuing for benefits and Spain’s industrial output fell by 15.1%. It really makes for grim reading.
But there is good news to be had if you dig deep in the local press. Large public works have helped to slow down unemployment in the province with huge projects like the new Malaga Airport Terminal and new road and rail infrastructures.
Also town halls have created thousands of jobs, funded by the government for public works and training unemployed people.
But how crazy is this? – 20 years after it was introduced, authorities now plan to enforce The Coastal Law which prohibits buildings within 100 metres of the sea!
This means that literally hundreds of ‘chiringuitos’ (beach restaurants) on this coast are to be demolished leaving owners and thousands of employees on the dole.
Plus, the effect on the already diminished tourist trade will be dramatic, with much less attractive beach facilities. Yet, regarding tourism, an ABTA survey indicates that bookings for this region are unchanged on last year. And Spain is still the final destination for thousands of Brits.
Elaine and I have been coming to Southern Spain for 25 years and lived here for ten. This has been the wettest, harshest winter ever. And officially – 2008/9 was the coldest on record! The other good news by the way, is that they are considering lifting the ‘severe drought order’.
We know many retirees who are feeling the pinch, but the majority (at the moment) are determined to ride out the storm. The prospect of returning to the UK is not one they want to consider – but for an estimated 5% of ‘Costa Silver Tops’ it’s the only option.
You only have to take a stroll on the beach front of Fuengirola to witness the number of bars and restaurants empty of customers despite credit crunch offers, cut price drinks and very happy hours etc.
But one café bar, two lines back, is teeming with customers. He offers – buy a meal and get one free. He has a menu del dia (three-course menu of the day) for five euros, including sirloin steak!
The owner, John works 16 hours every day, pushing out hundreds of meals having purchased in bulk.
At the other end of the scale, a sassy up-market restaurant in La Cala who charged 250 euros a head for New Year’s Eve, is now very quiet and has begun some charity events to attract custom.
In another attempt to increase sales, the Nueve Andalucian Businessmen’s Association in Almeria decided to accept pesetas, which many Spaniards have hidden away in their homes. More than 80% of the storekeepers approved the idea and took in more than three million pesetas.
For many, those frequent trips back to the UK to visit loved ones have had to be cut back. And for a growing number living on pensions, a ‘monthly shop’ outing to Gibraltar is the place to spend some of their British pounds at the Rock’s only supermarket.
The store is humming with ex-pats filling their trolleys with carefully selected goods.
No one can predict what lies around the corner but for those we have spoken to, Spain still offers a better quality of life than they could enjoy in the UK. Those taking the decision to return are likely to be influenced by family and health concerns than finance alone. So belts will be tightened, luxuries forgotten in the hope that things will improve.
For all the problems, Spain is home - certainly for us.
A bit of a gloomy report. Maybe I will send another when the weather brightens up.