The Vice Mayor of Oeiras, Francisco Rocha Gonçalves, explains the Municipality’s priorities and tells us, in an interview with Oeiras Valley, why he believes he is part of a new revolution in Oeiras.
The Vice Mayor of Oeiras, Francisco Rocha Gonçalves, talked with Oeiras Valley and addressed some of the main projects that are being carried out by the Municipality of Oeiras in the business, tourism and technology areas.
Find out how the Municipal Council is ensuring that Oeiras has a successful post-pandemic economic recovery and is working to mitigate the impacts of Covid-19; discover the Municipality’s investments in the area of technologies and information systems and the ambition to be a smart city over time; also learn about Oeiras’ strategy to become an important agent for tourism in the Lisbon metropolitan area.
Mr Francisco Rocha Gonçalves, this term was inevitably marked by Oeiras’ action in fighting the pandemic and mitigating its impact on people’s lives.
What is the Municipality doing, in terms of economic activity and tourism, to ensure a successful recovery?
Our priority has been to look after the people of the municipality. We created conditions that allowed the Municipality’s workers to stay at home and we created safety measures for the population, so that those who had to continue working had the necessary conditions to carry out their duties. The whole “machine” had to keep running and it was essential for the local economy that it kept running too.
At the beginning of the term, for example, the Municipality was paying after 42 days and before the pandemic it was paying after 3 days. We have made a strong commitment to continue to pay on time, to get money circulating in the local economy.
Recently, we announced the creation of three million euros worth of funds to support small and medium enterprises. Part of this fund has already been implemented, but we still have room to continue supporting SMEs in the municipality.
“At the beginning of the term, for example, the Municipality was paying after 42 days and before the pandemic it was paying after 3 days.”
And how about tourism?
At the start of the pandemic, the Strategic Tourism Plan was already being finalised. It has not yet been announced, because it makes no sense to do so during a global pandemic.
This plan aims to create conditions for the Municipality of Oeiras to be an agent in Tourism, recognising its importance to the national economy. Oeiras already has a place in this sector, more specifically in business tourism, boosted by the economic and business development that Oeiras has experienced in recent decades.
The project for the Exhibition and Congress Centre, a project that the municipality, the region and the country needs, is currently under review. Lisbon has a large exhibition centre at EXPO, the FIL, but the Lisbon region does not have a second large exhibition centre that can host international exhibitions of considerable size, complementary to the FIL, and that can make our region enter the circuit of international congresses and exhibitions in Europe, which will be an essential factor for the performance of Oeiras in business tourism.
“Much of the heritage was transferred to municipal management during this term and we are restoring it and opening it up to the public so that everyone can enjoy it.”
In terms of event tourism, Oeiras has significant influence. During the week of NOS Alive, for example, the hotels between Estoril and Belém have an occupancy rate of 100%. Most of the tourists go to the festival, but during that week they eat in our restaurants, ride in our taxis, visit our museums, go to our beaches and are generating wealth.
What happened was that, until now, it was not possible to visit much of the heritage in Oeiras because it was under central government management, but a large part of the heritage was transferred to municipal management during this term and we are restoring it and opening it up to the public so that everyone can enjoy it.
We had the niche of business tourism and now we are creating the conditions to develop all areas of tourism in Oeiras. We want to integrate the influx of tourists in the region and we want to boost it.
Four years ago, it was announced that Google was setting up in Oeiras.
Is attracting investment still a priority for the Municipality of Oeiras?
The policy of attracting investment and attracting companies with qualified human capital is nothing new. It is a policy that dates back to the late 1980s, which was built over time and has now been actively enforced during this term. Ultimately, the logic is to create employment, to create jobs and to create wealth. The very creation of the concept and brand Oeiras Valley is a vision associated to the territory, with a profound bias towards attracting these companies and attracting investment.
“Our role on this board is to build the stage for the actors to perform on.”
Are there any other large companies planning to set up in Oeiras?
We have one condition which is that we never discuss it. Google, for example, came to the Municipality of Oeiras and the Council never mentioned it to anyone. We didn’t publicise Google, we didn’t say we were negotiating, we didn’t say we were licensing the buildings where Google was planning on setting up.
We do this while respecting companies’ privacy and business strategy, because we know that it is an important level of business communication which we do not want to interfere with. Our role on this board is to build the stage for the actors to perform on. That is what land use planning is for, as well as long-term planning.
“The new municipal portal is a part of what I call a silent digital revolution.”
The Oeiras Municipal Council launched the new municipal portal in May this year.
What are you looking to improve with the Council’s focus on technologies and information systems?
The new municipal portal is part of what I call a silent digital revolution. In the first meeting I had with the IT services, which is one of my portfolios, the former head of the department asked me to purchase 1300 computers. What we did was attack the problem, not by acquiring the 1300 at once, but by acquiring a whole new set of machines during the term.
The municipal portal was presented in May, a particularly prosperous month for the Municipality of Oeiras in the context of information technologies and systems. Previous portals were mainly shop windows, but a portal should be a passage between two dimensions. In the past, we would provide information and the person would go there to consult that information. Now, the user seeks information and provides information and this relationship is clearer overall at the level of the services made available.
“Our portal already provides more than 80 services, but the big evolution, compared to the previous one, is in the area of Urban Planning.”
Our portal already offers more than 80 services, but the major evolution in relation to the previous one is in the area of Urban Planning, which is a very dense and important area for municipalities. Now the whole process is available digitally. We deliver the project, ask for the licences and the whole process is followed by the user on their own computer.
This allows an almost revolutionary transparency and precision in communication, which brings implications to the service, at the demand level. It has to be active in order to keep up with the introduction of this technology and be able to serve our citizens. In essence, the portal is a more efficient, more transparent and more intelligent form of management.
You said it was a particularly prosperous month for the Municipality in that context…
After the presentation of the portal, we opened the new Data Centre, which is a major evolution in storage capacity and security for the Municipality.
On the same day that we opened the Data Centre, the President connected the first municipal fibre optic rings, which currently pass through the municipal buildings and which will be connected to all public buildings or buildings of public interest at a later date.
We will provide security, capacity and fast data transmission to all public buildings or buildings of public interest and their users, finally ensuring what we wanted, for example, for schools. The digital revolution in schools is not possible if pupils have state-of-the-art computers and internet connections from the early 2000s era.
“We will provide security, capacity and fast data transmission to all public buildings or buildings of public interest and their users.”
The municipality’s LoRa network was also launched. The LoRa network is a low intensity data transmission network that is used for the so-called internet of things. The internet of things is above all the internet of sensors in public spaces. We all talk a lot about smart cities, but they require sensors, they require elements that connect them to the territory, to give us information for management.
Air quality, traffic, light intensity, route management… all this is only possible if we have a suitable communications network. Eight antennas have already been installed in the Oeiras territory and we already have the infrastructure we wanted to complement the Municipality’s rise to a higher level of digitalisation.
In other words, to a smart city?
We are building a smart city, starting with infrastructure. We already have, of course, smart elements in the management of the Municipality, but the smart city idea needs infrastructure, and it needs to ensure data security. We have increased data transport speed by 400 times, which is a good example of the huge evolution we have made.
We are now moving on to the sensors stage: air quality sensors, humidity sensors, the replacement of traditional light bulbs with smart managed led bulbs; we are planning to build an e-government room for the city, where all these sensor links, which we call vertical, will be connected.
We are building a smart city, starting with infrastructure.
As an example, in the management of the solid urban waste collection circuit, when a lorry goes out in the morning to collect waste, the management programme will say that the driver has to go here and here, but not there. Why? Because the sensor we put in the container tells us that the container is not even half full, so it is not worth collecting. This is an improvement in efficiency and economic and financial management. It is rationalising management.
All this information we can collect will improve the final decision. We often do tests, programmes and studies for a new road, for example, but these studies would be much more significant if they were to include the information we can now collect. Creating a smart city is something that is done step by step and the creation of a smart city is a forever ongoing process.
Oeiras was named European Capital of Gastronomic Culture in an atypical year.
Will Oeiras regain the title? What does it mean for the municipality?
The European Capital of Gastronomic Culture is an opportunity for the Municipality and we are looking to secure it for another year, because we were unlucky enough to experience the pandemic during this period.
“Oeiras has very good restaurants and a number of restaurants with huge potential, which are still little known, bearing in mind their high quality.”
It is an important event because it gives us the opportunity to bring even more quality to the restaurant industry in Oeiras, supporting our entrepreneurs in the area, bringing events and world-renowned chefs here and drawing attention to the importance of seeking fresh food and a healthy lifestyle.
There is also, of course, the opportunity to project Oeiras onto the world stage. By bringing in the most prominent and important chefs, we are drawing attention to Oeiras and its restaurants. Oeiras has very good restaurants and a number of restaurants with huge potential, which are still little known, bearing in mind their high quality, which we want to help project with the European Capital of Gastronomic Culture.
This is your first term as Vice Mayor of Oeiras.
What have you taken away from this new experience in your career?
My first message has to do with intensity. The second has to do with the impact it has on our lives. Those who are here are mostly here out of a spirit of mission and service.
Barack Obama used to say that politics is about changing lives. That is the mission of those in politics. It is to decide and act in order to transform people’s lives for the better. I myself truly believe in transformation. I get the feeling that we are partners with Isaltino Morais in yet another revolution that is happening in Oeiras.
“I get the feeling that we are partners with Isaltino Morais in yet another revolution that is happening in Oeiras.”
We have set a housing revolution in motion that will allow the new generations to have a home and quality of life. We have regained sensitivity in communicating with people and in social initiatives. We have supported people with difficulties in housing, in purchasing medicines, in meals, in shopping, in paying their monthly expenses… we have set a digital revolution in motion, which we have already talked about, and we have continued to invest heavily in education.
Education is the main driver for the transformation of society. When we talk about housing, we are not giving houses to the poor, we are raising the social and moral status and dignity of families. If we provide schooling and learning conditions, we are breaking the cycle of generational poverty that exists in this country and which is a disgrace to our entire Democracy.
In Portugal, it takes 125 years on average for a poor family to break the cycle of poverty. The Oeiras Council is providing conditions to break the cycle of poverty and this is transforming everyone’s lives and, in particular, the lives of those in need. Those who have more are safeguarded, and those who have less are always on the margins of society. Changing this in the long term will always have tremendous advantages for our country.