José Gusmão (BE): Housing is an «absolutely central» theme in the Algarve

In the Algarve region, «there is a house when there is no work and when there is work there is no house», says the blockist candidate

José Gusmao, 45, is an economist, graduated from the Higher Institute of Economics and Management (ISEG). He was elected Member of the European Parliament in the 2019 elections by the Left Bloc lists. He has been one of the authors of the economics blog “Ladrões de Bicicletas” for several years, and is also the co-author of several books.

He is now the head of the Left Bloc for the 30 January Legislative Elections, for the Algarve constituency, where he seeks to succeed the current deputy João Vasconcelos, who is not re-candidate.

WithJosé Gusmão continues the series of interviews that the Sul Informação will publish, with all the heads of the list of all the political forces that are candidates for the constituency of the district of Faro.

To all, and in a logic of equal opportunities, the same questionnaire with 12 questions was sent, in a timely manner.

The answers are, of course, diverse, as will become clear over the next few days, with the publication of all the interviews.


Sul Informação – What are the priorities of your political force for the next legislature for the Algarve?

José Gusmão – The priorities are to implement the postponed investments in health, transport and education, to build a public housing park to lower rents throughout the region, and to reduce the seasonality of the Algarve economy, diversifying the tourist and industrial offer and investing in sectors with greater added value, in agricultural products and in fish and seafood.
Other priorities are also to protect the Algarve's water resources from over-exploitation. Water is our most precious resource and the region needs more support for small producers and sustainable agriculture. It also needs a better balance between irrigated and rainfed crops.
Finally, investing in renewable energies, including microgeneration and energy communities, feeding a sector of production and installation of production and storage systems for renewable energies and energy efficiency, articulating the business sector, municipalities and the University.

SI – What led you to accept being the head of the list for the party or political force you represent?

JG – The Algarve is a region that I know, that I like a lot and on which I have also intervened as a MEP, especially on issues of the environment and water.
As an economist, the Algarve presents great challenges. It is the second largest contributor to GDP per capita, but has the lowest average monthly earnings in the country and by far the highest proportion of precarious contracts.
The Bloc has the most systematic contribution to solving the problems of inequality and precariousness. It was easy for me to accept the invitation of João Vasconcelos and the organization of the Bloco. And of course it was important that there was a great consensus around this candidacy.

SI – What are the expectations and objectives of your political force in relation to these Legislative Elections?

JG – The Bloco is the third political force in the Algarve and the only force (besides the PS and the PSD) that elects a deputy.
We want to remain the third political force in the Algarve, which means defeating the extreme right and preventing it from electing in this region.
It would be tragic for the Algarve for the region to be totally handed over to the central block or for the deputy from the block to be replaced by a deputy from the extreme right.
We are confident that we will prevent it with the maintenance and even reinforcement of voting in the Bloc.

SI – What remains to be done in the Algarve?

JG – It is necessary to increase the levels of public investment carried out. Over the years, the Government and the Minister of Finance have left €4 billion unexecuted. This value means that dozens of structuring investments were left in the drawer.
Only with a stronger left will we be able to have the strength to condition the Government in order to reverse this trend. An absolute majority would represent four years of absolute stagnation.
There is a vast set of investments that are considered fundamental for the region: modernization of the railway line in the Algarve, requalification of the EN125, collective transport systems, construction of the central hospital in the Algarve, construction of a public housing park to lower rents, requalification and reopening of health centers, modernization of the school park, requalification of irrigation and sanitation systems to combat water waste and pollution, construction of dams and dams to retain water for agriculture and human consumption, and many other investments of small and medium dimensions.
What is lacking is political will.

SI – Health is a deficit sector in the Algarve and in the country. What measures do you recommend to solve the health problems in the Algarve?

JG – The main health problem is the lack of professionals. António Costa promised, in 2015, that all users would have a family doctor. We are in 2022 and the number of users without a family doctor has increased.
In the hospitals of Portimão and Faro, there are several specialties with a shortage of doctors and, in some cases, with less than half of the doctors needed.
It is necessary to open exclusive vacancies that allow the SNS to offer remuneration and career conditions that allow it to compete for doctors in the private sector and emigration.
With nurses and assistants, the situation is similar. Hospitals in the Algarve operate with far fewer nurses and assistants than would be necessary, because careers are not valued. This leads to a much worse service being provided and more money being spent on private hires.
Compounding all these problems, the Algarve has the second most expensive housing market in the country, which alienates these and other professionals from the region.

SI – And what about Hospital Central do Algarve? When should you move forward and why?

JG – The Algarve Central Hospital is a promise that has almost two decades, but remains to be fulfilled. During the years of the Geringonça and from 2019 onwards, the Bloco did not stop proposing its implementation.
In the 2020 budget, which we negotiated and approved, the start of the necessary procedures for its execution was enshrined. Once again, the Government did not comply with the budget it approved, as happened with so many other projects.
It's 2022 and there's nothing new. This will be a commitment by the Bloc for the negotiation of future budgets approved on the left.

SI – The previous government advanced with the Decentralization of Competences to the Municipalities. What balance do you make of this process?

JG – The balance is clear and confirmed by mayors of all political forces. Under the guise of decentralization of competences, the State has transferred competences to municipalities without transferring the necessary financial resources.
It is a policy of cutting public expenditure hidden through the financial burden of municipalities, which have to withdraw money from other competences they already had.

SI – Should a future government move forward with Regionalization? Why or why not?

JG – Without a doubt! The victory of the right in the regionalization referendum took more than two decades of planning and structuring public investment across the country.
We will defend that progress should be made to this essential reform and we believe that the Algarve is one of the regions that has the most to gain from this democratization of the level of regional power.
Regional power must be elected and scrutinized, instead of being determined by appointments between central bloc parties, as has recently happened again.

SI – In the Assembly of the Republic, there have been resolutions to end tolls on Via do Infante or, at least, to introduce significant discounts. What do you think about this topic and what solutions do you recommend?

JG – Most of these resolutions were presented by the deputy from the Bloc João Vasconcelos. The Bloco was the main force opposing the tolls on the Via do Infante and will continue to be so.
We will fight, at least, to force the PS to fulfill António Costa's promise to reduce them by 50% and create a system of exemptions.
This also shows how tragic it would be to lose that representation, leaving the region left to the two toll parties, PS and PSD.

SI – At the beginning of the current pandemic crisis, the Government announced a specific plan for the Algarve, which never came to fruition. What does Algarve Tourism need to recover from the pandemic?

JG – Algarve tourism needs support until the pandemic ends and needs investment and promotion of diversification of its offer, in order to be able to create supply and work throughout the year and not just in high season, and in order to cover the entire territory and not just the coastline.
The seasonality of tourism is not just a tourism problem. It is a problem for restaurants, small businesses and economic activity in general.

SI – In the case of more fractious issues, such as regionalization, tolls on Via do Infante and health, among others, if you are elected, will you vote for the AR according to your conviction, even if it goes against the guidelines of your party?

JG – The Bloc does not have bench discipline, which allows its deputies to vote freely.
Fortunately, this is not a problem in any case, because on these matters the Bloc has defended the positions that best protect the region.

SI – Do you want to add any more topics or questions?

JG – An absolutely central theme is housing. The Algarve has the lowest average monthly salary in the whole country. But it has the most expensive rents in the country, with the exception of Lisbon.
This situation is unsustainable, not least because, in addition, the housing supply is seasonal and counter-cycles with economic activity. There is a home when there is no work and when there is work there is no home.
This affects the region's ability to attract teachers, doctors and other qualified professionals, provide decent housing for those working in tourism, catering, small businesses, agriculture or fishing, and compete for students and researchers with other university centers.
The solution has to go through investment in public housing, not just social housing, which puts pressure on the rental market to lower rents, and also through penalizing absenteeism, so that houses are on the market, increasing supply.