Monocolumn

A daily bulletin of news & opinion

19 June 2014

It was absolutely blissful: I had the pleasure of travelling to Madrid earlier this month for a quick city break beyond the confines of London. I wasn't sure what to expect. I had been to Barcelona, Mallorca and Ibiza many times before but, as you'd expect, it was just to hit the beach, relax and eat some good food. I was unsure what I would find in the commercial and political capital of Spain.

After landing at what seemed like an unnecessarily oversized beast of an airport, I was quickly whisked into town. Everything seemed very relaxed and easygoing. However, after an inexpensive but rather delicious lunch, I was shocked to see what was happening all around me.

Storeowners and businesses were pulling down shutters and locking up their shops in the middle of the afternoon. The streets were being emptied all around me as if some zombie attack was imminent. It looked like people were heading off to bed for their afternoon siesta. Was this supposed to be happening?

A few years ago, the Spanish government changed working hours to allow shops to operate for nearly 90 per cent of the time during the week. In Madrid, local authorities have been encouraging proprietors to stay open in order to spur business and productivity; it was expected that up to 20,000 new jobs would be created. So that’s why, sitting there finishing my lunch, I was surprised to see so many small-business owners shutting up shop. Perhaps the kick in the pants just didn't work?

Maybe that’s why, just two weeks ago, the Spanish government announced a further €6.3bn stimulus package to boost the economy. The majority of the bill will be tax cuts designed to “reindustrialise” the Spanish economy. That's all well and good but when you have business owners turning away customers on a Monday afternoon, it may be hard to reindustrialise much of anything. I’m all for a good ol’ siesta – but every once in a while you have to wake up.

Phil Han is a producer/presenter for Monocle 24.

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