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The strategic council

Upgrading municipal government in the areas of business and the environment
Sintra / Portugal
Size of city: 
377 835 inhabitants


Basílio Horta
President of Sintra Municipality
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The Strategic Council is a project to upgrade the Municipal Government of Sintra (PT) with action in two areas: Business and the Environment. Launched in 2014, it involves the mayor, relevant companies, trade union forces, associations of Sintra and the Ministry of Environment. The Business axis analyses the economic and social situation from the perspective of companies and employers, proposing appropriate measures to solve identified problems. The Environmental axis guarantees cooperation between the Municipality of Sintra and the Environment Ministry to tackle matters of environmental management, urban planning and requalification.
The Strategic Council is a good practice both for the Municipality of Sintra and the country as a whole. It promotes the development of socio-economic growth - especially during the country's current period of crises - and enhances natural heritage, involving in this process key stakeholders and society in general.

The solutions offered by the good practice

The following solutions stand out:
1) SINTRA INCLUDES, a professional inclusion project for people with disabilities. With protocol with Sintra Municipally, Parents-in-Network Association and Companies of the Strategic Council through it young people have their first traineeships and later, the opportunity for contract employment.
2) STARTUP SINTRA projects are mainly in the scope of new technologies, incorporating Sintra into national and European networks of startups and in particular, translating open opportunity to entrepreneurship in Sintra.
3) PLANNING ONLINE, a digital platform to submit electronic procedures and for management of requests for all urban operations. The platform allows a faster process and makes it possible to assess the effectiveness of the municipal services regarding the urban licensing that is vital for the development of Sintra.
4) COASTAL works urgently to rehabilitate pedestrian access to beaches, creates a platform to view the footprints of dinosaurs and footbridges to access the beach.
5) ILLEGAL URBAN AREAS OF GENESIS (AUGI). There are about 100, where more than 30,000 people live with serious socioeconomic problems like water supply, sanitation, legalisation of land and appraisal of projects.
The specific issues find in the Environmental Council a place to resolve their problems. The Council permits a better coordination between municipal and national services. In 2017, more than 30 AUGI will be converted.

Building on the sustainable and integrated approach

The municipality of Sintra is characterised by an unequal economic, social and geographical reality. These characteristics, in the context of growing competitiveness, require institutional changes and a great capacity building effort. Sustainable developments require a transparent leadership to innovate and achieve change. In a difficult socio-economic context this project contributes to improving the performance of Sintra, its relationship with citizens and companies.
The Business and Environmental Councils reinforce the articulation between the executive and the economic/environmental agents, raising the quality of decisions in the axes of municipal action, encouraging collaboration between departments, to articulate with the community and bridging the Central Administration in a space of joint reflection. Through this approach, the municipality contributes to reducing unemployment, increasing entrepreneurship in a sustainable manner and enhancing the quality of the environment and the natural heritage, which are fundamental assets for the municipal identity.
With the creation of the digital platforms, the municipalities can make/follow their requests, and the evaluation and monitoring of the municipal services is carried out. Thus, the Strategic Council attracts and encourages companies to establish themselves in the municipality, providing services to the residents and promoting efficiency in public administration for the well-being of the population.

Based on a participatory approach

The establishment and implementation of the Strategic Council Project is to incorporate environmental aspects, is an instrument for better municipal government, and the implementation of autonomous projects emanating from the Strategic Council itself, some mentioned in previous points. These were only possible due to the combination of several factors: participation and articulation with business communities; cooperation between private and public entities; understanding between central and municipal administrations on environmental matters, such as the collection and treatment of waste, coastlines, land planning and urban regeneration; sustainable logic of economic matters with main reference in licensing and its conditions; and finally, effective communication among all stakeholders concerned with social matters.
Finally, the Strategic Council Project is largely based on the following vectors:
a) Dialogue between the public sector, local and national, and the private sector;
b) Innovation;
c) Entrepreneurship;
d) Reconversion/ improvement;
e) Sustainability. Therefore, to carry out the projects considered to be pertinent, regardless of their degree of complexity, it is essential and relevant that the approach should be done in a participatory perspective between the different parties involved, working with the community and for a good society.

What difference has it made?

The Business and Environmental Councils, formed by a set of stakeholders that meets periodically, are not decision-making bodies, they just help to jointly consider matters that are relevant to sustainable development, understood in a broad sense, of the Sintra Municipality is an important forum for reflection and dialogue, aimed at solving issues that are of particular concern to the municipal universe.
This unequivocal of proximity reinforcement although locally, require decision-making with central bodies of territory administration and the environment or with entities directly or indirectly linked to the business world, compete for a best understanding in the decision-making, fundamentally at the environmental, social and economic level, and vital to the projects implementation.
The main change was verified in position that was necessary:
i) By the Municipal Executive, who considers the dialogue between the vital parties and the one who believes that quality of life is due to employment and well-being in Sintra. Wishing that Sintra would be a municipality with an attractive lifestyle, appealing to investors;
ii) The local business sector accepted the municipal challenge and was involved in this project;
iii) By entities, business, social and environmental, at the regional and national level, joint and concerted efforts aimed at the prosperity of the municipality as a whole

Why should other European cities use it?

Strategic, Business and Environmental Councils are instruments of better city government, a project for strengthening the quality of institutions which can be an example of better governance in (i) other municipalities (ii) in the business areas where formalisation and implementation of strategy are foreseen, reinforcing the articulation in the communities of companies and the joint participation in the resolution of the context.
The premises that led to the creation of the project are:
A) Dialogue between the public sector, local and national and the private sector;
B) Innovation;
C) Entrepreneurship;
D) Reconversion / improvement; and
E) Sustainability, adapted to different social, economic and environmental realities and able to be replicated in other geographical areas.
However, the municipal and national institutional will have to be a reality within the framework of strict compliance with legal provisions and in compliance with the competencies of each institution and level of government, thus providing a necessary mechanism for Sintra to develop and advance a broad dialogue between the various actors.
The Project received the Municipality of the Year Portugal 2015 award in the Lisbon metropolitan area from UM-Cities of the Minho University, which recognises good practices in this project, with positive impacts on the economy, society and the environment, promoting growth, social inclusion and sustainability.