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Thursday's papers: Activation model stats, data centre deals, Alko open for Xmas

Employment rate is largely unaffected by government measures, neighbouring countries snag data centre deals, and alcohol is available this Christmas Eve.

Palvelinkeskus data center.
Data centres house rows upon rows of servers, which create vast amounts of heat that could be better utilised. Image: AOP

Finland's national benefits agency Kela reports on the progress of the so-called activation model, a measure designed to cut unemployed jobseekers' benefits for three months at a time if they do not comply with certain minimum requirements.

The system has been broadly criticised since it was launched in early 2018, and on Monday Kela itself along with the Finnish Financial Supervisory Authority announced little to no progress toward the scheme's target of getting people off benefits and into jobs.

Daily Aamulehti writes that only 13 percent of Kela's unemployed customers fulfilled the system's requirements in July-October after having their benefits slashed by 4.65 percent in the three months prior. Similarly, just 12.5 percent of the people who had their benefits cut in the first three months of the year were activated to meet the requirements in the period April-June, meaning the model has shown negligible overall impact in its first year.

"This proportion has remained the same for those who have been unemployed continually since the beginning of the year," says Kela planner Sami Tuori.

The number of people in Finland receiving reduced unemployment benefits has grown from some 151,000 to about 158,000 individuals, representing 39 percent of all recipients, AL writes.

The activation model strips social security benefits from unemployed people who fail to either secure 18 hours of paid employment, spend five days in Kela-approved "employment-boosting" activities such as training or earn 241 euros as entrepreneurs.

AL writes that government will implement an extension to the law from the start of 2019. In April the government's spending proposal included plans to expand the types of organisations that may provide approved training activities to include municipalities, unions and certain associations.

Finland losing data centre bids

Meanwhile Finland's bid to become a leading data centre provider is coming up against severe competition from neighbouring Nordic countries, writes daily Helsingin Sanomat. The reason, HS writes, is discrepancies in electricity taxation from country to country.

HS writes that Sweden has lowered its power tax for data centres to 0.05 euro cents (0.5 öre) per kilowatt hour – whereas Finland's data centre pricing is 0.7 euro cents per kilowatt hour, fourteen times higher. That sum is three times lower than the 2.25 cents that ordinary consumers pay for their electricity.

The situation has changed in about a decade; in 2009 Google built a massive data centre in Hamina, southern Finland, when Finland's taxation was lower even than in the rest of the Nordics.

"Large companies calculate the costs for the whole operating period when deciding on investments," says Business Finland (formerly Tekes) data investment chief Alpo Akujärvi. "The significance of taxation is cumulative. Even small differences in pricing can make or break a deal."

The Nordic countries are a smart place to build data centres globally speaking due to their stable grids, relatively low costs and equally low CO2 emissions.

Another huge concern for the industry is the issue of district heating networks. HS writes that data centres are perfect for heat production because the electricity in the massive halls is converted almost completely into heat energy.

"Globally about 99 percent of data centre heat is wasted," says development boss Antti Kaikkonen from Finnish energy firm Fortum. "Our company currently accounts for 2-3 percent of the district heating in the Espoo-Kirkkonummi area by utilising the unused heat from Elisa, Tieto and Ericsson data centres."

Booze available on Christmas Eve for the first time

Christmas Eve is less than two weeks away, and this is the first year that people in Finland will be able to stock their cellars with liquid holiday treats on 24 December.

The new alcohol law that came into effect in 2017 makes it possible for monopoly alcohol retailer Alko to keep its shops open on Christmas Eve for a short window, from 9 am to 12 noon.

"We want to serve our customers whenever they are in need. Christmas Eve morning has become a normal shopping period," says Alko storefront supervisor Kari Pennanen in tabloid Ilta-Sanomat.

The alcohol law change also meant that Alko was able to diversify its supply, bringing in high alcohol-content beers and long drinks. However, Pennanen says in IS there is one product that retains its number one spot over the holidays.

"It will be interesting to see which product type wins out, red wine or white. I think red will keep its top position."

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