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Tuesday’s papers: Slippery roads, pop-up icebreakers, busy social workers and another tax deadline

Newspapers from the Finnish cities of Turku, Oulu and Lappeenranta look at future technological breakthroughs as well as social problems and challenges of everyday life.

Liikennettä pimeässä ja sateessa.
Motorists face hazardous driving conditions through much of Finland. Image: Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva

The south-western daily Turun Sanomat notes what most commuters will have noticed: that driving conditions are poor on Tuesday throughout southern and central Finland due to snow, sleet and icy roads. The Finnish Meteorological Institute says that all areas south of Kainuu and Northern Ostrobothnia are affected until late morning at least.

From the roads to the waterways, TS reports that the Finnish Transport Agency has opened bidding on a project aimed at solving a shortage of icebreakers on Finland's lakes and shoreline. The agency is looking for a shipyard to manufacture a detachable prow that can temporarily convert any tugboat into an icebreaker as needed. Such a detachable prow is not an entirely new idea, but this Finnish innovation comes equipped with its own engines and propellers.

The device was designed by a Turku design firm ILS, which says it aroused interest from many European shipyards at a recent maritime fair in Rotterdam. The first pop-up icebreakers should begin plying the ice of Finland's largest lake system, Saimaa, in 2019.

Kaleva: E-cars and stressed-out social workers

Back on the highways, Kaleva from the northern city of Oulu predicts that Finnish industry could experience an even more dramatic upheaval than that brought by Nokia, as it has all the prerequisites to become a European power in electric vehicles (EVs) and engines. These include a wealth of three highly-sought-after minerals, engineering knowhow and a cluster of energy technology firms.

Electric cars are finally making their big breakthrough, with most major manufacturers entering the market as many European cities move to restrict diesel cars.

The European Commission estimates that the continent will have a quarter-billion-euro market for electric vehicle engines by 2025.

Valmet Automotive has already begun EV motor production in Uusikaupunki, which could be ramped up according to demand. However the domestic market remains sluggish as Finland lags far behind its Nordic neighbours in offering consumers incentives to buy EVs.

Kaleva carries a worrying story on child protection in Oulu, the largest city in northern Finland, which is losing child protection social workers. Within the past couple of years, as many as half of its employees in the sector have transferred to other municipal jobs, moved elsewhere or retired. Many cite an ever-increasing workload and uncompetitive pay.

Some have noticed that the Oulunkaari federation of five neighbouring municipalities has raised wages for social workers, putting more pressure on Oulu.

As to workload, Oulu is not exception in Finland. In many municipalities, each social worker is responsible for monitoring 40-80 children. The official recommendation is a maximum of 35, but one experienced social worker interviewed by Kaleva says it should really be 20 to ensure quality of care for each child at risk. As it is, the average social worker in Oulu has to keep tabs on 45 children.

E-S: Condoms for teens, tax data deadline looms

Etelä-Saimaa from the south-eastern town of Lappeenranta reports that the nearby Imatra’s city council has decided to offer free contraception for local youngsters. Birth control will be provided without charge to those under 25 to limit sexually-transmitted diseases and abortions. The main focus will be on distributing some 2,000 condoms to the youth next year. The council's decision stipulates that female couples and individuals with allergies must be taken into consideration in the programme.

E-S also has a helpful reminder to taxpayers who may not yet have provided their bank account numbers to tax authorities. Officials will pay out 2016 rebates to eligible taxpayers about two weeks from now, on December 5. Altogether they will return some 2.5 billion euros in overpaid taxes directly into taxpayers' bank accounts.

However about 55,000 people have not yet notified the Tax Administration of their banking details. Unless they do so, these individuals will be sent money orders that can cashed in at certain OP bank branches during a 28-day period beginning between December 13 and 15. This Friday, November 24, is the last day to inform the administration of bank account numbers. It can be done online through the MyTax site.

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