Municipalities are now much less optimistic about their finances as a result of the coronavirus crisis. Declining revenues and rising expenditures mean that the budget surpluses of the past years are likely to remain out of reach for the time being. Treasuries anticipate austerity measures to cover the budget deficits. This threatens to adversely impact capital expenditure in particular. Investment levels were already inadequate in 2019, as the perceived investment backlog has grown to EUR 147 billion, according to a national estimate. That does not bode well for local infrastructure and, hence, Germany’s competitiveness and quality of life.
Municipalities will have no shortage of investment needs and face more than enough challenges in meeting them in future as well. The message of the economic recovery package adopted on 3 June is therefore all the more important, as it should provide municipalities with a significant boost, not least for their capital expenditure.
The KfW Municipal Panel is based on an annual representative survey conducted by the German Institute for Urban Affairs. The survey covers municipal treasuries in cities, communities and districts and is recognised as an important point of reference in economic policy debate in Germany.
Demographic changes are driving the need for accessible housing. Today, Germany has some 3 million households with mobility restrictions and that number will grow to 3.7 million in 2035. However, only 560,000 homes are accessible. In order to reduce the enormous deficit, KfW is providing investment incentives under its ‘Age-Appropriate Conversion’ programme. In the years 2014–2018, promotional loans and investment grants were used for the conversion of 190,000 homes. A recent evaluation has found the promotion to be effective. By far the largest number of measures implemented were those which the research literature has identified as being crucial to accident prevention and independent living – reducing thresholds and steps, as well as building age-appropriate bathrooms. The primary target group, people with mobility limitations, was also reached very well, mainly because the grant support provided is suitable for elderly and low-income households.
Burglaries have been declining for some years but only one quarter of existing dwellings in Germany are sufficiently protected against break-ins. Break-ins not only cause financial losses but also psychological damage. A recent evaluation has shown that some 55,000 existing dwellings are effectively protected against break-ins each year under KfW’s ‘Burglary Protection’ programme. The coronavirus crisis is expected to increase demand for structural burglary protection but income losses will make investments more difficult at the same time.
Full coffers provide a reprieve but the outlook is clouding over
Most municipalities reported a good or even very good budget situation in the KfW MunicipalPanel 2019. They were able to plan or even start many investment projects, so according to a nationwide estimate the perceived investment backlog has dropped to around EUR 138 billion, roughly the level of 2015. The surveyed treasuries, however, are significantly more sceptical about their future financial position. Moreover, around one third of investments cannot be realised as planned. So it remains to be seen whether the reduction in the backlog of investment can continue. The KfW Municipal Panel is based on an annual representative survey conducted by the German Institute for Urban Affairs. It covers municipal financial decision-makers in cities, communities and districts and is recognised as an important point of reference in economic policy debate in Germany.
The need for climate action and environmental protection requires German municipalities to invest large sums in infrastructure as well. Municipalities are already deploring a significant backlog of investment and it is unclear how they can finance the necessary investments in enhancing sustainability. Green bonds were developed as a financing instrument to meet this challenge but are almost unknown in Germany’s municipalities. In order for this to change, a number of conditions have to be fulfilled.