One of my favourite things about Brussels is that it is a southern city in the north. It is the second most diverse city in the world, and hosts pretty much all nationalities on the planet. It also has one of the most (unnecessarily?) complex administrations of any city: Brussels is actually 19 different cities, has a regional parliament and bureaucratic procedures that might vary from one block to the next. I thought this might mean that Brussels is a very organised city, but it is probably the opposite, one of the underlying reasons for the poor quality of many services provided by the city.
Employing some 28,500 people in Brussels and with a 2 billion Euros turnover, the restaurant sector is often one of the first victims of these shortcomings. A recently opened restaurant, Wine Tails on Place de Londres, suffered an unexpected power cut last July. The power cut lasted 2 days and affected the restaurant on some of the busiest days of the year. Reservations for 120 people had to be cancelled. The loss was well over 10,000 Euros over the 2 days – a big sum for a small business on its first year. Sibelga, the operator of the gas and electricity networks in Brussels, intervened rapidly but never communicated any timelines, the nature of the problem, and whether the fix is supposed to solve it permanently. Also, the barriers put in place to fix the problem in July were still up in September, forcing pedestrians on the street and generally being an eyesore. They have now been removed and stored… a few meters away on the square itself.
Sibelga offered a symbolic compensation for affected businesses: 100 euros. The guidelines for compensations are not clear, and Sibelga’s frequently asked question page on power cuts is mysteriously blank.
This kind of issues are not new in Brussels. One of the biggest fiascos is the transformation of Boulevard Anspach into a pedestrian zone. I arrived to Brussels when it was just “inaugurated”. The Boulevard was closed to cars overnight and some street furniture was improvised. And then nothing happened for many months. 3 years later the actual works are still ongoing. The lack of coordination, communication and transparency has meant that it has caused a few bankruptcies and a general decrease in revenue for restaurants and shops in the area. While the works have been sped up, there is still the feeling that there is a general lack of coherence to provide meaningful support and solutions to local businesses.
This is alarming, especially considering that the number of bankruptcies in Brussels is high compared to Wallonia and Flanders. There is however a silver lining: the number of new businesses is also considerably higher, meaning Brussels is an attractive place to set up a business in addition to being a good place to live. Brussels’ politicians and administrators will hopefully step up their game after this election and take the most important first step: listening and establishing a dialogue with the people that make Brussels great.