8. Developing services

The modernisation of services and the city’s pursuit of an organisation more suited to responding to rapidly changing circumstances and needs have been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic in all divisions, agencies and utilities. The Social Services and Health Care Division has adopted new operating models and increased the provision of low-threshold services and the use of service vouchers, external service providers and digital channels during the Council term. The Education Division has successfully promoted digitalisation and the continuity of learning pathways. All five-year-olds are now entitled to four free hours of early childhood education a day. Helsinki’s schools have started to offer a cultural curriculum and free public transport for schoolchildren, which has made it possible to use the entire city as a learning environment. The Myllypuro Campus and the Urhea sports academy have progressed to the implementation stage, and steps have been taken to make more use of Helsinki’s location by the sea. Air quality has improved, and new nature reserves have been established. Energy efficiency requirements have been introduced for the construction industry. A new management model for wellbeing and health has been adopted, a wellbeing plan drawn up and city-wide targets for wellbeing and health incorporated into the 2021 budget.

There are, however, still weaknesses that need to be addressed. In respect of education, current challenges relate to the high dropout rate in vocational and adult education as well as learning and knowledge gaps created by the coronavirus pandemic. Health and safety in schools still need to be improved, even though more renovation and modernisation projects have been carried out during the strategic planning period. Access to health centre services and mental health services remains a problem. There is also still room for improvement in the digitalisation and automation of services and the provision of proactive services. Physical exercise and performance must be promoted to ensure wellbeing (in respect of children, young people, adults and the elderly alike). The percentage of businesses that would recommend Helsinki fell towards the end of the strategic planning period after good results in earlier years. The city is on the right path when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but the current measures are not necessarily enough to achieve the targets.

E-services are primary, and are available regardless of date or time. The development of services will continue. Special emphasis will be put on accessibility, diversified skills, the ‘one-stop-shop’ principle and developing various forms of work close to residents.

Helsinki provides electronic services wherever possible and appropriate and also systematically collects feedback electronically.

The Social Services and Health Care Division’s new operating models have been adopted throughout the city. The development of three operating models (health and wellbeing centres, family social services centres and services for the elderly) continues with the aim of closer integration, which will be especially beneficial to customers who rely heavily on these services. Closer cooperation between the operating models for family social services centres, health and wellbeing centres and services for the elderly is needed especially in terms of customer guidance and consultation practices. A phenomenon-based approach has been applied to the development of several service and care chains. New ways to provide services have been introduced, and the use of service vouchers, for example, has been expanded and a new service voucher system launched.

An action plan has been drawn up to reduce homelessness.

The coronavirus pandemic and the economic situation are hindering the progress and implementation of several development processes. The city’s efforts to improve access to health centre services, for example, have understandably been hampered by the pandemic. It will take time to change the city’s organisational culture and fully adopt the new operating models.

Customer volumes and the demand for services for the disabled and child welfare services, for example, continue to grow despite development efforts.

New, groundbreaking services have been developed in response to the coronavirus pandemic, including distance services, detached services, a city-wide helpline, and cooperation across the Capital Region.

A number of surveys have been conducted to measure user satisfaction with the city’s digital services. Of the 2,623 respondents, 74% considered online services easy to use from a technological perspective. The City of Helsinki’s website was given an NPS of 33. A total of 12.2% of residents aged between 16 and 89 found the websites of the city’s public services difficult to use (8.2%) or did not use them at all (4.0%).

A new events concept called Helsinki New Horizons has been finalised and launched online. The number of participants is many times that of local events. Systematic efforts have been made to increase online interaction and to introduce new ways for the public to influence urban development online.

A total of 26 open interfaces have been developed for the city’s nearly 900 information systems. The interfaces have enabled residents to, for example, follow the progress of Helsinki City Construction Services’ snow clearance in real time and browse feedback given to the city by theme or area.

Helsinki is the world’s most impactful place for learning

In Helsinki, the whole city is utilized as a place for learning for people of all ages. Digital technology enrichens the learning process and enables learning regardless of time and place.

The goal of turning the entire city into a learning and working environment has transformed the way people think about education and work. The introduction of free public transport for schoolchildren at the beginning of 2019 has helped to make the goal more achievable. The use of digital solutions has also been crucial for success. Helsinki’s schools started to offer a cultural curriculum in 2020 in close cooperation with the Culture and Leisure Division and other partners.

Four young girls
Picture: Maarit Hohteri

Helsinki has worked hard to ensure the standard of teaching and to improve learning outcomes. The mathematical and linguistic skills of children in year 1 are on average 6% above the national level. A total of 82% of girls and boys in year 7 have achieved at least a good level of proficiency in English as their first foreign language. The high standard of education in Helsinki helps to create wellbeing and prevent social exclusion.

Helsinki is building an Älykoulu (Smartschool) operating model where future pedagogical solutions will be innovated and implemented.

Helsinki has succeeded in the digitalisation of education in many ways. Digital solutions have been incorporated into pedagogy and new operating models. The successful switch to distance teaching in response to the coronavirus pandemic proves that the goal has been achieved. The city’s comprehensive reform of educational IT equipment, tools and infrastructure has progressed well, and staff training has improved. The city has introduced cloud-based learning environments. However, many administrative information systems are still outdated and laborious to use (e.g. human resources systems and pupil and student management systems).

In the Myllypuro district, an internationally interesting campus is being established in connection with Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences to educate polytechnics and secondary level professionals for the construction industry. The construction of the Urhea sports academy campus bringing together studies, sports and housing will be promoted at Mäkelänrinne school.

The new centre of construction excellence at the Myllypuro Campus sees Helsinki Vocational College and Adult Institute and Metropolia University of Applied Sciences working together with construction companies and the local community. The layout of the new campus is based on a partnership and space-sharing agreement with Metropolia University of Applied Sciences. The building, which is due to be completed in 2023, is being constructed in accordance with the principles of life-cycle thinking.

The Urhea Campus is being developed into a centre of sports excellence. The campus consists of an extension to Mäkelänrinne school, a sports centre and student housing. The project is a joint venture of the school, the sports centre and the Foundation for Student Housing in the Helsinki Region, which will be sharing the new facilities. Construction work began in 2019, and the project was completed in April 2021.

Finnish- or Swedish-language early childhood education and basic education make for attractive, nearby education services. Helsinki will maintain its citizens’ subjective right to child day care services at the current level. The principle of free early childhood education is promoted so as to be free of charge for at least four hours a day starting at the age of five. During the Council’s term of office, decisions will be prepared to extend this principle to even younger age groups as well.

All five-year-olds in Helsinki have been entitled to four free hours of early childhood education a day since August 2018.

Helsinki puts the training guarantee into practice. This means that after basic education, everybody gets a study place at an upper secondary school or vocational training. Helsinki’s goal is to reduce the school dropout rate also at upper-secondary level.

Helsinki is delivering on its training guarantee and offering a study place for everyone who completes basic education. Vocational school engagement decreased significantly in 2020, and the dropout rate rose to 12.7% from 8.4% in 2019.

The increase in the number of students dropping out of Helsinki Vocational College and Adult Institute is mostly due to the high dropout rate among 18–20-year-olds. Many factors affect student engagement among young adults, including factors unrelated to the school itself, such as personal circumstances and, for example, financial hardship.

The coronavirus pandemic has also increased the dropout rate despite the support provided by schools. The fast transition to distance teaching was a challenge in terms of the ability to produce professional learning resources and teachers’ digital pedagogy skills despite the support provided. It took a while for appropriate distance teaching tools to become available. The rapid deterioration of the labour market and cancelled internships have affected students’ motivation.

In Helsinki, children and adolescents have safe and sound learning environments.

Health and safety in schools still need to be improved. The city has continued to look hard at the standard of construction and allocate resources to addressing engineering issues. There is also a regional imbalance between building supply and demand.

The city is drawing up a Real Estate Strategy, which outlines the planning, construction, maintenance and ownership of the city’s properties. This strategy includes a plan for how to repair or replace buildings where schools, day care centres or play parks suffer from indoor air problems.

The City Board adopted Helsinki’s new facilities strategy on 22 June 2020 on the basis of the city’s property policy and indoor air programme. The facilities strategy sets out economically sustainable property management principles that the city is committed to pursue in the future. The city’s strategic priorities in this context include protecting the interests of the city as a whole, ensuring overall and life-cycle economy, forecasting, carbon neutrality, health and safety and, importantly, longevity. Longevity is a multifaceted concept that refers to both a high standard of construction and maintenance and better forecasting as well as adaptability. It naturally promotes low carbon emissions and life-cycle economy and steers planning officers and the authorities towards favouring buildings that can be adapted to many different purposes.

The Urban Environment Division’s buildings and public areas sub-committee was restructured in accordance with the objectives of the city’s facilities strategy to make the organisation more customer-orientated and to improve cooperation with customer industries. The level of investment has increased, and the implementation rate has improved. Projects have progressed in line with the strategy and the decisions made, even where new approaches, such as life-cycle thinking, have been employed. More than 4,000 new early childhood education spaces have been provided through construction during the strategic planning period.

The Sophie Mannerheim hospital school was able to move into a new building in 2019 as promised.

A moving and healthy city for all

Helsinki is creating the cooperation structures needed for promoting health and wellbeing and is setting out to highlight increased exercise as a pilot project in its promotion of health and wellbeing. Exercise is increasingly promoted in services provided by the city. Children and adolescents are increasingly made to exercise as a part of their everyday life at day care centres and schools.

The City Board gave a green light to the creation of a management and coordination model for the promotion of wellbeing and health on 14 May 2018. The City Board also took responsibility for substance abuse prevention at that time and appointed a special coordination team for the promotion of wellbeing and health. The City Council adopted a wellbeing plan on 19 June 2019, which has guided efforts to promote wellbeing and health during the Council term and made them more effective. Compliance with the statutory duty to report on the promotion of wellbeing and health has been ensured by conducting wellbeing and health surveys once a year and a more extensive wellbeing study once during the Council term.

The City Board adopted a Physical Activity Programme for the city on 3 December 2018. Physical activity has been promoted through inclusive and research-based development initiatives in close cooperation with various divisions of the city organisation, stakeholders and residents. The approximately 60 concrete measures implemented so far have begun a systemic change in people’s attitudes, the physical environment, and daily routines in day care centres, schools, workplaces and services for the elderly. The city has adopted a more holistic approach to mobility that goes beyond physically active pastimes and ties in with the promotion of wellbeing and health, sustainable urban development and the prevention of segregation. Helsinki was voted Finland’s most physically active municipality in 2019 and the country’s most physically active employer in 2020.

The strategic objective of the Physical Activity Programme is to encourage the city’s residents and employees to move more and sit less by 2023. Analysing the real change in the level of physical activity in the city has required the launch of innovative longitudinal studies using activity trackers. The results will become available in the next few years. Surveys show both positive and negative changes in the level of physical activity.

Skateboarding in Suvilahti
Picture: Jussi Hellsten.

Physical activity among schoolchildren as well as upper secondary school and vocational school students was studied in 2017 and 2019. A total of 38.7% of children in years 4 and 5, a total of 22.7% of children in years 8 and 9, a total of 15.6% of students in years 1 and 2 of upper secondary school and 23.0% of vocational school students exercised at least one hour a day. Physical exercise among the youngest age group had decreased by 6.3 percentage points but the figures for the other age groups were up by 1.7, 1.6 and 6.4 percentage points respectively.

Adults who exercise regularly or do sports several times a week were surveyed in 2015 and 2018. A total of 34.3% (-0.4 percentage points) of 20–54-year-olds, 20.2% (+3.5 percentage points) of 55–74-year-olds and 12.7% of the over 75s exercised regularly.

The objective in terms of schoolchildren is for their physical performance to improve over time and exceed the national median. The annual physical performance tests included in the national curriculum cover most of Helsinki’s schoolchildren in the relevant age group: 78.4% of year 5 (54% in 2018) and 76.2% of year 8 (61.0% in 2018). Both girls’ and boys’ endurance has decreased both nationally and in Helsinki. Older children in Helsinki perform better relative to the national average.

Helsinki actively invites ageing people to participate in exercise and cultural activities.

The city carried out a resident-orientated development project to encourage physical activity among older people in close cooperation with US-based Bloomberg Philanthropies.

The 2021 budget was the first one to include a city-wide target for the promotion of wellbeing and health, according to which all divisions of the city organisation had to work together to increase physical activity and performance among elderly people.

The use of agreements for the promotion of physical activity in, for example, home care services increased. Funds inherited by the government were reallocated to subsidise cultural activities that promote the wellbeing and physical fitness of Helsinki’s elderly population.

Home care and the wellbeing of its customers and workers are being strengthened in Helsinki, and acute situations are prevented as much as possible.

New home-based support services for the elderly have been introduced and the standard of services designed to help people to live independently has improved.

Helsinki will build up the kind of health and social services that its residents will wish to choose.

Management networks for family social services centres and health and wellbeing centres became more established and helped to promote new operating models and integration throughout the city. Providers of services for the elderly also began to collaborate with the management networks of health and wellbeing centres. Different service providers and divisions of the city organisation now work in closer cooperation.

Access to services has improved thanks to the introduction of new low-threshold services, more extensive use of service vouchers, and partnerships with external service providers and non-governmental organisations. The city now also offers a wider range of digital services and distance services.

The service hours of helplines have been extended to make it easier for the public to contact the authorities. The helpline for the city’s elderly population, for example, began operating longer hours at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. New digital services were introduced.

Customer panels switched to online meetings, and experts by experience began offering advice over the telephone. Several surveys were carried out and the results used to develop the concepts of health and wellbeing centres and family social services centres. A mobile community was created for research purposes, which turned out to be effective in reaching young families and customers in particular.

Helsinki participates in the preparation of the health, social services and regional government reform to ensure that issues important to a big city are taken into account.

The city has been actively involved in all stages of the reform of Finland’s health and social services system. Attention has been called to the effects of the reform on Helsinki in the city’s opinions and in cooperation with other large cities. The active lobbying by Helsinki alone and in cooperation with other cities has made the City of Helsinki one of the key parties to the debate surrounding the health and social services reform. The City of Helsinki also contributed to a separate study on special arrangements for health and social services in Uusimaa and Helsinki.

Living, distinctive and safe neighbourhoods

Helsinki is a city where all neighbourhoods are living, pleasant and distinctive and in which residents feel they are at home. Helsinki supports local initiative and cooperation among residents and communities. The aim is to reduce differentiation and welfare differences between neighbourhoods in Helsinki.

A survey conducted in 2018 found that 80.9% of the city’s residents felt safe in their own neighbourhood on weekend nights. The figure was 3.5 percentage points higher than in 2015.

Welfare gaps have been studied by analysing changes in the regional inequality index. Inequality measured on the basis of residents’ educational background decreased by 0.8 percentage points between 2016 and 2019. However, inequality based on income increased by 0.7 percentage points over the same period. Regional differentiation by ethnicity has increased by 1.3 percentage points.

The coronavirus pandemic and the special measures that have had to be introduced as a result have widened learning gaps and increased unhappiness among children and adolescents. Learning and knowledge gaps have grown especially among those who already suffered from learning difficulties before the pandemic. Mental health problems among young people have increased, and growing social problems have translated to a higher demand for student welfare services.

Helsinki wants to be Finland’s best city for companies.

The Net Promoter Score (NPS) given by businesses to Helsinki as a competitive location was 9 in 2020, which was four index points lower than in 2016.

Surveys conducted in different years are not fully comparable due to differences in the interviewed populations. In 2020, the businesses most likely to recommend Helsinki were those in the ICT/information and communications sectors as well as those in the financial services and insurance sector, while the businesses least likely to recommend Helsinki were transport and warehousing companies and industrial businesses. The order between economic sectors has remained relatively stable in surveys conducted in different years.

The city actively strives to develop the logistics conditions for the business community. The reduction in traffic emissions is progressing and health-hazardous emissions are showing a clear decrease. Helsinki is a pioneer in overall functional smart traffic systems.

The City Board approved a smart traffic programme for Helsinki on 1 March 2021, and the implementation of the programme has already begun. Smart traffic is about integrating people with transport infrastructure and services. Helsinki’s priorities include traffic information, traffic control, mobility services and transport automation. In respect of traffic information, the goal is for users of the city’s transport system to be able to plan their journeys on the basis of high-quality real-time information provided via multiple communication channels and covering all modes of transport by 2030. Transport and mobility service providers will be able to plan their services and operate more efficiently.

New transport services have been developed based on the needs of residents and local businesses and trialled in cooperation with service providers.

The Luonnonsuojeluohjelma nature conservation program is implemented and the forest network is strengthened.

Efforts to promote Helsinki’s green spaces are more and more focused on increasing diversity, and the city is investing heavily in its nature conservation programme: 11 new nature reserves have been established in Helsinki during the 2017–2021 strategic planning period. One application is pending before the Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment.

During the present Council’s term, a decision will be made regarding the National Urban Park project – on completion of the current study.

The preliminary study on the National Urban Park project has been completed. The Urban Environment Committee approved the report on 26 May 2020 and proposed to the City Board that the project be given a go-ahead based on the Baseline+ option and that the city begin to plan the park around the areas most likely to be included in the concept, namely Central Park and Haltiala.

Efforts to make the archipelago off Helsinki’s shores more accessible for the public will continue. To encourage recreation, upgrade tourist services and increase the general appeal of the city, a maritime strategy will be drawn up to find ways to improve the accessibility of maritime areas, develop services in the archipelago and promote seaside events. An international public arts biennale benefiting from the charm of the Helsinki archipelago will be created.

Of the 50 measures outlined in Helsinki’s maritime action plan, 40 have started well and 10 satisfactorily. The islands of Vartiosaari and Vasikkasaari have become more popular with leisure visitors. Civil engineering works and other preparations for the Helsinki Biennale have been completed on Vallisaari Island. Seaside routes and waterfront services have been improved, and new islands have been opened to visitors every year. A number of water transport trials have been run, and an innovative water transport contract was put out to tender in the spring of 2021.

The first Helsinki Biennale had to be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic and will now be held from 12 June to 26 September 2021. The biennale will feature 40 artists or groups of artists. The Helsinki Biennale pavilion and two piers off the Market Square were built in 2020, and most of the groundworks on Vallisaari Island have been completed. The project is being pursued in collaboration with Metsähallitus, the Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation as well as several other non-governmental organisations and business partners.

Modern climate responsibility

Helsinki sets the goal of reducing emissions by 60 per cent by 2030, and brings forward its target of carbon neutrality to 2035 instead of 2050, as earlier.

Helsinki’s greenhouse gas emissions amounted to 2,611,000 CO2 equivalent tonnes in 2019. The figure was 52,000 CO2 equivalent tonnes higher than in 2018. Emissions per capita had remained unchanged at 4.0 tonnes (CO2-eq per capita). Helsinki’s total emissions are down 26% from the year 1990 and total emissions per capita have fallen by 44%.

The energy efficiency of buildings will be improved both in the construction of new and the renovation of old buildings. Helsinki’s energy efficiency norms are more ambitious than the national minimum level. Traffic emissions will be reduced across the city’s transport system by promoting both cycling and pedestrianism and by raising the share of e-vehicles and buses and rail transport.

The implementation of the Carbon-neutral Helsinki 2035 Action Plan has begun, and several strategically important changes have already been made especially regarding buildings. Ambitious energy efficiency targets have been set for both new development and renovations carried out in the city’s residential and commercial buildings. Locally produced renewable energy is being promoted by installing solar panels and heat pumps in both new buildings and buildings undergoing renovation. The city spent a special budget of EUR 4.5 million on solar electricity in existing buildings. All private blocks of flats to be built on land provided by the city must have an A energy performance rating. The city launched a so-called energy renaissance programme at the beginning of 2021, which is designed to encourage private landlords to improve the energy performance of their buildings.

More than half of Helsinki’s carbon dioxide emissions are at present attributable to heating buildings, and finding sustainable alternatives to current heating systems is crucial for achieving the city’s carbon neutrality target.

With this in mind, the city launched a global one-million-euro competition called Helsinki Energy Challenge in 2020, which sought for a way to modernise and decarbonise the heating of Helsinki using as little biomass as possible. What made the competition unique was its challenge-based format and the high number and standard of international competition entries. The competition was concluded almost on schedule and in cooperation with international partners despite the coronavirus pandemic. A total of 252 teams from 35 countries submitted entries, and the 10 best teams made it to the final. Work continues with the winning teams and is likely to lead to significant changes in Helsinki’s plans to find sustainable replacements for coal in the long term.

Emission reductions and circular economy projects will be carried out in Helsinki in tandem with the business community and residents.

Helsinki is promoting the use of the entire city as an environment for development and experimentation. Several trials have been run with businesses with the aim of reducing emissions and testing new circular economy solutions through, for example, the Helsinki Metropolitan Smart & Clean Foundation and projects financed under the 6Aika strategy for sustainable urban development. Work on a circular economy cluster began in 2021 to help the city to bounce back after the coronavirus pandemic.

Helsinki’s emissions reduction programme calls for cooperation with businesses on a needs basis. Service providers play a key role in the implementation of the city’s energy renaissance programme, which promotes energy renovations in private buildings. Residents have also been encouraged to contribute to the city’s climate efforts.

A scheduled action program for implementing emission reductions will be drawn up before the end of February 2018.

The City Board adopted the Carbon-neutral Helsinki 2035 Action Plan in December 2018.

Helsinki’s Energy Renaissance: http://www.bbc.com/storyworks/building-a-better-future/helsinki (BBC)

Carbon Neutral Helsinki: https://youtu.be/c-P7l2DkN7w

Helsinki Energy Challenge: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bdRxvVQ0UFk