President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Hello again. I am happy to see you all.
Given our current situation, I think it is a good idea to return to the earlier practice of holding district-wide meetings, because we always have important topics for discussion. There are problems, but there are also results. So today, we will be analysing the situation in the Volga Federal District. I will be holding meetings like this in other districts, as well.
Colleagues, you are much more familiar with the Volga Federal District than anybody else, so I’m not going to talk about its well-developed production industry, how many cars are produced here, or what percent of our airlines are based here, because you are already well aware of all this. Nonetheless, I will say that with the onset of the current global economic crisis, the manufacturing and mining industries have been among the first to take a hit. And unfortunately, this has a direct effect on your regions. In other words, the progressive economic structure within most of this district’s regions has created a lot of problems, sad as that is.
Decreases in commercial manufacturing and investments were sharper in the Volga Federal district than Russia’s overall average for the first quarter of 2009. On average, commercial manufacturing fell by 20 percent, and capital investments also fell by about the same amount. The number of cars sold decreased about two-fold. Many companies, particularly those fulfilling state defence orders, are now facing difficult times.
All this has led to a tangible drop in regional income and has impacted citizens’ standard of living. Compared to the same period last year, there has been more than a two-fold increase in salary back payment debt; on April 15, 1.5 billion roubles in back pay were owed. These are very disheartening figures. Of course, the situation has not yet reached a critical level, but these numbers are not good, and we must react.
The average number of registered unemployed individuals in the district has increased by 180 percent since the beginning of the year, by more than 370 thousand people. Specific data varies in different regions, and I look forward to your detailed accounts.
Let’s outline the agenda for this meeting. I would like for members of the Government [of the Russian Federation] and regional leaders to answer several key questions.
First, let’s talk about stabilising the situation on the job market. We already began discussing this issue with [Kirov Region Governor] Mr Belykh earlier today. Next, I would like to discuss the measures being taken by the regions to reduce back payment debt. We should also discuss how to stimulate regional employment. I think that these are the most important issues to address today, but we should also have a general discussion on the effectiveness of governmental support measures, which are being carried out on both a federal and regional level.
Yesterday, I discussed a number of issues with the Cabinet, including the so-called system of state guarantees on loans. You probably heard me saying that of the 300 billion roubles allocated to back loans, not a single rouble was used. This is lamentable. It means that the idea at the heart of the government’s solution does not work for the banks.
Why am I bringing this up again? The governor and I talked about it today. Here in this region, the state loan guarantee programme is working. Clearly, the volume here is lower, but banks are accepting these state guarantees here, although they are not accepting federal guarantees. So, it appears that regional guarantees are the better of the two. In fact, federal guarantees are better, but why aren’t banks accepting them? I suggest that we discuss this. Here with us today are the Chairman of the Central Bank, representatives of the Cabinet, and heads of the corresponding economic ministries. I also invited an entrepreneur that we met at the exhibition earlier, who received one of these guarantees, so he can tell us about how much time he had to spend in order to obtain it, the problems he faced, what needs to be done in the region in order to avoid these problems, and most importantly, what must be done for the federal guarantees to finally work.
We also need to talk about supporting small businesses. This topic is very important and quite complicated, but very necessary in today’s situation. I think that there are problems. I have been told that a number of territories in the Volga Federal District did not take advantage of the resources offered by the Housing Reform Fund to move citizens out of hazardous dwellings, despite this being an important and effective instrument in social policy, and an efficient way to stimulate local employment and development. We have some issues regarding the coordination of our work on a regional and municipal level, and we can discuss them as well.
Furthermore, we have the problem of gas supplies. Governor Belykh and I were just discussing it. In certain places, this situation is better than in others, but in any event, we need to continue working on providing gas supplies, in spite of the crisis. That is why I am asking the Government to work with Gazprom in preparing and implementing proposals in this area, both for the district overall, and for the individual territories.
I think that most of our challenges are clear. First, we must not falter – we must stay true to our priorities. We must create a competitive, modern, and innovative economy. We must continue implementing major investment projects, in as much as this is possible in today’s circumstances. We must continue to improve transportation infrastructure. We must work on developing mineral resources and developing energy, including energy-saving technologies. We must, as I said before, continue to support small and medium-sized businesses. And ultimately, all of this must be united into a single framework for the Volga Federal District’s socio-economic development. My understanding is that this work is already underway.
And finally, one other topic. In difficult times like these, it is very important not to lose qualified personnel; it is critical to maintain human potential. It is the sacred duty of all governments simply to help their people. And so, our goal is to improve career opportunities. In regard to this, I am instructing the Cabinet to prepare a proposal to create a Volga Federal University. This idea has been discussed for quite some time. For the moment, I am not certain how this idea will be implemented, but it is imperative that we set it in motion. We also need to prepare a proposal on establishing national research centres in the federal district. This is among the major nation-wide decisions that have already been made.
That is our agenda for today.