Rome city helpline faces closure

Rome's 060606 helpline is set to close on 22 June according to former city culture councillor Silvio Di Francia who informed La Repubblica newspaper that the switchboard's contract with its management company Almaviva ends on 21 June. "The next day it will be suspended: there have been no meetings convened with the company, and therefore, if nothing happens, it will close” says Di Francia.

The switchboard's 70 operators provide a wide range of information in Italian, English and Romanian in addition to putting people through to the relevant city departments. A call to 060606 costs the same as a local call and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There is also information available in French, German, Spanish, Albanian and Polish from Mon-Fri 07.00-19.00 and Sat 08.00-13.00.

The popular service receives around three million calls a year, and an average of 47,000 calls a week in April 2013. Inaugurated by former mayor Walter Veltroni in June 2002, during his second year of office, it was continued by the administration of Veltoni’s successor, Gianni Alemanno, currently seeking a second term of office in the upcoming run-off against Ignazio Marino on 9-10 June.

Following the election of Alemanno five years ago, the culture brief of Di Francia's successor Umberto Croppi was expanded to include communication. During the administration of Veltroni, the service cost €6 million annually, but Alemanno got the running cost down to €4 million, claiming savings of €2 million.

Croppi, who Alemanno replaced with Dino Gasperini in a reshuffle in 2011, told La Repubblica that there were “no savings” involved, only "less efficiency". For example, in 2008 there were over 200 operators employed compared to the current 70.

Croppi also revealed that he clashed with Alemanno over the running of the helpline whose costs Alemanno wanted to offset by introducing advertising. This suggestion was resisted by Croppi: "Unbeknownst to me a recorded message was introduced by the mayor who sought fundraising, but it was a mistake: whoever calls for information is in a rush to get answers."

Di Francia said: "Alemanno has displayed no desire to continue the helpline: evidently the city has spent its available resources on more visible things around election time. But if there is a new mayor, I believe that in the first hours of assuming office it will be possible to fix the situation with Almaviva."

Both Di Francia and Croppi are backing Alemanno’s challenger Ignazio Marino in his mayoral bid.