The price for the 12,000 beach concessions along 915 kms of Italys coastline could go up if the new minister for the treasury, Giulio Tremonti, has his way. The concessions (for rights to put up, for example, snack bars, showers, umbrella and deck-chair facilities) last for six years and they are valued at 25-30 million at 2005 prices. The new minister has suggested that the concessions could be extended to 50 years and the price charged to the operators could be increased. It is estimated that this idea would be worth 4-5 billion, if 50 per cent of those who now have beach concessions agree to pay the new fees. Given the difficulties that Silvio Berlusconis government is having balancing its books this extra money would be very welcome.

However the suggestion, which was made just as Berlusconi was presenting his new governments programme to parliament, has caused a political uproar amid the suspicion that the prime minister is once again trying to sell off the national heritage to balance the books.

The sale of state assets of this sort was made possible under a law passed by the previous Berlusconi government that permits parts of the national heritage, on a list that was drawn up by the ministry of the Beni Culturali a couple of years ago, to be sold off to a specially-created public company called Patrimonio Spa. The list contains what were considered to be lesser cultural assets, such as prisons, hospitals, some abandoned monasteries and churches, as well as forests, hillsides, mountains land beaches. By selling off such cultural or natural assets to Patrimonio Spa, which is effectively controlled by the ministry of the treasury, the government has been able to increase revenue in order to make its accounts appear more convincing. However the real problem, as critics have pointed out, is that the government is selling assets that were once the property of one ministry, the Beni Culturali, to a company that is controlled by another ministry, the treasury, increasing the value of the assets in the process.