To support the government in achieving the objectives laid out in Vision 2030, the Council of Economic Affairs and Development (CEAD) has formulated 12 Vision Realisation Programmes (VRPs). One of the most important of them, the Quality of Life Programme 2020, was launched in May 2018, giving Saudis an overview of the scale of social and cultural transformation envisaged for the Kingdom. The overarching ambition of the programme is to make Saudi Arabia an attractive living destination for both citizens and expatriates, and in doing so have at least three Saudi Arabian cities list in the top-100 most liveable cities on the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) Global Liveability Index by 2030. Achieving this will involve improving an array of lifestyle indicators, ranging from lengthening life expectancy in the country – which stood at 74.6 years in 2016, according to the World Bank – to developing the nation’s entertainment infrastructure. For the latter, issuing licences to a number of cinema operators in 2018 was a significant step.
The wide-ranging programme contributes to a number of Vision 2030 targets, such as increasing public participation in sports and athletic activities, and diversifying entertainment options in accordance with the needs of the population. Some objectives overlap with other VRPs as well, such as strengthening Islamic values and identity; promoting the Kingdom’s Islamic, Arab and national heritage; and boosting the quality of services in Saudi cities.
Government-funded initiatives will not be sufficient to reach all of the targets, according to the CEAD, therefore private sector funding is welcomed under the scheme. The infrastructure targets for the programme were formulated according to a number of global studies and calibrated to suit the local population, and while targets are set at the country level – for example, a total number of cinemas in the Kingdom – one of the most interesting aspects of the plan from a private sector perspective is its regional nature. Total figures are broken down into a specific goal for each region based on a quantitative assessment of the demand in each area to ensure that the entire relevant population is served. It is hoped that investors will take full advantage of the opportunities offered by the Quality of Life Programme 2020 and move beyond the geographies that are most accessible or where they have previous experience. The government, for its part, is determined to deploy private sector capital beyond the usual destinations. To that end, specialised studies of each geographic region have been undertaken in cooperation with the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority – the Kingdom’s investment licence provider – which are being used to market opportunities to foreign investors.
One of the direct primary beneficiaries of the programme is the sports industry, with the government planning to redesign and refurbish 23 of the Kingdom’s main sporting facilities with the help of the private sector to better accommodate women and families. The incubation of sport start-ups is also on the agenda, as is the licensing of privately owned fitness centres for both genders. By 2020 the Ministry of Education aims to build 15 sport training centres at universities, three standalone centres and 300 technical centres, as well as 10 sport arenas that have facilities for the disabled. The nation’s intermediate and secondary scientific institutes are also set to benefit from the programme, receiving 14 sport courts and 39 football fields by 2022.
For sports at the professional level, the programme aims to establish specialised training centres in major cities such as Riyadh and Jeddah, as well as smaller training centres to be located according to a needsbased assessment. Meanwhile, athletic talent is to be scouted at home and abroad, and developed through the establishment of sports academies, with four football academies to be constructed in the near term.
Technology is set to play a vital role in ensuring the population can easily participate in sport initiatives. For example, digital connections between the General Sports Authority and the wider sector will allow people to access services such as booking venues.
The Kingdom’s heritage and culture are also targeted for government spending and private sector involvement. This will involve the rehabilitation and modernisation of 84 public libraries and the upgrading of existing university halls and theatres. In Riyadh a city cluster is to be created comprised of an opera house and three multipurpose halls, while Jeddah is to receive an island for arts and culture that will include a 1200-seat concert hall, theatre, recital hall, multipurpose space, botanical garden and museum. Cultural tourism is to be developed to a level never before seen in the Kingdom, including through the planned excavation of the archaeological sites in Ha’il and a museum featuring artefacts, as well as hosting international cultural festivals and events. Promoting the Kingdom as a location for global cinema production is also on the agenda, as is nurturing a domestic film industry through the creation of studios and backlots, and the formulation of a suitable regulatory framework for film production in the country.
Closely aligned to the cultural initiatives under the Quality of Life Programme 2020 is a broad array of entertainment objectives, which include expanding digital home entertainment options and the sizeable growth of physical entertainment infrastructure such as theme parks, water parks, family entertainment centres, zoos, live music venues and gaming centres. The aim of this part of the programme is to encourage Saudis to spend more on entertainment, a move that would have ripple effects throughout the economy.
The government also plans to join forces with the private sector to organise around 50 annual events across the Kingdom in a bid to kick-start the entertainment sector and showcase the changes planned for it. The target for this undertaking is an attendance of roughly 6m people at the three biggest flagship events set for 2020, which will be held on National Day, Eid Al Adha and Eid Al Fitr.
Indirect opportunities provided by the programme can be found in other areas of the economy. While goals for the infrastructure and transportation sector are largely owned by different VRPs, plans will ultimately contribute to increasing residents’ quality of life. Such initiatives include the deployment of high-speed broadband infrastructure, the enhancement of digital security, an electric vehicle adoption initiative, new municipal waste management systems, the construction and expansion of airports, the introduction of urban transport management systems and new road networks. Additional plans will see the government partner with private investors to develop land owned by the Ministry of Housing, and the implementation of urban rehabilitation projects to improve the landscape of light industry areas in 17 cities.
Plans for the health care sector, meanwhile, include the development of emergency care departments, primary health care centres, blood transfusion services, nutrition clinics and primary psychological care centres. Education-related initiatives will see a programme to support research and development at universities, the provision of suitable housing for expatriates working in the sector and the establishment of a comprehensive teleworking system.
While government planners have established a wide range of criteria and key performance indicators that might act as a useful yardstick regarding the implementation of the programme, the abstract nature of quality of life makes assessing its real impact on society difficult. A starting point for interested observers may be to track the Kingdom’s performance on some of the international rankings and indices that officials used to formulate the programme’s goals. They are six in number and Saudi cities are able to rank well on all of them – with the exception of the US’ AARP Liveability Index – should they make the necessary changes.
The EIU Global Liveability Index ranks 140 cities according to their urban quality of life, based on criteria such as culture and environment, education and infrastructure. The Mercer Quality of Living Survey ranks 231 cities based on a wider range of factors, including housing and media availability. Monocle Magazine’s Annual Lifestyle List ranks the top-25 most liveable cities in the world, while the World Happiness Index by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network ranks 155 countries according to freedom of choice, life expectancy and GDP per capita, among other factors. The OECD Better Life Index, for its part, compares well-being across countries based on safety, health, income and work-life balance indicators.
If the Kingdom’s Quality of Life Programme 2020 is fully implemented according to plan, the world could see some of Saudi Arabia’s urban centres make their first appearance in some of these global indices.