What are the effects of having fewer blue flags in the north of the island? | R.L.

Four town halls, four town halls with beaches. Let's start with the most easterly and work our way west. Santa Margalida - the beaches are Can Picafort, Son Baulo and Son Serra de Marina. For good measure, there is also a trail, Sa Marina de Son Real. Each of these will have a Blue Flag this summer.

On learning the news, the town hall issued a statement: "This is the result of work well done by all those involved in the management of the municipality's coastline: the rescue service, concessionaires of seasonal facilities; tourist companies; the local administration; as well as beachgoers.

"Despite the difficult situation that we faced during the 2020 season and now do so in 2021, the town hall has continued its commitment by investing in continuous improvement - beach services and materials, the lifeguard service, environmental education.

All this has contributed to the renewal of the awards for another year. We will continue on this path, the one that will help us to recover tourism as soon as possible. Have a great season and congratulations to the whole municipality."

Moving in the westerly direction, we come to Muro, where the town hall didn't merely issue a statement but put out what was like a two-page leaflet with a gorgeous photo of the beach in Playa de Muro and another photo of its rescue service - its award-winning rescue service.

Tourism councillor Margalida Ballester referred to the recognition of the huge efforts in terms of environmental protection and safety. The beaches are considered to be of the "greatest quality", and they give Muro high prestige in being positioned as an unbeatable tourist destination.

When it comes to safety, Blue Flag has given Muro a special distinction shared with only one other municipality in Spain. This is for the rescue and emergency service, which has previously been acknowledged as outstanding and honoured accordingly.

In terms of overall quality, as the town hall notes, Playa de Muro leads the rankings of Spanish beaches by having four quality distinctions. Blue Flag is just one of them.

From Muro we arrive in Alcudia. Anything to say? No. That's because Alcudia doesn't have Blue Flags. It almost certainly would do if the town hall could be bothered to apply for them, but it doesn't. Similar to Muro, it has other quality distinctions. Alcudiamar, meanwhile, has a Blue Flag for marinas.

Was anyone getting particularly agitated by the absence of Blue Flags in Alcudia? They were not. The flags might be nice things to boast, but the quality is assured in other ways. There are admittedly the occasional murmurings about the water right in the port, but these are not linked to any Blue Flag conversation.

Finally, we come to Pollensa, where the town hall didn't take to social media to note that the Blue Flags for Cala Barques, Cala Molins and Formentor had gone. These were the three for 2020, and there has as yet been no explanation as to why they have gone.

It may well be that the town hall didn't make the applications, but whatever the reason, for the opposition Junts Avançam the loss of the flags is an indication of what they say is incompetence on behalf of the administration.

Junts place the flags in the wider context of provision of beach services and failures on behalf of four councillors - the mayor, Tomeu Cifre, plus the Puerto Pollensa delegate, Andrés Nevado, the councillor for the environment, Maria Buades, and the councillor for contracts, David Alonso.

On this, Cifre announced earlier this week that the tender for the services has been raised, the Costas Authority having given the go-ahead for a three-year arrangement. Nevertheless, Junts maintain that it will be mid-July before services are in place.

Services are linked to the Blue Flags, as these are not merely a reflection of water quality. But, and there's no getting away from the fact, it is this quality which dogs Puerto Pollensa and which provokes constant criticism and discussion.

A Blue Flag isn't the be-all and end-all. It isn't for Alcudia, where there are other certifications. Pollensa has or certainly has had ISO accreditations. The beaches section on the town hall website refers to ISO certifications but ones that were valid until 2017. These may well have been renewed; it's just that there is no announcement to this effect.

But it is Blue Flag which attracts the most attention, and so when this year's awards were announced, it was inevitable that the greatest response - critical response - would be in Pollensa, where beach management in all its facets is a political hot potato in a way that it is not in the other three municipalities.

It's not as if there aren't criticisms in Alcudia, Muro and Santa Margalida, but these have generally concerned specific instances which are dealt with and resolved quickly. Last summer, for example, a stretch of beach in Playa de Muro was cordoned off because of what appeared to be contamination. The suggestion that this was caused by the treatment plant in Albufera proved to be wrong. It had to do with discharge from a boat.

In Pollensa, however, the beaches are an issue of relentless debate. The absence of Blue Flags is but one aspect.