Blog 13 jan 19Back into the office this week after an enjoyable Christmas break, which was only interrupted by a continuing heavy cold throughout the Christmas period.

I still genuinely believe that 2019 will be the most difficult year for this political administration. I can only hope that the Council Ministers fully engage with backbench MHK’s, and don’t simply try to push key decisions though, especially those decisions involving Brexit and the setting up of a Beneficial Owners Register etc.

I must also offer my apologies to Onchan Constituents, and Local Authorities especially Onchan Commissioners for not responding to the announcement made over Christmas that the Department of Infrastructure will increase the “Gate Fee” at the Energy from Waste by 5.73% from April 2019.

A series of written questions have been tabled by me in Tynwald next week, which will be followed up with oral questions in the House of Keys later.

We shouldn’t forget that the Treasury Minister outlined in his Budget speech last year that Government Department fees would increase by 2%, so applying an additional 3.73% increase on top of that figure can only be described as yet another “stealth tax”, which is extremely disappointing of this Government.

Hopefully local Commissioners and Councillors will lobby DOI to justify such an increase at this time, especially when almost all of the costs associated with the EFW Plant are fixed until 2029, and not forgetting that central Government has a duty to provide a facility for disposing of waste on the Isle of Man.

When calculating the “Gate Fee”, the only element that is unknown is the amount of waste being processed year on year, along with a small indexation fee.

It also worth remembering that the fixed costs at the EFW Plant are the same for processing one tonne of waste or for processing sixty thousand tonnes of waste.

It is also worth mentioning that the previous DOI Minister, Phil Gawne tried to increase the gate fee for domestic waste by £21 per annum in 2012/13. Local Commissioners at the time, including myself lobbied the Department hard and eventually the gate fee was frozen.

Therefore, we could have been paying £161.35 (+indexation) from April 2018 for Domestic Waste instead of the proposed £91.93 from April 2019 if the Minister at the time was successful, but fortunately he wasn’t and I am proud that Local Government worked collectively to stop those increases at the time….

I must also stress that the costs of disposing Domestic Waste on the island at the EFW Plant continue to be subsidised by Commercial Waste

However, there are continuing unanswered questions as to why Local Authorities should have to pay for Sale & Lease Back Agreement costs, which added an extra £45 million onto the overall cost for the project back in 2004.

Local Authorities had no input into that agreement and Treasury received £45 million, plus vat etc back in 2004 when the EFW Plant was sold to the Isle of Man Bank.

I am sure there will be more on this particular item in the coming weeks and months.

It was also excellent to see so many social media posts over the Christmas holidays relating to the four Fairy Houses, which have formed a very small part of the tourism marketing initiative.

It looks like hundreds of families took full advantage of the good weather and the Christmas holiday period to head out and to explore the Fairy Houses, especially the one located at Bradda Head.

Some people may disagree with spending £26,000, but only around £11,000 related to actually building the properties.

The remaining amount was spent on trying to promote the island’s location and what it has to offer as a destination of choice in a very difficult sector. I personally feel the campaign has been very successful, both on and off island.

Anyway, back to my own activities, Ellen and I flew back to the Isle of Man on New Year’s Eve after a spending a couple of days in the UK visiting family.

Unfortunately, neither of us managed to see in the New Year as we were both under the weather and fell asleep well before midnight.

1st, 2nd and 3rd January were spent at home trying to recover from a heavy cold and headaches, but I still managed to get out for several walks along the promenade and the quay in Douglas.

I did manage to get into the office on Friday (4th Jan), in order to start catching up with various things and I also attended a DfE workshop that lasted around 2 hours.

Although I was in the office all day on Friday, it was still a gentle start to the new year.

With no Constituent appointments on Saturday (5th) and Sunday (6th) I had some additional time to get over whatever illness I had recently caught.

I was back in the office on Monday at 8.15am and after grabbing a coffee it was head down catching up with emails, letters and starting to prepare for this month’s Tynwald sitting, which gets underway on Tuesday 15th Jan at 10.30am.

The morning flew by very quickly, as it does when I am sat at my deck drafting correspondence or starting to prepare for Tynwald, along with starting to prepare for the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) meeting.

At lunchtime I needed to go back over various TT documentation before walking over to DfE for a pre-meeting at 13.15.

At 14.00 I attended a TT meeting with a key stakeholder, and it was never going to be an easy meeting. However, the meeting did highlight the value of actually sitting around a table and discussing difficult situations, in order to help find a satisfactory solution.

It also highlighted the value of working in a Government Department where you can as an MHK actually influence policy and direction, which is so difficult to do on a parliamentary level because of the Council of Ministers block vote at times.

Unfortunately, I cannot add anything further details at this stage as it is still subject to agreement and ongoing negotiations etc….

I was back at my desk at 15.30 continuing to catch up and preparing for Tynwald and PAC.

I left the office at 17.00 and I have to admit that I found it very difficult to get myself motivated or geared up for the year ahead this week. Maybe it is due to illness but I was back in the swing of things by close of business on Wednesday.

I was talking to a couple of colleagues on this particular on the topic, and it is surprising how long it took some Members to slow down or switch off to enjoy the holiday period.

After tea I read several Tynwald and PAC papers before finishing at around 20.00.

Straight back into the office for 8.15am on Tuesday and with no parliamentary sittings until next week I was able to work my way though the DfE agenda paper, which took an hour or so.

The Isle of Man Examiner had a wonderful piece in the paper on Tuesday, which was entitled “Take me to your Leader”.

Basically if aliens came to the Isle of Man would the general Manx public know who the Chief Minister was, the Governor, the Bishop and other Political Members etc….? It is definitely worth a read…..

Just before 10.30am we headed up to the Barrool Suite for a presentation on a new piece of legislation, which relates to the Charities Registration Bill 2018.

An excellent presentation by the Attorney General and his officers.

Given the amount of money donated by Manx residents year on year, it is right the island’s legislation reflects the 21st Century, along with giving trustees proper guidelines on their duties and responsibilities.

The presentation finished at lunchtime, which gave me an opportunity to start drafting a couple of correspondence items relating to the Eastern Area Plan and the Public Inquiry, which has been moved from February / March to either June or July 2019.

I also needed to address several other small Constituent issues and I took the opportunity to print off some additional sections of the Public Account Committee Agenda pack before a Constituent meeting, which started at 14.00.

A Constituent asked me to support them through an employment issue, which I was more than happy to do. After a pre-meeting we headed over a Government building for the formal meeting, which lasted about an hour.

It was a positive meeting and hopefully the matter discussed can be resolved relatively quickly for everyone involved.

I headed back to the office for around 16.00 to finish off a few things before driving home at around 17.15. After tea I still needed to draft several emails, but I was able to finish for around 19.30.

Although I was in the office for 8.15am on Wednesday, the day was taken up by just a couple of key meetings, along with a Constituent issue.

The first hour was spent going through DfE agenda notes.

Just after 9.15am, Tim Crookall, MLC and I walked over to DfE for the Political meeting with the Minister. At 10am we went into the Boardroom for an Agency update before getting on with the agenda paper, which included several TT related papers.

The Department meeting finished just before 13.00 and after catching up with the tourism team, I was able to have lunch in the canteen.

At 14.00 the Public Accounts Committee convened and the meeting was far shorter than normal, but still lasted over 90 minutes.

After catching up with colleagues, the rest of the afternoon was spent either on the phone answering a couple of Constituent enquiries or catching up with correspondence.

I left the office at 17.15.

With no meetings on Thursday and Friday I was able to focus on the Tynwald sitting, which is now shorter after the Treasury Minister has withdrawn two items from the Order Paper.

I have posted a separate FB post relating these particular items, but there was clearly a lack of engagement with Tynwald Members.

It also gave me an opportunity to work on a couple of ongoing projects, which I want to complete over the next couple of months.

On Thursday morning I started work early, which gave me a chance to go for a walk at around 9am. Unfortunately, my walk turned into a two hour plus round trip…..

Looking back over my Blogs from 2018, I noticed that I was going into the office early, working through lunch breaks and not really taking sufficient time to switch off, other than at the weekend wherever possible.

The only exercise I was actually getting between Monday and Friday was running from one meeting to another meeting, which isn’t enough…

So in 2019 I am making more of a conscious effort to walk 5 or 6 miles a couple of times a week.

During my walk on Thursday morning I had to take a few calls and I also bumped into an MLC colleague, which gave us an opportunity to catch up.

One of the calls received was from Manx Radio who were looking for a quote in relation to the Motions removed by the Treasury Minister.

Once I got back to the car I headed up to Manx Radio to do the interview.

From there I headed home and the rest of Thursday and Friday were spent at home working on Tynwald and a few projects.

Not too much scheduled for the weekend, other than attending a lecture at the Manx Museum on Sunday afternoon, so I should be able to continue working on the projects.