Blog 26 July 20A bit of a long Blog this week, so feel free to grab a coffee first……

This week the Isle of Man took its first small step towards achieving no border restrictions, but how and when this island is to reach Level 0 is still yet to be decided.

Although there haven’t been any restrictions on island residents leaving the Isle of Man since March this year, the Manx Government has however controlled entry into the island robustly.

On 9th July the Manx Government confirmed that the island’s border policy would move from Level 5 that restricted travel back to the Isle of Man as “essential travel only” to Level 4 that would allow for “non-essential” travel from Monday (20th) this week.

This meant island residents would now be able to visit the UK and beyond via a “Manx Entry Permit”, but access to island for non-residents would continue to be tightly restricted.

Upon returning, island residents are expected to self-isolate for 14 days on their return, along with completing a “landing form” within 48 hours prior to travelling back to the Isle of Man.

Full details can be found via the Government’s Covid-19 website.

On Wednesday lunchtime the Isle of Man welcomed around 100 visitors from Guernsey and around 120 Manx residents took the opportunity to visit Guernsey on the first flight leaving the Isle of Man via the “Air Corridor” between the jurisdictions.

More on that in a moment….

As for last weekend, a big thank you to everyone who called into my Political Surgery at the Community Hub last Saturday, which was very busy. A lot of discussion around the promenade and ongoing road closures in and around Onchan, Governor’s Bridge and St Ninian’s at the moment.

Two people called in to discuss employment issues and three people just called in to say thank you, which was much appreciated.

The surgery finished at 11.30am and from there I went to MTTV to do an interview relating to my new role in DOI, before attending two further Constituent meetings.

I will expand on my MTTV interview in a moment.

Saturday afternoon was spent drafting various correspondence relating to the morning’s Political Surgery before I was able to finish for around 16.00.

On Sunday Ellen and I were able to head out for a short walk before I continued to work on the Tynwald Order Paper and a few Department papers.

I was in the office before 8am on Monday and with no briefings or meetings, the entire day was spent at my desk just trying to catch up with various things, especially Tynwald and some Department work.

About three hours were taken up with just drafting emails and trying to clear my inbox ahead of this month’s Tynwald sitting that was three days long. A couple of hours were also spent drafting various letters that I should have drafted and sent out last week.

I left the office at 17.00, but once home I still needed to read the Isle of Man Fuel Poverty Report, the Isle of Man Living Wage Report 2020 and the Health and Care Transformation Programme Annual Report 2019/20, along with starting to go through a DfE agenda pack with over 250 pages and the Tynwald Order Paper No 2, which related to the Budget Update 2020, before finishing at around 21.00.

Back into the office before 8am on Tuesday to send out several emails and to prepare a few notes for Tynwald. Just after 9.30am I headed outside to speak to the group of protestors (mainly taxi drivers) outside the Tynwald building protesting against the bus lane introduced recently on Glencrutchery Road, which is certainly affecting traffic all the way back into Onchan at the moment.

From there it was straight into the Tynwald Chamber at 10.30am, which started with the Budget Update 2020 by the Treasury Minister, Alf Cannan.

As the Treasury Minister outlined in his opening remarks, with the collapse of Flybe on 5th March and the growing impact of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic on our economy, there was the inevitable recognition that there was an immediate serious threat to the Manx economy.

He continued to say that the dangers to jobs and businesses on the island were of course not just being driven by the action that we as a Government were taking, but the actions that were also being pursued across the UK and the globe to combat this steadily worsening global health crisis.

The Budget update at a glance included a £100 million fund to bolster businesses, promote innovation, create training and employment opportunities. The Salary Support Scheme and MERA will be extended for certain sectors through to September, providing further direct support to those involved in travel, tourism and fisheries, along with a £10 million working capital loan scheme, which will enable businesses to resume activity.

In addition, Treasury with Tynwald approval agreed a revolving credit facility over the next couple of years, in order to establish an alternative source of liquidity to meet some of our immediate financial challenges.

The Budget update continued throughout the morning session until around 13.15. From there it was straight up to the Barrool Suite for a presentation on the integrated care system, but I had to leave early in order to deal with a couple of Department issues.

Back to the Chamber at 14.30 in order to continue going through the Tynwald Order Paper No 2, relating to the Tynwald Budget Update 2020. We then went through the Supplementary Order Paper No 1, which included the new Manx Gas Regulatory Agreement.

The topic certainly generated a healthy debate amongst the Tynwald Members, along with strong words exchanged between Mr Hooper, MHK and Mr Robertshaw, MHK that certainly raised a few eyebrows in the Chamber.

There was also a very long and passionate contribution from the previous Policy & Reform Minister, Chris Thomas, MHK, and the Manx Gas debate continued after tea break. In the end the motion was supported by Tynwald Members, but the main debate on this topic will now take place in October once Members have seen the Heads of Terms.

This was then followed by a motion under the Emergency Powers Act 1936 and a vital motion on a Holiday Food Vouchers scheme for children over the summer months, which highlights some serious issues that need to be fully addressed before the end of this administration.

We then moved onto the main Order Paper and we were able to reach item 13 before drawing to a close on the first day of this month’s Tynwald sitting just after 20.00.

Once home I still had a few emails and phone calls to catch up on before finishing for the day at around 22.15.

Back in the office before 8am on Wednesday for day two of this month’s Tynwald sitting, which was set to be another long one.

The first hour or so was spent at my desk trying to catch up with a few outstanding emails, before the bell rang at 10.15am to call Members into Tynwald Court, which always reminds me of school, especially with the prayers at the start of the sitting.

Unfortunately, the mood in the Tynwald Chamber on Wednesday morning compared to Tuesday was a million miles apart, as certain Tynwald Members tried to score political points from various questions, especially from the two emergency questions.

The question on the traffic issues at Governor’s Bridge, Summerhill and Broadway certainly generated a few fireworks as the new DOI Minister, Tim Baker MHK faced a raft of questions for an almost an hour.

At one point Chris Thomas, MHK accused the DOI Minister, and possibly myself of “pork barrel politics” after the Minister announced a reduction in bus fares for Onchan and Laxey residents, in order to ease some of the traffic concerns in Onchan and Douglas.

Just to set that particular record straight from my point of view, the term “pork barrel politics” usually refers to spending which is intended to benefit constituents of a politician in return for their political support, which I fully refute as an MHK.

According to formal DOI minutes I actually raised the idea of a “reduction in the cost of bus tickets” on 3rd June 2020, but I also raised this point informally at several other DfE & DOI promenade political oversight board meetings as far back as May.

This is at least 39 days before I even decided to join the Department, so it can hardly be described as “pork barrel politics” – or is my colleague Chris Thomas, MHK now saying that Tynwald members sitting in Departments or on Committees should no longer come up with ideas or initiatives etc, in order to help resolve difficult situations facing this island? Very strange remarks from the former Policy and Reform Minister.

If that is the case, why have any political members in Departments at all?

The new return lane just introduced on the promenade recently had costs attached, but this was introduced after businesses and the Douglas East MHK’s lobbied the DOI – is this “pork barrel politics” or MHKs and businesses simply trying to put forward ideas to get through the next few weeks until Summerhill and Broadway are re-opened?

I think it is also extremely disappointing that I am having to read so many comments this week, mainly from fake accounts and faceless people, making allegations of bullying against me, which I totally refute.

Was my question to the new DOI Minister in Tynwald this week an “open question”? Yes it was, because I felt the people of this island had a right to know if those traffic concerns involving Governor’s Bridge, Summerhill and Broadway were actually discussed in the Department of Infrastructure by the previous political team, especially when individuals are now trying to distance themselves from those very difficult decisions due to public pressure being applied.

As for my MTTV interview last weekend, I fully acknowledge that I used one wrong word in a 16 minute interview. Does that mean that the whole interview was “fake news and that people shouldn’t believe a word that comes out my mouth” (quote from an actual post from a Tynwald Member)? No, it means that I am human – and we all make mistakes under pressure.

I don’t fully understand all of the circumstances around the departure of the previous DOI Minister and two of its political members, and I don’t really want to…

I have gone into the Department of Infrastructure for no other reason than to support the new Minister and try to overcome some of the serious challenges facing the department at the moment, especially around getting the promenade done and the opening up of key routes into Douglas as quickly as possible.

Anyway let’s move on. Tynwald questions continued until lunchtime at 13.00, at which time I had to decide either to head south to the Airport to welcome the first visitors from Guernsey but I only had around an hour, or stay in the office to attend a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association meeting in the Barrool Suite, or go into Onchan.

In the end I went into Onchan to attend the Year 6 leavers assembly and prize presentation at Onchan School. Straight back to the Tynwald Chamber just after 14.40 to continue with the Questions and Order Paper.

Late in the afternoon Bill Shimmins, MHK tabled a motion on “Speed Limits” and the wording of the motion read “that the maximum speed limit to apply on a) urban roads should be 20mph and b) narrow rural lanes should be 30mph.

Again, I took my guidance from my 2016 manifesto, in which I said that “I would work with the DOI to support an overall review of speed limited in and around the village”. As an MHK I continue to fully support a 20mph speed limit through the main village and along with several other roads into and around Onchan, but unfortunately the motion tabled by Bill Shimmin, MHK was far too wide and open to misinterpretation, which I couldn’t support.

In the end I went with the amendment from Tim Baker, which will look at a Road Safety Action Plan that will be tabled before Tynwald in December. However, the branches were in disagreement, which meant that the DOI Minister asked for a combined vote to be taken in October.

A further motion from Bill Shimmins trying to get an extra Tynwald sitting in September left everyone in the Chamber scratching their heads. Nothing wrong with Bill’s opening remarks and comments, which were all very valid, and I was all ready to support the motion.

However, there was some confusion because Bill forgot to get someone ready to second his motion, which meant that all other Tynwald members were expecting someone else to stand up to second the motion, but no one realised that point until the President of Tynwald moved onto the next item on the Order Paper.

This in turn created a few minutes of confusion, but in the end the motion was not moved.

Tuesday’s Tynwald sitting finished at around 20.40, and I went home feeling extremely tired and physically exhausted after a long day in the Chamber, but I still needed to catch up with a few things before finishing at around 21.45.

Straight back into the office before 8am on Thursday for the final Tynwald sitting of this Parliamentary session, and before the sitting I still needed to catch up with a few things, but I did take the opportunity to spend an hour drafting part of this week’s Blog.

The Tynwald sitting on Thursday was basically split into two halves. The morning session focused on a general debate on the Isle of Man Post Office – post-Covid as the Economic Policy Review Committee moved its second report.

After lunch Jane Poole-Wilson, MLC delivered a very powerful and thought provoking opening speech, which set the tone for the rest of the debate on institutional racism and racial discrimination on the Isle of Man.

Some incredible speeches by my Tynwald colleagues, and I might even try and listen to the debate again over the weekend, because it was that good.

The President of Tynwald, Steve Rodan OBE brought this parliamentary year to a close at 16.45 with some words which encapsulated this particular year…..

He said that we have come to the end of extraordinary parliamentary session without parallel, a Tynwald Day unlike anything we have seen before, along with virtual sittings of Tynwald and of the Branches. He added that the public, government and legislature have risen to the challenges and successfully confronted them.

He also highlighted the colleagues that we have lost during this parliamentary session, along with those who have retired from Manx politics and those who have joined us as MLC’s in February.

It has been an unbelievable parliamentary year in many ways, and for me personally it has been a privilege to continue sharing and recording my own journey as an MHK.

I finally got home just before 18.00, but I continued to work on a couple of items until 19.45.

As for Friday, definitely a change of pace from the last couple of days, and with no department meetings or briefings I was able to catch up with any outstanding correspondence.

I was also able to look at some of those ongoing projects including the Landlord Registration (Private Housing) Bill ahead of a couple of meetings scheduled for next week.

I also headed back into Onchan a couple of times for Constituent meetings, but was able to get a couple of my own chores done during the day.

On Friday evening Ellen and I went to St. Peter’s Church to support their movie night once again, and the film being shown was “Military Wives”, which was very good. There was even a fish supper during the interval, along with a raffle – what more do you need…..?

The evening raised £1,450 and a massive thank you to everyone at St. Peter’s Church for a wonderful evening,

As for the weekend, I have a couple of constituent meetings already in the calendar, but I am also hoping to meet with family over the weekend. On Sunday I will need to go through the Department of Infrastructure agenda pack before attending my first meeting on Monday afternoon.