Blog 28 Feb 21This week the UK government published details on its roadmap for England to finally remove the shackles surrounding the third national “lockdown”, which has been in place since 27th December 2020.

However, those shackles are unlikely to be fully removed until the end of June, but that is clearly subject to everything going according to plan and the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases across the UK continuing to fall.

Here on the Isle of Man it is hard to imagine that almost a year ago on Monday 23rd March 2020 I wrote about our island waking up a different place after it was announced that our borders would be closed for non-residents, in order to help contain the spread of Covid-19.

As we head towards March 2021 the Isle of Man continues to operate at Border Level 4, which allows island residents and key workers to travel freely with no limits on the number of trips, but there is mandatory 21 day self-isolation on return or via testing on day 1, 6 and 13 for release on day 14 required.

As I mentioned on Isle of Man TV last weekend, the island has to start preparing itself for Level 3B, which relates to non-essential immediate family travel and Level 3A that relates to business travel, and dare I say even Level 2 that allows travel with no self-isolation.

Our visitor economy desperately wants to see some tourism activity in 2021, and maybe, just maybe “Vaccination Passports” or “Certificates” are the way forward, in order to allow some visitors to holiday here on the Isle of Man between June and September this year, but again there are risks attached.

We had a Tynwald briefing on Monday lunchtime talking about the island’s exit strategy and how this island can get back to normal – more on that in a moment.

As for last weekend, I held my first political surgery on Saturday morning since the Isle of Man came out of its own second lockdown, and it was good to see a number of people call in to discuss various topics. For some reason we ended up with a small group discussion around the table, which was perfectly fine and something different.

Once the surgery finished I headed into the village for a couple of Constituent meetings so I didn’t get home until around 12.45. Just time to grab something to eat before going into Douglas to take part in the weekend debate on Isle of Man TV, which was produced by Paul Moulton.

Also on the panel was my colleague Chris Robertshaw, MHK and Alex Maxwell, and the programme focused on three areas, including the Manx Government Press Conferences, the Vaccination programme and the IOM Steam Packet Company.

We then discussed last week’s Budget and the island’s Tourism Sector, which continues to wait for news around the relaxation of the island’s borders, which could now be delayed further after additional Covid-19 cases were reported on the island this week.

I have already posted the three video links onto my social media platforms.

I finally got home for around 16.30 and on Saturday evening Ellen and I went to Mrs Yang’s in Douglas to celebrate Ellen’s birthday, which was actually on Monday this week.

On Sunday Ellen and I managed to out get for a walk along the promenade and the quay, along with grabbing a coffee along the way. Once home I spent around three hours catching up with a few department papers and some constituent issues before finishing for the day.

Back into the office just after 7.30am on Monday despite a number of meetings being cancelled. First job was to go through the House of Keys Order Paper and the Questions. I also needed to do a considerable amount of work in relation to the Competition Bill 2020, which continues to be a thorny piece of legislation.

At 9.45am I was able to head down to the House of Keys Chamber to meet up with two groups from Ashley Hill School in Onchan. Both groups were debating as to whether the Isle of Man should grow more food on the island, and should we be setting aside more of our land to support organic farming.

Some excellent contributions from the students and a big thank you to the teachers and students for visiting our National Parliament this week.

With my next meeting being cancelled I was finally able to run into town to buy Ellen’s birthday present, which is normally purchased weeks in advance – personally, I blame Tynwald, the Budget and the January lockdown for not being more organised this year, sorry Ellen.

Just time to catch up with a couple of calls and three Constituent emails before heading up to the Barrool Suite for a presentation on Covid-19 and the island’s transition period over the next six months.

A very detailed briefing that was focused around “risk” and how we move the island from its initial risk strategy that was implemented in March 2020 around protecting life, health and infrastructure to one that might enable us to look at Border Level 3B, 3A, 2 and eventually level 1 that will offer unrestricted travel to the UK.

Our vaccination programme remains key and hopefully by the end of May or during the month of June the Isle of Man will be able to look at our risk profile once again, in order to reduce the Border Level that will eventually end up with the borders fully open to family, friends, businesses and visitors at some point in the future – but all of that will have to be done in stages I am sure.

A lot of the information is still being worked on, but I am sure the Council of Ministers and the Chief Minister will give full details in due course.

The meeting finished just after 14.30 and once I caught up with a few phone calls and messages I headed home for the day. My colleague Rob Mercer, MLC called around the house to collect some pallets, which also gave us an opportunity to have a catch up over a cup of tea and some birthday cake with Ellen, whilst sitting outside enjoying some welcome winter sunshine.

In the office on Tuesday for 8am and the first couple of hours were spent going through some legislation and department papers. This week’s House of Keys sitting got underway at 10am with an emergency question relating to the Snaefell Surgery, which is a GP partner practice in Anagh Coar.

This was followed by an urgent statement from the Chief Minister, Howard Quayle, MHK relating to the sudden spike in confirmed Covid-19 cases on the island over the past week. This generated various questions from Members that lasted almost an hour, especially around the Steam Packet Company and the protection of staff and customers etc.

We then had 11 oral and 12 written questions before going through the first and second readings of the Statue Law Revision Bill 2020, and the consideration of Clauses relating to the International Co-operation (Protection from Liability) Bill 2021.

Unfortunately, consideration of the remaining Clauses relating to the Competition Bill 2020 was not moved this week, mainly because of ongoing concerns around a couple of points in the legislation that need further review.

This meant that the sitting was considerably shorter than expected and we were all done for 13.00. Back to the office to work on the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) presentation that the Isle of Man was giving on Wednesday lunchtime, along with going through more department papers.

At 15.00 I dialled into a CPA meeting in London to go through the proposed meeting and its schedule, and the rest of the afternoon was spent in the office until around 17.00. Once home I still needed to go through the DfE agenda pack, a couple of contracts and a financial support paper before finally finishing just after 20.00.

Wednesday started before 8am and I only had around 30 minutes to catch up with a few things before walking over to DfE for the first of three meetings that related to some ongoing financial support for key sectors due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Straight into the Minister’s office for the Political Members’ catch up and to go through the order papers. From there it was into the boardroom for the department meeting, which was relatively light this week.

With no agency updates I was back in my own office just after 11.45am.

Just time to catch up with a few correspondence and a couple of calls before dialling into the second of four Commonwealth Parliamentary Association presentations around Covid-19 and the pandemic.

Last month the Falkland Islands gave a presentation on “recovery” and this month it was the Isle of Man’s opportunity to give their presentation on “Borders, Residence, Travel and Tourism”.

I was very fortunate to Chair the meeting and to introduce the Policy and Reform Minister Ray Harmer, MHK to talked about “successful strategies for using borders to reduce spread”, along with giving a second presentation on “ensuring access for priority travellers (key workers and students etc)”.

My DfE colleague Angela Byrne, Head of Tourism then gave a presentation on “how best to support tourism and key travel infrastructure”, and the final presentation to CPA Members across the Commonwealth was given by guest speaker, Steven Linares, MP who is the current Minister for Housing, Youth and Sport in Gibraltar.

I invited Steven to give a presentation because both Gibraltar and the Isle of Man are facing very similar difficulties around borders and tourism at the moment.

Each presentation was only around five minutes long and this was followed by a question and answer session at the end of each section. There was also wider discussion amongst the CPA Members on some of the main themes and topics discussed.

For me personally I felt it was an excellent work stream, especially listening to how other jurisdictions are dealing with Covid-19, but more importantly how they are looking at tourism opportunities and balancing the risk around protection of life but also re-starting key economies.

I think there were around 10 Commonwealth Parliaments from the British Islands and Mediterranean Region represented and around 30 delegates, which was excellent, and again I have to thank the key speakers.

From the briefing I headed straight down to the Sea Terminal at 14.15 for three drop-in sessions for Local Authorities, in order to discuss the Local Government (Amendment) Bill 2021 and the amendments being tabled for consideration. A big thank you to all the Local Authority Officers and elected Members for attending the session.

I finally got back to the office for 17.15.

A strange start to Thursday because I went into the office just after 6am to get some work done and to collect a couple of agenda packs. I was back home for around for 7.30am and the rest of the morning was spent at home going through two heavy agenda packs for Manx National Heritage and for the Department of Infrastructure.

I also needed to prepare some notes ahead of my meeting with the Isle of Man Municipal Association, along with drafting several letters to be sent out before the weekend.

Just after lunchtime I started to work on some projects, along with taking a couple of hours off just to catch up with some of my own work around the house. At 15.00 I dialled into the informal Manx National Trustee meeting, which lasted around an hour and this was followed by the main MNH board meeting that didn’t finish until after 18.20.

Just time to get changed before driving to Braddan Commissioners for the Isle of Man Municipal Association meeting that started at 19.00. Prior to being elected as an Onchan MHK I was very fortunate to sit on the Municipal Board as an Onchan Commissioner, so it was great to be invited back as a guest.

With no particular topic of discussion and with Local and National elections just around the corner, I gave a short presentation on my five years as an MHK, which was followed by a few questions. A big thank you to the Isle of Man Municipal Association for the warm welcome and for the invitation.

Once home I caught up with some correspondence before finishing just after 21.00.

Back in the office for the usual time on Friday and straight into correspondence, which has continued to increase this week.

At 9.30am I joined a Zoom meeting in order to discuss a sporting event that could be held on the island in 2022, which could potentially bring up to 5,000 visitors for a four day event. This is the second or third meeting we have had with the organisers, and it is now down to them to submit an application for consideration.

Once the meeting finished I had to go through several department papers, but I was able to catch up with a Constituent who called in for a coffee.

At 12 noon we had the latest DHSC briefing and from there it was down to the Sea Terminal for the political Members’ meeting with the Minister before the DOI Department meeting, which didn’t finish until just after 17.00.

As for the island’s vaccination programme, we have now administered more than 20,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccine on the Isle of Man and this is broken down to just under 14,000 first vaccine doses and more than 6,000 second doses.

Unfortunately, this has come on the back of 40 confirmed cases of Covid-19 over the past week or so, but hopefully that figure reduces over the next few days.