Blog 28 Mar 21It is hard to imagine that this week we mark a year since the Island’s first lockdown, and as the Manx Independent reported on Thursday – it is a year that none of us will ever forget…..

I think the article also captures the last 365 days incredibly well. This includes more than 44,400 Covid-19 tests undertaken on the island, which resulted more than 1,530 positive cases and sadly the death of 27 island residents as a result of this pandemic so far.

It also closed our borders, closed our schools and closed many of our businesses for a significant period of time over the last year. It has also brought the island’s tourism sector to its knees, which hopefully can be re-built over the next couple of years, but it will be difficult, especially re-building the confidence to get people travelling again.

On a more positive side, as the paper reports there are countless examples of community spirit, kindness and Manx generosity, which have to continue long after our immediate difficulties are over.

I sincerely hope that we get a moment to pause in the future and remember those who died, and to say thank you to those who stepped forward to help others during this crisis….

Let’s move on….

As for last weekend’s activities, with the Isle of Man still in a “circuit break” or a “national lockdown” due to Covid-19 I was able to get into the garden for a few hours, in order to finally finish off the middle section, except for a few pots, plants and some top soil that we will have to purchase once we come out of the current lockdown.

Hopefully, some people will remember the post that I put online during the “Super Manx Bank Holiday” last August in which Ellen and I spent around 22 hours in the garden digging up and moving several tonnes of top soil. All of this activity started simply because our holiday last year was cancelled, so we decided to spend the time and money on improving the garden.

Just for clarity, I am definitely not the gardener in our household despite what some people might think, but I do enjoy building things and since August last year we have used any spare time at weekends or holidays to level the ground and to put down some block paving, along with introducing a couple of raised beds and a new greenhouse for Ellen, which took about three months to arrive.

Neither Ellen or I are landscape gardeners, but we have enjoyed working on this project and it was very satisfying to get the last few bits of block paving down last weekend – and I will of course share some proper pictures over the weekend subject to the weather forecast, which doesn’t look good at the moment.

The final section of our garden will hopefully include a new summerhouse, but again I have no experience of building one from scratch, so it could go one of two ways…..

In between all of that activity over the weekend, I still went into the office before 7am on Sunday morning, in order to print off various reports and other paperwork before getting into the garden just after 8am. However, from around 13.00 I spent around 4 hours going through various bits of work, which included the House of Keys Order Paper.

During last weekend we also had a total of 54 new cases of Covid-19 over the 48 hour period, which brought the total of confirmed cases on the island to 881.

However, on a more positive note the number of people receiving treatment in Nobles Hospital fell from 18 to16, which is fantastic news.

As for Monday there was still a lot of work to be done around the Landlord Registration (Private Housing) Bill and the Competition Bill 2020 before they went through the clauses stage in the House of Keys on Tuesday. Just after 9am I needed to return a number of calls relating to the Landlord Bill, which included a quick call to the Manx Landlord Association.

At 10am a number of backbench Tynwald Members got together to discuss the Landlord Bill and a number of other topics. This was followed by a DfE Motorsport meeting at 11am to discuss a finance paper, and I also needed to catch up with other department work over lunchtime.

At 13.30 we had the latest Commonwealth Parliamentary Association workgroup on Covid-19, and this time the Gibraltar Parliament gave an excellent presentation on “Health and Social Impact” as a result of the Covid Pandemic. They also looked at some of the complex health impacts (both direct and indirect) including mental health, along with some of social policy responses, including housing, employment, education and debt etc.

The final presentation would be given by the Welsh Parliament on Friday – more on that in a moment.

At 15.00 there was a general catch up amongst the Political Members and Senior Officers in DOI, which lasted just over an hour, and I was able to catch up with a few Constituent calls and correspondence before finishing at 17.15.

At the media briefing on Monday the Health Minister, David Ashford, MHK confirmed a further 17 new cases of Covid-19 had been detected on the island, which brought the total number of active cases of Covid-19 on the Island is 858, with 16 people in hospital, two of whom are in the intensive care unit.

Although the hospital admissions are a serious concern, the actual number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 is starting to fall along with the number of unexplained cases, so hopefully it won’t be long before we can all get back to normal life on the island….

As for Tuesday I knew it was going to be a very busy day and a full day at the kitchen table, so we headed out for a walk just after 6am and once home, showered and changed I headed straight into the office to collect some more documents.

Ahead of the actual sitting I still needed to do a lot of prep work, because I was moving a significant number of amendments relating to the Competition Bill 2020 and the Landlord Registration (Private Housing) Bill, which was something I haven’t done previously as an MHK.

The House of Keys sitting started with an update statement from the Chief Minister, Howard Quayle, MHK on Covid-19. This was followed by this week’s question paper that had 12 oral and 6 written questions for answer, but again we only reached question 4 in the allotted time allowed. Unfortunately, far too many supplementary questions are turning into statements by backbench MHK’s and the responses from the Ministers are far too long.

This means that other MHK’s are simply not being given a fair opportunity to ask their questions – so something is going to have to change for the future….

We then continued to go through the clauses of the Competition Bill 2020, which unfortunately turned into a “train crash”, and I will have to take an element of responsibility for that – so it really hasn’t been the best week for me personally. Despite having all of my papers set out across my kitchen table and spending part of the weekend preparing to move these amendments on behalf of the OFT, it still went wrong.

I soon realised that some of my speaking notes just didn’t match up with the Order Paper or the list of amendments that I had, which made it almost impossible to follow. Even after a small recess and speaking to the DEFA Minister and officers and the OFT Chairman, I just didn’t have the confidence to say that I wasn’t moving a particular clause when asked by the Speaker, which would have put me back on track in respect of that piece of legislation.

There had been a considerable amount of correspondence being exchanged internally on Thursday and Friday last week in respect of the Landlord Registration Bill, and I just didn’t see the correspondence from DEFA advising me that the notes for the Competition Bill had been updated and the fact that Bill Shimmins, MHK had withdrawn all of his amendments, which also confused things.

It was a simple error, but in the political arena any mistakes are magnified a thousand times, and there will always be someone ready to put the boot in. It really is a very steep learning curve at times, and I do sometimes wonder if it would be easier to resign from all three Government departments just six months before a House of Keys General Election, but that just isn’t in my nature.

In these circumstances there is absolutely nowhere to hide, everything is done publicly and within a few minutes I had to get myself ready for the Landlord Registration (Private Housing) Bill, which had 66 clauses and 147 amendments for consideration. Again, it was another very complex and difficult piece of legislation, which also had a lot of external pressure being applied by Landlords across the island.

For me personally, the amendments I am tabling on behalf of the DOI complement the Bill and give it more balance and fairness, which was so desperately needed. It was also good to hear the DOI MInister, Tim Baker, MHK confirm that the legislation will not come into force until the regulations have been drafted and put out for public consultation.

By 18.30 on Tuesday we had reached Clause 24 and during Part 3 (“Minimum Standards”) of the legislation we also had our first virtual Committee of the whole House, which allowed the House of Keys to take evidence from the Manx Landlord Association and the legal drafter.

Once the sitting finished I spent the next hour or so returning various calls, so I didn’t actually finish until just before 20.00. Not the best night’s sleep either on Tuesday evening going into Wednesday morning and I was up and about from around 1.00am with the House of Keys sitting still replaying in my head.

I was actually speaking to a colleague just a couple of weeks ago saying that you don’t really become an MHK or a Tynwald Member until you have had your first sleepless night because of the role….

I managed to get back to bed for round 4am, but I was up and going through the DfE agenda pack from around 7.30am. I also needed to catch up with a lot of correspondence, and I can only offer my sincere apologies for the delay in responding to some messages this week.

At 10am we had the DfE Political Members catch up before the Department meeting, which was relatively light again this week. I then spent around 90 minutes on the phone from around midday, it really was about catching up with things.

The final couple of hours were spent catching up with some reading and I was also able to start doing some research on a couple of things, but I was able to finish for around 17.00.

On Thursday I headed into the office once I returned home from an early morning walk. I then managed to get into M & S for the first time in about four weeks, before I realised that the Cabinet Office had called a Tynwald Members briefing at 9am.

A bit of a mad dash but I managed to get home just in time for the briefing, which lasted for 30 minutes. At 10am there was also a backbench Tynwald Members catch up, which also only lasted around 30 minutes.

I also needed to go through the Corporate Parenting Group agenda pack before a virtual meeting being held late on in the day.

In between all of that I needed to catch up with a few department papers and a couple of calls. On Thursday afternoon I was able to spend some time catching up with reading and carrying on with some research around a couple of pieces of legislation, which I should have done at least a month ago.

At 16.00 I dialled into the Corporate Parenting Group meeting, which I Chair as the Children’s Champion. The meeting lasted around an hour and there was an excellent discussion around Cronk Sollysh Secure Home, which is a purpose built facility for young people aged 12 to 16 years on remand, custody or by a secure welfare order.

The discussion focused around the number of admissions at the facility, which first opened in 2002.

Just in time to return a couple of calls before finishing towards 17.30. In respect of the latest Covid-19 figures on Thursday teatime, there were 15 new cases of Covid-19 detected in the Isle of Man.

This brought the current number of active cases of Covid-19 on the Island to 646, with 16 people in hospital, three of whom are in the intensive care unit.

As for Friday morning I was able to catch up with some department papers, along with a couple of reports before I had a meeting with Stephen Kane at Manx Telecom at 9.30am regarding “Pay As You Go” Mobile charging.

A number of people have contacted me over the past year or so regarding some of the charges being applied by Manx Telecom, especially pay as you go, which clearly states that any remaining balances would disappear have around 90 days, plus 7 or 14 days etc.

A very interesting discussion around the charging structure and why any remaining balance disappears after 90 days, along with how Manx Telecom compare to other telecommunication companies on island and in the UK.

Very grateful to Stephen for his time.

At 10am there was another backbench Tynwald Members get together before there was a DfE political members and officers catch up at 11am, which also included a separate meeting with the DfE Minister.

At 12 noon we had the latest DHSC briefing, and although we received the latest information on the vaccination programme a lot of the actual discussion was on the Manx Care Trust that comes into operation on 1st April.

As for the vaccination, the island has now delivered just over 45,000 vaccinations and this includes 30,628 doses and 14,440 second doses, which is fantastic news.

Just a short break to return a couple of calls and correspondence before dialling into a meeting by the Communications and Utilities Regulatory Authority, which gave a presentation and update on regulating the Gas Sector, along with information on the Authority’s role and remit and outlining the calls for rebalancing pricing of gas for all customers.

I had to leave the meeting slightly early, in order to take part in the final Commonwealth Parliamentary Association workshop session, which was led by Rhianon Passmore from the Welsh Parliament. The topic of discussion focused on “Agile and Effective Parliaments” that looked at the emergency measures, legislation affecting rights and liberties, and working across layers of government.

There was also an excellent presentation from Philippa Marsden who is the Council Leader in Caerphilly, Wales that focused on some of those community challenges everyone has been facing since March 2020.

Unfortunately, this was followed by the sad news that a patient at Noble’s Hospital had died with Covid-19, and I again extend my deepest condolences to the family at this difficult time.

Although the individual had Covid-19, it was not the primary cause of death, according the press release.

It also confirmed that a further 6 new cases of Covid-19 have been detected in the Isle of Man and that brought the total number of active cases to 652, with 13 people in hospital, 3 of whom are in intensive care.

On a separate topic, a few Constituents have asked me since the vaccination programme started if Tynwald Members have already been vaccinated, and were they given the vaccination as a priority. I can’t speak on behalf of Tynwald colleagues, but I’m happy to confirm that I received my vaccination letter on Thursday afternoon as part of the roll out for priority group 9 on the island.

As for the weekend, the weather isn’t looking good, so hopefully I will be able to get my head down doing some research, along with a couple of urgent work projects.