Happy Easter and I hope everyone is able to enjoy a short break!
I was in my Tynwald office having a quiet five minutes and a coffee after the House of Keys sitting on Tuesday morning reflecting on what had been a difficult, but also from my point of view successful Question Time that had just finished.
Department of Infrastructure Minister, Ray Harmer, MHK faced a raft of questions on housing maintenance for local authorities and an increase in the school bus fares by 10p per journey, which doesn’t sound a lot, but more on that later.
Anyway, I guess most people outside the House of Keys or Tynwald Court would say tabling questions to Chief Minister, Ministers or Chairmen, and then asking supplementary questions in the Chambers should be relatively straightforward for MHKs, but for some reason it isn’t….
Anyone who has ever challenged a family member or a boss will know how difficult it can be, and how deflated you can feel at the end of a particular disagreement or battle, especially when things turn into a “bun-fight”….
Then you have to add the fact that all of this is unfolding in the public arena with social media and local media watching everything as they search for the next headline that you are helping to create, which is also part of the role.
In a previous life as an Onchan Commissioner or even as a member of the public I could ask multiple questions of MHKs, Ministers and Departments and providing that I was being fair and honest in my approach then the individual concerned couldn’t challenge it.
As elected MHKs we have to learn very quickly in this role to remove the person and the emotion from the situation, and to focus solely on the action being taken or the decision being made by a particular Department, presented in the House of Keys or Tynwald by the Minister or Chairman on most occasions.
This isn’t easy and unfortunately some individuals do take any challenge personally, which then creates a difficult working environment for us all.
I actually wrote the above section of my Blog on Tuesday evening unaware that IOM Newspapers would publish a couple of articles online first thing on Friday morning, which were followed by some appalling comments being added that are simply untrue.
These included that I am in the pocket of Heron & Brearley and I am targeting certain MHKs with my current line of questioning in the House of Keys or Tynwald, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
I am not targeting individuals, I am targeting certain policies and decisions, which is what I am elected to do.
As an MHK I challenge and support decisions by Government, individual Departments and Statutory Boards in equal measure. If I don’t understand a decision or if I don’t believe it is the right decision or the right course of action on behalf of Constituents, then I certainly have the right to challenge those decisions regardless of who is the Minister or Chairman.
As MHKs we have to accept that we will be challenged by colleagues and/or constituents on multiple levels at some stage, so we might as well face the fact….
What I am also seeing unfolding before my eyes this week is a major change in our work environment amongst ourselves, with more groups within groups, and what can only be described as some MHKs overprotecting their Ministers or Departments.
It is certainly more visible than it was this time last year, and although I defend the decisions being made by DfE, I certainly wouldn’t over protect my Minister.
On the evening of the General Election in 2016 all 24 MHKs were placed in the same fish bowl, but over time additional bowls have been added – Council of Ministers and Departments etc.
It is fascinating watching these events unfold at the moment…
Anyway, let’s move on. Monday was one of those days on which I was glued to my desk – not literally, but in order to get some of my projects started, especially those that I need to finish before the summer recess and which I have continually put off, but I know that I have to get them done before September.
With good dry weather despite some strong winds, I took the opportunity to walk to work on Monday morning. It was only around 2.9 miles from home in Onchan and it took me just over 41 minutes….
After a quick shower I was still at my desk for 8.15am ready for the day ahead. Fortunately our office in Tynwald has a couple of showers, which a number of Members use from time to time.
Most of the day was spent at my desk working on various things. Just before 10am I was just about to head into Onchan to attend the Springfield coffee morning, when two constituents called into the Tynwald office and asked for an urgent meeting, which required a couple of follow-up emails to be drafted. Unfortunately I missed the coffee morning – apologies to the residents, but it couldn’t be helped.
I then continued to work at my desk until 14.00, at which time I went up to the Barrool Suite for yet another presentation on Public Sector Pensions and the draft proposal around the cost sharing….
Public Sector Pensions remain the biggest thorn that this administration has to address, but as I have mentioned previously there are no easy options.
Each solution appears to be more difficult to implement than the previous one…
That said, the Government is definitely trying to find the solution under this administration, which will actually set correct pensions contributions for employee and employer in the future, and not forgetting to address the legacy issues.
It was an excellent presentation, with again a significant amount of questions from Tynwald Members.
Other than meeting up at 16.00 with Chris who designed my website, along with helping me to keep the site fully up to date, the rest of the day was spent in my office until I went home at around 17.20.
In the office early on Tuesday morning, just after 7am in order to prepare for the House of Keys sitting, along with drafting a number of questions for the House of Keys at the beginning of May.
I also needed to respond to a number of Constituents and Department correspondence.
At 9.50am we headed down to the House of Keys for this sitting, which started with 11 oral questions and a further 18 questions for written reply.
Four of the 11 questions tabled for oral answer were from myself, and these related to the Contribution for those patients travelling to the UK for treatment and require overnight accommodation, a statement on the 10p increase to school bus fares and DOI’s housing division spending 29.% on maintenance in 2017/18.
In fact, the 10p increase to bus fares certainly generated a considerable amount of questions in the Keys this week.
It isn’t about a 10p increase per journey, but the actual cost now per annum, which I feel is too high for many families…..
Just to clarify my information in the House of Keys on Tuesday because there was some confusion, there are around 190 school days per annum so a 10p increase is around £19 for single journeys or £38 for return journeys.
The actual cost now is 40p per journey, which means that the annual cost to hard working families is £76 for single journeys or £156 for return journeys, per annum, per child.
Once question time was finished, the Policy and Reform Minister, Chris Thomas, MHK tabled the Charities Registration and Regulation Bill 2018, which included the amendment brought back from the Legislative Council.
At the end of the sitting, the Speaker, Juan Watterson, SHK read out a fitting tribute to messenger, Garry Homer, 76 who passed away recently. Garry joined the Tynwald team in 2007 following a career at Ronaldsway Aircraft Company and will be very much missed by his Tynwald colleagues, and I send my deepest condolences to his family.
The sitting finished around 11.30am, which enabled me to do a Manx Radio interview, along with having a quick meeting with the Clerk and the Speaker.
From 12.30 there was a presentation by the Treasury team on the changes to Minimum Work Requirements and the Changes to the Income Support for Lone Parents, which will be brought back to Tynwald Court in due course.
The meeting finished around 14.00 and from there I headed up to Manx Radio to do two further interviews, one relating to my good friend Arthur who passed away last week at the age of 96, and one on the Housing Maintenance for Local Authorities.
Finally got back to my desk just after 15.00 and the last couple of hours were spent drafting various emails and clearing my desk before leaving at 17.20.
I took the opportunity to walk into work again on Wednesday, which only took 40 minutes.
After grabbing a shower I was at my desk for 7.30am, in order to draft various questions for the House of Keys on 7th May, along with continuing to work on a particular project.
At 10am I had a meeting with Rumi who has submitted a planning application in respect of a 80-bed Care Home being proposed in Onchan, over which DEFA Minister, Geoffrey Boot, MHK overruled an independent planning inspector.
It does show the power of Facebook, as a good friend Alan had seen the post and scheduled the meeting, which I was extremely grateful for.
It was an excellent meeting which gave me an opportunity to review the plans, but as I said in my original Facebook Post, this is more around how the Minister actually reached his final conclusions, which I felt wasn’t strong enough to override the independent inspector….
With no further meetings scheduled, I took the opportunity to walk home at lunchtime and once home I continued to work on my projects, but I also called into the village to see two Constituents, along with going through my Isle of Man Visit Agency Pack.
In the office early again on Thursday, in order to catch up with any outstanding correspondence, together with a general sort out in the office.
At 9.30am I drove up to Douglas Crematorium for the funeral of a very dear old friend, Arthur Firth who died this month at the age of 96.
I only knew Arthur for period of around 20 years, but he was so supportive when I ran the Douglas Pool & Darts Leagues between 1999 and 2009, not forgetting the “Top Dog” Pool tournaments at Ronaldsway Social Club.
He will be missed greatly by so many people.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend the event after the service as I needed to return to the office and walk over to DfE for the Visit Agency Meeting, which had already started at 10am.
The Isle of Man Visit Agency meeting finished just before 13.00, and it was a bit of rush to get down to the Claremont Hotel to meet up with a good friend.
Back to the office at 14.15 to respond to a few emails ahead of a meeting with the MGP Chairman, which was a general catch up.
The last hour was spent at my desk before leaving for the Easter weekend break at around 17.00.
Good Friday was spent at home both in the garden and painting the inside of the cottage. There’s still a lot of work to do over the next month or so, but I also need to continue working on various projects.
The weather is also set fair for the weekend, so it should include a walk from Douglas to Peel on the old railway line or a section of the Raad ny Foillan coastal walk – hmm, decisions, decisions.
On Saturday morning I have my monthly Political Surgery at the Community Hub in Onchan from 10am to 11.30am.