On Tuesday morning the Treasury Minister, Alf Cannan, MHK delivered his final Budget of this administration, which was entitled a “Budget of Resilience”.
Having spent a considerable amount of time over the past couple of weeks going through the contents of the budget, it is fair to say that the Isle of Man 2021 Budget doesn’t pack any punches or even deliver any of the usual box of election goodies every five years, which are then normally taken back just after a House of Keys General Election.
Instead the Treasury Minister outlined the £200 million cost to the Manx Government as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic, which was so desperately needed to protect jobs, stabilise the economy and lay the groundwork for a solid economic recovery – and rightfully so…..
Since March 2020 more than 3,200 businesses and self-employed individuals received support totalling £14 million, and more than 350 travel and tourism providers received around £11.5 million support.
At the peak of the first lockdown around 14,688 island residents were directly supported, so it really has been an incredible year for this island.
All of that has come at a cost, and for that reason the Government revenue forecast for 2020/21 is a probable deficit of around £74 million. This is simply down to increased expenditure and less income being received during the lockdown period, which is the same being experienced by so many businesses across the island at the moment.
Under this administration personal tax allowances have increased by around £3,750 over the past four years, which has put around £550 (less tax) for an individual or £1,100 (less tax) back into people’s pocket, but there were no tax rises announced this year, which is understandable given everything we have just gone through.
Over the years I have also mentioned that I am totally opposed to “stealth taxes” or “hidden costs”, and I am grateful that the budget (appendix 9) once again gives full details of any fees and charges being implemented by Departments. This gives the general public full details on how much things will increase during the next financial year.
Unfortunately, the next Treasury Minister will have some very difficult decisions to make during the next administration, especially with the public sector pension reserve account that runs out in 2022/23.
This will mean that the Manx Government will need to find an additional £24 million in 2022/23, but that figure will increase to £46 million in 2024/25, and that will be in addition to the £46 million already being paid by Government Departments as the employer together with the £33 million collected from public sector employees.
They will also have to oversee the review of the National Insurance Fund, which will be a massive piece of work, and not forgetting to top up the reserves for another rainy day in the future. There is also growing pressure around the island’s zero ten status, which is coming under close scrutiny from both the OECD and the EU.
We will also need to find around £25 million per annum, in order to meet our climate change objectives by no later than 2050.
It is going to be a difficult couple of years I feel, anyway more on the budget in a moment…
The weather last Saturday was very unpredictable, because in the morning it was bitterly cold but dry, However, towards lunchtime the island found itself covered in a blanket of snow, which was forecast in advance.
Fortunately rain was also forecast so most of the snow had disappeared by Sunday morning. As for Saturday most of the day was spent in the house continuing to go through the Tynwald Order Paper and Supplementary Papers.
On Saturday evening Ellen and I were invited to the Palace Hotel for the Southern 100 Annual Dinner, which is always an excellent event. Despite the horrible weather the actual driving conditions from the house were fine, but the event was cut slightly short at 23.00 due to the promenade having to be closed to traffic because of the high tides and coastal overtopping.
A big thank you to the Southern 100 Club for a wonderful evening and let’s hope that we get some racing before too long.
Back in the office on Monday for the usual time, and with only one meeting in the calendar I was able to spend most of the day in the office going through the Tynwald Order Papers and catching up with some department work.
On Monday afternoon there was a DOI policy and strategy meeting on vehicle duty, which is never going to be an easy topic of discussion when looking to set fee increases etc.
I managed to leave the office towards 17.30 and once home I caught up with a couple of things, but I was able to take most of the evening off.
On Tuesday I went into the office before 8am to get ready for this month’s Tynwald sitting. Ahead of the sitting I was able to get through a number of department papers and a couple of constituent issues. I was also put together various notes for the budget, just in case it was needed.
At 10.30am this month’s Tynwald sitting started with the Treasury Minister’s budget speech, and the Minister was on his feet for around 40 minutes. I think I have already outlined most of the key points in this year’s budget, but a full copy of his speech has been posted on my social media platforms.
The actual budget debate continued until around 16.15 and it was fully supported by all Tynwald Members other than the Speaker, Juan Watterson, SHK who still feels that the budget process is anti-democratic, because there isn’t sufficient time to review the information.
We then moved onto the main Order Paper, and item 3 was a recommendation from the Tynwald Management Committee to include Hector Duff, OBE onto the Patriots Roll of Honour, which was fully endorsed by Tynwald.
I have often looked at the TV screen by the Tynwald Library that provides the names and biographies of those on the Patriots Roll of Honour, it will be nice to see Hector’s name added to the list in the near future.
Before and after the tea break there was a very thought provoking report from a Select Committee of Tynwald relating to “Whistleblowing”. As the Committee report outlined, Whistleblowing is the broad term used to describe what employees do if they report concerns at work, most commonly those about issues which do not affect them personally, this is legally described as making a protected disclosure. Where an employee makes such a disclosure they are protected from suffering any detriment in their workplace by provisions in the Employment Act 2006.
The Committee’s recommendations subject to a few amendments were all accepted, which should now help protect workers in order to ensure genuine concerns can be heard without fear in the future.
The sitting finished just before 20.00 and once home I needed to send various correspondence before finishing at 21.30.
Back in the office just 8am on Wednesday for day two of this month’s Tynwald sitting, and the first job was to go through the Question Paper again, along with writing a few supplementary questions.
Back into the Chamber to continue this month’s Tynwald sitting that started with 23 oral questions and 28 written questions, which took the sitting up to the lunchtime, and it is fair to say that a few sharp words were exchanged between the Tynwald Members during the question session once again.
At lunchtime I had to do a quick Manx Radio interview on the maintenance of Laxey Wheel, which was brought up during the budget debate. I still managed to return a couple of calls before getting back to the Chamber at 14.30.
We continued to work through this month’s sitting, and items of discussion included attendance allowance in relation to the Go Gold Pass, Pubic Registers of Conflicts of Interest, Telecommunications, Gas Regulation and Digital Strategy before this month’s sitting came to a conclusion just before 17.30.
My colleague Chris Thomas MHK tabled a further motion on Manx Gas calling for the Manx Government to introduce regulation to cover the public supply of gas, and for a rebalanced pricing of gas for all – a point that I couldn’t disagree with.
One member said that Tynwald colleagues were being unfair in their criticism towards Chris Thomas, MHK as the previous Policy and Reform Minister, especially when the current Policy and Reform Minister, Ray Harmer, MHK has been unable to get both sides to reach a satisfactory agreement on the description of the Domestic Assets and original value of the Base Operating Costs.
That might be a valid argument, but Chris Thomas, MHK and the Council of Ministers had had over four years to give notice and to put in place a new Regulatory Agreement on behalf of Manx Gas customers.
Personally, as an MHK I don’t care who is to blame, but it does appear that Manx Gas are digging their heels in, so in the end Tynwald voted to rebalance gas prices for customers and to impose regulation by the end of April 2021 if an agreement cannot be reached.
In my Tynwald speech I also asked for any rebate due to Manx Gas customers to be backdated to 1st January 2020. Hopefully, those comments are taken on board, but that will depend on if we get a voluntary agreement or enforced regulation.
I am not 100% sure, but I guess Manx Gas customers are still paying towards a 9.9% ROCE relating to the 2015 Regulatory Agreement instead of the 6.99% WACC that was placed on the table last year.
However, if Tynwald ends up introducing enforced regulation around the supply of gas on the island, then I guess any rebate being offered will be withdrawn. If that happens, then the Government should consider reducing the WACC level even further, in order to give the rebate back in an alternative way.
In a further twist Manx Gas issued a statement on Friday evening saying that they have tried to engage with the Cabinet Office 29 times since Tynwald gave its support to a new regulatory deal last November, which definitely needs further investigation.
On a personal level, all the work I have done on behalf of Manx Gas customers since 2015 is well documented, and therefore it is disappointing when some Manx Gas customers are posting comments that I am ignoring their plight, which is simply not true – unfortunately, I am just not in the right position to bang some heads together to get this resolved on behalf of customers…
Anyway, this month’s Tynwald sitting finished just before 17.30.
As for Thursday most of my meetings were cancelled for various reasons, so I was able to stay at home and take a couple of hours off to get a few jobs done around the house. The rest of the day was spent going through the House of Keys Order Paper, which included reading the Statue Law Revision Bill 2020.
I also had to spend time going through the Competition Bill 2020 that has several amendments, in order to prepare for next week’s House of Keys sitting, and I managed to work on a couple of projects ahead of some key announcements I will be making in May.
Late on Thursday afternoon details emerged that seven new cases of Covid-19 had been identified on the island, which again created more fear, uncertainty and questions as to whether the Isle of Man was heading towards a third “lockdown” period.
For me personally, I certainly hope not.
On Friday again a number of key meetings were cancelled, and these included the DfE workshop and a Tynwald Members briefing on the Landlord Registration Bill, which will not be going before the Keys next week.
I still went into the office for normal time, and at 9am I dialled into a DEFA meeting, which related to the Competition Bill. I also had several department papers to get through and a couple of Constituent issues.
At lunchtime a good friend called in to discuss procurement process on the island etc, which is a topic still being reviewed by the Public Accounts Committee, and it also gave us an opportunity to catch up with a few other things.
As for the rest of Friday, it was spent in the office catching up with a few things, along with reviewing two difficult planning applications, which took a couple of hours to get through, along with drafting follow-up correspondence .
On Friday evening the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases on the island stood at 15 after 5 new cases were identified within a 24 hour period, and this included three children.
As for the weekend, I have my political surgery on Saturday morning from 10am to 11.30am at the Community Hub and I am also appearing on Paul Moulton’s TV programme from 14.15 in the afternoon. Hopefully, on Sunday we will be able to go out for a walk or at least get some work done in the garden.