Given the events that have unfolded this week my Blog is lengthy, so grab a coffee and settle down – and if you only ever read one of my Blogs, then please read this one….
As an MHK I have come under pressure and criticism on a number of occasions over the last three years, but I haven’t experienced anything quite like the events that I have witnessed this week from Onchan Constituents, the wider Manx Community and Businesses in respect of the Coronavirus (Covid-19), which continues to spread across Europe and the UK, and now onto the Isle of Man.
By the end of this week the island had two confirmed cases of Coronavirus (Covid-19), amidst real fears of economic collapse in key sectors such as our tourism and hospitality industry, not helped by the cancellation of this year’s TT festival and other key tourism events.
In a world of social media and instant news we are all watching as these events unfold, along with hourly updates on the forecasts on those that could potentially catch or even die from the Coronavirus in the coming weeks and months.
By Friday evening there were more than 250,000 cases of Coronavirus (Covid-19) worldwide and more than 10,500 deaths, and in the UK there were 3,270 cases with 184 deaths so far.
I was also reading an article in Guardian newspaper in which it described the “Coronavirus shutdown of 2020 as the most remarkable interruption to ordinary life in modern history. It has been spoken about as a war and one is reminded of the stories told of the interruption of normality in 1914 and 1939, but unlike a war, the present moment involves demobilisation not mobilisation. While the hospitals are on full alert, the majority of us are confined to quarters”.
The article finishes with the comment “Now even public shopping has become a crime against society”, which relates to the scenes of shoppers panic buying or stockpiling toiletries and food, just in case they are asked to ”self isolate” in the coming weeks and months to follow. Even on the Isle of Man supermarket shelves that are normally filled with toilet paper, pasta, medicine and tinned goods remain empty, and I simply cannot remember an event like this in my lifetime.
It isn’t due to the fact that food and supplies are not coming into the island, but the fact that people are simply queuing outside supermarkets waiting for the stores to open, then emptying shelves as quickly as possible – and it is all being driven unfortunately by fear of the unknown.
Hopefully, things will calm down over the next few weeks, because people don’t need to panic buy, and it is important that we continue to support each other, our community and this island over the next few months.
On Monday the Governor, Sir Richard Gozney exercised powers under section 3 of the Emergency Powers Act 1936 in which the Governor confirmed that a “State of Emergency exists on the Isle of Man” from 16th March 2020 to midnight on 15th April 2020.
I’m not entirely sure when these powers were last used, but I would guess possibly in the 1940’s.
As for last weekend, I am not sure what triggered those events, but I suddenly found myself immersed in hundreds of messages and correspondence, and I spent most of Saturday and Sunday answering those concerns from people across this island.
I know several MHK’s took a lot of criticism on behalf of the Manx Government and Senior Political Members over the weekend around the lack information, in order to address some of those concerns.
I think the general public and local media felt that the Manx Government had simply disappeared at 17.00 on Friday evening, but the actual truth was that a large number of Government staff were in the office throughout the weekend, in order to be able to make those initial key announcements on Monday and Tuesday this week.
It was also the first time that I just wanted to simply turn off my iPad and social media accounts, and to simply ignore the continuing stream of messages that just kept coming….
Upon reflection I am immensely proud that so many people felt that they could reach out to me as an MHK and for me to try and answer some those questions and concerns. I can only offer my sincere apologies if didn’t respond to all the messages received over the weekend.
It certainly didn’t help when one particular Constituent took full advantage of the opportunity once again to stick the boot in. Unfortunately, the reality of this role as MHK is that from time to time you will upset people along the way, even if you have tried your very best to help that Constituent.
Anyway, as an MHK I have kept my head well above the parapet over the past seven days, in order to try and answer those difficult questions being asked by concerned Constituents and the wider Manx community.
The Manx Government also faced a lot of criticism over the last week, especially around the lack of information and updates, but as I mentioned last week, this is a unique set of circumstances, which is changing by the day, if not by the hour.
In the UK this week they have already announced that the over 70’s will be told within weeks to stay at home for an extended period of time, in order to shield them from the Coronavirus.
As an island we have to get through the Coronavirus over the next few weeks and months, and as a Member of the House of Keys I have to remain positive and to try and feed information back to Constituents as quickly as possible.
More on the Coronavirus shortly but again I enclose the link to obtain the latest information and updates:
Let’s move on for a moment – in addition to all the social media posts around the Coronavirus, I also headed down to the Villa Marina on Saturday morning to watch some of the Isle of Man Darts Festival that was taking place over the weekend.
With all the silly political games going on behind the scenes between the PDC, BDO and WDF over the past 12 months, I have been very much involved in this particular event to ensure the Isle of Man Darts Open doesn’t become a casualty of its politics.
Despite all the distractions behind the scenes the actual number of players and supporters attending the Isle of Man event is almost on par with previous years. At 11am Mike Doherty, the DfE Events Manager and I had a meeting with the England Darts and the World Darts Federation, in order to obtain an update on the current situation with the BDO set up.
We also took the opportunity to look ahead at the 2021 event and what points system should be applied, because most of the top players will be chasing the money, but also the valuable ranking points being offered. It was an excellent meeting, which should ensure that the Isle of Man Darts Open continues for years to come.
Once home I still needed to work on the Area Plan for the East for a couple of hours. On Saturday afternoon Ellen and I were planning to attend an event in Onchan, but when we turned up at the venue the doors were locked. With so much talk of Coronavirus I thought the event had been cancelled, but when I got home I realised that I was at the wrong venue, which was more than a little embarrassing on my part.
We were also planning to attend an event on Saturday evening, but that was cancelled due to the weather. I was also hoping to attend the IOM Darts Festival on Sunday afternoon, but again with so many questions and correspondence being received in respect of the Coronavirus I had to give my apologies, in order to spend the time researching the topic in some detail.
I was in the office on Monday for normal time, but with no meetings or briefings scheduled, I was able to turn my attention to the Tynwald sitting on Tuesday.
However, a lot of the day was taken up with discussions with colleagues on the Coronavirus, because as backbench MHK’s we were just not getting the information, which was making it extremely difficult at times, especially when Constituents were contacting us for an update.
Our own schedules and calendars are changing by the hour as Coronavirus and individual industries become the main priority for the foreseeable future.
At 12 noon I was invited into an urgent meeting with the DfE Motorsport in which everyone was informed that this year’s TT would be cancelled, which is a massive announcement that will seriously affect our tourism season this year.
Most of the afternoon was spent in the office preparing for the Tynwald sitting, but at 16.30 there was an urgent Tynwald briefing by the Chief Minister, Howard Quayle, MHK and the Treasury Minister, Alf Cannan on the Coronavirus.
Given the urgency and importance, I am surprised that a number of Tynwald members were absent from that briefing – I only wish I could name and shame them…. At 17.00 the Chief Minister, Treasury Minister, Health Minister and DfE Minister gave a live broadcast on the measures to be taken by the Government to manage the Coronavirus.
I can’t remember the last time a Chief Minister gave a live address to the people of this island, maybe someone can remind me because I can’t remember it in my lifetime. This also included the formal announcement that this year’s TT festival had been cancelled, which sent shockwaves through the island’s tourism sector.
Once home I continued to respond to a considerable amount of messages and emails until around 22.00, along with trying to finish off any Tynwald work, but definitely it has taken a back seat this month.
Up and working from 5.30am on Tuesday, in order to respond to a full in-box of correspondence, but I still went into the office before 8am and it is the first time that I wasn’t ready for the sitting.
At 9.30am I headed into the Legislative Council Chamber to witness the swearing in of the four new Legislative Council Members, which brought back happy memories of my own swearing in back in 2016.
This month’s Tynwald sitting got underway at 10.30am with key statements from the Chief Minister, Treasury Minister and the Health Minister in respect of the Coronavirus, which included various questions being tabled by Tynwald Members.
This month’s Question Paper had 17 oral questions and 29 written questions.
At lunchtime there was a further presentation from the Health Minister, David Ashford on the Coronavirus, but I also need to return a number of calls from Constituents.
Back to the Tynwald Chamber at 14.30 to continue with this month’s Tynwald sitting, as we finished off the Question Paper before going through the Supplementary Order Papers containing the emergency motions relating to the Coronavirus.
This month’s sitting was completely finished for 16.30, but I still needed to catch up with things before leaving at 17.30. Once home I still had correspondence to catch up with, along with various messages coming through by the minute.
I finally finished for around 21.00.
I took my first call just after 7.30am on Wednesday and I think by the end of the day I had taken or returned more than 35 telephone calls during the days, along with countless correspondence as I desperately tried to answer questions and concerns around the Coronavirus and the Government’s latest position on certain points.
It didn’t help that the information that the Government put on the website last week had disappeared, which created more confusion and distress.
At 10am the DfE Minister, Treasury Minister and myself as the Political Member responsible for Tourism and Motorsport, along with DfE Officers and Treasury Officials attended a tourism industry meeting at the Palace Hotel.
A big thank you to the Chamber of Commence for scheduling the meeting and for the invitation, but more importantly a massive thank you to the 140-plus members that attended the meeting.
After the opening remarks from the Chairman, we heard from nine key sector individuals, including from tour operators, transport, hotels, guest houses, self-catering accommodation, events, attractions and eateries.
The contributions were heartfelt and passionate, and it is extremely hard to imagine how the island’s tourism sector has changed in just a few days.
A few of the points made during those presentations included “we need an end date”, “worst day of trading ever”, “71 group bookings lost in a single day”, “warning of major job losses”, “confusing messages coming out of government” and “we don’t seek profit but survival”.
I couldn’t help but be affected by what I heard, especially when most of the contributors said they were looking forward to a fantastic few months, higher than normal bookings – but all gone within the last few days. I have to thank everyone for being so professional, but making the panel aware of what was unfolding within the Isle of Man tourism sector at the moment.
A very powerful meeting and as the political member responsible for tourism, I am certainly under no illusion of the difficult task that we face in the coming weeks and months, and this is even before we look towards the recovery plan for the industry.
The next few hours were spent at my desk just responding to hundreds of messages and correspondence before I headed over to DfE for the economic policy meeting at 16.00.
It was a joint meeting between the DfE political members and the Treasury political members, which included the Ministers and Chief Executives.
The topic for debate was around industry sectors and unfortunately I can’t give further details on those policy discussions at this stage, but I am sure that information will be made public next week by either the Treasury Minister or the DfE Minister.
I know there are a lot of comments and criticism around the speed of the Government’s response this week to the Coronavirus and over the interim measures that were introduced on Tuesday.
What I have witnessed this week is a Chief Minister, Treasury Minister, Health Minister and DfE Minister under extreme pressure working long hours trying to deal with a situation that is fast moving, and best described as both a health crisis and an economic crisis.
All of this is supported by an army of Government officers and officials who are working long hours drafting the emergency measures that the Treasury Minister will announce on Monday lunchtime.
I wish I could articulate in greater detail the urgency of that work being undertaken this week by so many people, in order to implement policies that will protect businesses and minimise job losses during an extremely difficult period in the island’s history.
That meeting on Wednesday finished at 17.45, which meant it was a bit of a race to get home, changed and to head down to the Villa Marina for this year’s Junior Achievement awards at 18.30.
An excellent night and a welcome distraction to everything else going on in the background at the moment. I managed to get home before 22.00, but I still needed to do a few jobs before finally finishing at 23.15 after a very difficult day.
Congratulations to “Solace” from the Castle Rushen High School who were crowned Junior Achievement Student Company of the Year.
Solace created and produce a Wi-Fi device that benefits all businesses that rely on footfall.
I was wide awake at 5am on Thursday morning with my mind still racing, so I took the opportunity to draft various correspondence before getting into the office before 8am.
Most of the morning was spent drafting letters to send out to some of the older residents in Onchan, in order to give them the latest information on Coronavirus.
Mid morning I headed into town for nothing else than just getting a few minutes of fresh air and to buy some envelopes, which then turned into a very enjoyable political surgery in the middle of the stationery shop.
I also managed to take Ellen out for lunch at the Prospect Pub, but I then received a message from my colleague Bill Shimmins, MHK calling an urgent meeting within 15 minutes.
As I said previously, our own schedules and appointments are on hold at the moment, so I left poor Ellen finishing off her meal as I headed straight back to the office.
For the next three hours or so the political members in Treasury and DfE (excluding Ministers and Officers) locked themselves in a Committee room to look at the economic impact of the Coronavirus.
It was a brilliant session within a small group environment and I think by the end of that session we had produced around 15 to 20 flipchart sheets of thoughts and ideas around certain policies, which we could take forward.
A massive thank you to my colleague Bill Shimmins, MHK for leading the meeting, which was extremely helpful before a larger group meeting scheduled on Friday morning.
I continued to work on a few things at home until around 20.00.
On Friday morning, the Isle of Man woke up to the news that the island had its first case of Coronavirus, which wasn’t from a visitor but from a local resident returning from holiday in Spain.
A new emergency phone line also opened on Friday to deal purely with Coronavirus (Covid-19) and the number is 111.
I was in the office around 7.30am, which gave me an opportunity to draft this week’s Blog because my time had been so restricted this week.
Just before 10am I headed down to the Palace Hotel for the wider discussion on the economic impact from the Coronavirus, which included various officers from the DfE and Treasury teams, along with both Department Ministers.
It was a fantastic session and after four hours it was surprising how close the work undertaken by the political members on Thursday matched up with the thoughts of the officers, along with the Ministers and CEOs of the two Departments.
Government officers now have the difficult task of translating all of those thoughts, ideas and proposals over the weekend, in order to produce the policies that can be rolled out very quickly next week, in order to give that lifeline and protection that businesses and residents will need in the coming weeks.
I guess the public test will come next week when the announcements are made by the Treasury Minister, Alf Cannan, MHK on Monday, but personally I feel immensely proud to be part of that process on behalf of the people of this island.
I left the Palace Hotel just after 14.00, I did a little bit of shopping before heading home.
With no access to my phone at the Palace Hotel, I spent the final hour or so on Friday returning a large number calls.
I also managed to watch the Chief Minister’s latest media briefing, which had over 2,100 people tuning in.
It was also announced that a second case of Coronavirus had been identified, which will raise further concerns across our Community.
As for the weekend, I will still be holding my Political Surgery on Saturday morning at the Onchan Community Hub, although I guess it will be the last one I hold for a few months. I think it is also very important that I hold that surgery as scheduled, just in case anyone has concerns or questions that they need to be answered.
I am also on standby over the weekend just in case the Treasury Minister or DfE Minister calls an urgent meeting.
If you are reading this Blog for the first time, thank you….
Over the past three years I have given a unique and honest insight into my job as a Member of the House Keys, but it will also give me an opportunity to look back in years to come at these dramatic events that will be unfolding in the weeks and months to follow.