Blog 7 Feb 19I saw a comment online this week asking why MHK’s ask silly questions in the House of Keys and Tynwald or ask questions that appear to be very minor on the surface, especially when the Isle of Man has so many big issues that need addressing such as the Public Sector Pensions, Post Office and Utilities etc.

Most questions have a genuine reason behind them, maybe because a Constituent has asked their MHK to table the question or the MHK / MLC in question is looking to raise the public profile of a particular topic or to simply score a few political points along the way – we all do it…..

More importantly it is how those questions are followed up and thereafter result in some form of change in policy or to improve the overall service.

With regards to the bigger topics such as Public Sector Pensions, these are massive topics that have been ignored by far too many Manx Governments and our elected representatives.

Unfortunately, even trying to finding a satisfactory solution will be hard and unpalatable for the general public to accept, because it will have a major financial burden for at least one Manx generation, who will have to fund these payments in the future.

Unfortunately, someone born today could be retired before the situation is fully resolved, which is unforgivable and a shame on the previous administrations.

Chris Thomas, MHK in the Cabinet continues to lead the way in trying to a satisfactory solution for all stakeholders involved, which I think must be like hitting yourself in the face continually with a bunch of Manx nettles…..

Public Sector Pensions are definitely like Pass the Parcel and you certainly don’t want be the Minister or the Department left holding the parcel when the music stops – unfortunately, the music stopped on this item a long time ago…..

Anyway back to this week’s activities, it was a very early start for me last Friday as the alarm went off at 5am.

The temperatures in the Isle of Man had fallen over the past week, but nothing compared to the big freeze hitting America at the moment, which has seen temperatures fall to around -37C in some places – no wonder it is being called “the Beast from the East”.

I think the temperature on the Isle of Man last Friday was around zero, but the roads and infrastructure were ok, unlike the previous week.

After getting a quick shower and changed I arrived at Ronaldsway airport for 6am, at which time I met up with Ranald Caldwell, Chairman of the Visit Isle of Man Agency.

Our flight to London City was only delayed by only a few minutes and from there Ranald did an excellent job to guide us though the London train system, in order to arrive in Hammersmith for around 10.40am.

We only got on the wrong train once, but it didn’t cause too much of a delay.

The actual weather in London, despite being cold with a bit of sleet and snow, was still manageable on foot.

After checking into the hotel (Novotel, Hammersmith), we headed straight to Olympia, London which was hosting the 2019 Holiday & Travel Show that ran from 31st January to 3rd February 2019.

The actual DfE tourism team of Yvette, Hannah, Julie, Natasha arrived on Wednesday to help set things up, along with Jo Overty from the UNESCO Biosphere Isle of Man who arrived on Thursday evening.

Ranald and I arrived at the show for around 11.15am on Friday, and I spent the next four hours at the show speaking to exhibitors and tour operators and looking around the show. I also spent some time on the Isle of Man stand talking to various people visiting the show, but I had to be careful not to overstep the mark in my involvement.

I guess my role as the Political Member was to simply observe, looking at the overall facilities and seeing whether we are getting value for money and what things could potentially change ahead of the 2020 event.

I left the show at 15.15 on Friday, in order to walk back to the hotel to catch up with emails, return a few calls and to start going though the House of Keys Order Paper before finishing around 17.45.

Maybe it was the weather or the fact it was a weekday, but I was surprised by the demographics of the people visiting the show on Friday at the Olympia, and even more surprised to discover that people were paying £15 to enter….

The Olympia building its self looked dated. In fact it celebrated 125 years of events back in 2012, so it certainly isn’t a modern building.

In the evening the team went to Nando’s, which was a first time experience for me…….

Up, dressed and down for breakfast by 8.40am on Saturday morning before walking over to the show.

Just to give an insight into the schedule of the DfE tourism team throughout the event, they arrive at the show at around 9am each day to prepare before the doors open at 10am and the show doesn’t close until after 17.00.

I arrived at the show at 10am on Saturday and the hall was already very busy including the Isle of Man stand, and the demographics of the visitors on Saturday had certainly changed from those visiting on Friday, which was welcome news.

I went straight onto the Isle of Man stand and the whole team were very busy answering questions and promoting the Isle of Man as a tourism destination – it didn’t really calm down until after 13.15.

I have to say that the tourism team did an amazing job, very knowledgeable and passionate to promote our beautiful island, and it is fair to say that they were fantastic ambassadors for Isle of Man tourism and for the Visit Isle of Man Agency.

I genuinely enjoyed just speaking to so many different people, especially those who have the Isle of Man on their “bucket list”.

It is also surprising how passionate you get when you outline many of the qualities for visiting the Isle of Man, and the big topics of discussion included our Heritage Railways, Links to the Island and the TT fortnight.

In the afternoon, Ranald and I took the train to Shepherd’s Bush, which is just a couple of stops from the Olympia, in order to grab some lunch.

We then headed back to the Olympia mid afternoon before I left the team and walked back to the hotel to catch up with correspondence and continue to work though the House of Keys Order Paper.

I spent the early part of Sunday working at the hotel going through the Budget Pack before Jo, Ranald and I left the hotel at 12 noon, in order to travel back along the 17 stops to reach London City Airport.

I hope Jo doesn’t mind me sharing this, but there was a very funny moment when we arrived back at London City Airport. Ranald and I managed to get off the train but poor Jo was left stranded on the train, and Ranald and I as the ‘perfect gentlemen’ simply waved her good-bye as she disappeared down the track……

Fortunately for Jo she managed to jump straight onto the next train back to London City Airport from the next stop down the track – but still one of the funniest moments from this trip.

We arrived home for 16.40 and there was a lovely roast chicken dinner waiting me at home….

I was back in the office for 8.15am on Monday and straight into preparing for and attending a Tynwald Select Committee meeting relating to Accommodation for Vulnerable Young Adults on the island, which started at 9.15am.

It was a relatively short meeting and I was back at my desk for around 10.30am.

My 11am meeting with a constituent was cancelled, which gave me time to catch up with a few things in the office. I also had a chat with an MLC colleague relating to the Tynwald Select Committee, which we both sit on.

At 12.30 I met up with an old work colleague who is unfortunately facing redundancy in a few weeks, so we had plenty to catch up with.

At 13.45 I left the office to attend a meeting, in order to help resolve a disagreement which has spilled onto social media recently. A little out of my remit as an MHK, but I was happy to help wherever possible.

Unfortunately, I cannot give any further details because it will almost certainly bring the particular incident and those individuals involved back into the spotlight.

Anyway, I left the meeting at 15.15 and from there I was asked to call in to see two Sub Post Office Managers relating to concerns around the loss of a particular service, which could have a serious financial effect on Post Offices going into an already difficult trading year.

I got back to the office for 16.15, which gave me time to catch up with a few things.

I left the office at 17.10 and once home I still needed to catch up with various things, including the drafting of several more emails relating to Constituent issues.

Finally finished at 21.00.

Back in the office 8.10am on Tuesday and I took the opportunity to start going through the Manx National Heritage Trust Agenda Pack ahead of Thursday’s meeting.

Just before 10am we headed down to the House of Keys for this week’s sitting, which started with 11 oral questions and 14 written questions.

One particular question certainly raised various supplementary questions regarding the reduction of Civil Service entry requirements, and a couple of MHK’s felt it would affect the overall quality of workers within the Manx Government.

I certainly didn’t leave school with 5 GCSE’s, but since leaving school I have gone back to college, etc and I am proud that my education is now at a degree level, although I don’t actually hold a degree.

This was followed by the Second reading of the Highways (Amendment) Bill 2019, along with the consideration of Clauses in relation to the Dormant Assets Bill 2018.

The sitting finished at around 11.30am, which gave me some time to complete a few things in the office.

At 13.00 there was a CPD session on “Autism Awareness” for Tynwald Members.

We have had excellent presentations over the past six months, and this one certainly didn’t disappoint as Carole Williams, a specialist teacher for Autistic Spectrum Condition gave a wonderful presentation.

The briefing finished at around 14.30 and after catching up with a few things in the office I popped home for an hour.

Back to the office briefly to print off various reports relating to previous Budgets etc.

Tuesday evening was spent painting, drafting some correspondence and returning a couple of calls before finishing at 21.00.

Back into the office on Wednesday for 8.10am and it was a day for getting through the mountain of paperwork and reports etc.

I definitely got out of the wrong side of the bed on Wednesday, as I started the day feeling grumpy after seeing a rude notice placed in the kitchen used by MHK’s……

Enough said on that for the moment, but my day gradually got worse.

The first hour or so was spent reading a report being published by the Public Accounts Committee in respect of the overspend at Noble’s Hospital (2nd Report), along with going through the Consultation documents for Industrial Hemp and Medical Cannabis.

I also needed go through various planning documents and reports relating to an ongoing planning issue ahead of a meeting with DEFA later on in the afternoon, in order to ensure that I was fully prepared.

At 10am a Director from a local Manx Company called in for some general advice, and we included a quick tour of the Tynwald Chambers.

I also introduced him to my colleague Daphne Caine, MHK as it was more her area of political responsibility, and I am extremely grateful for Daphne’s input and support.

From there I drove straight into Onchan at 11.20am for a Constituent meeting, which I managed to squeeze in between briefings, given the urgency.

As an MHK you do hear things that genuinely make your blood boil at times, especially around medical care and treatment of patients at a time when Constituents are already felling vulnerable and worried about travelling back and forth from the UK for treatment.

It was only a quick meeting but I will need to follow up various points with the DHSC relating to Patient Transfers in the UK etc.

Straight back to the office up to the Barrool Suite for the launch of a public consultation on Medical Cannabis and Industrial Hemp, which started at 12 noon.

I left the press conference at around 13.00 as I needed to get on with various things, including going through some Minutes and a Motorsport Decision Paper.

I then had to drive back into Onchan for a Constituent meeting relating to a housing application.

The meeting finished around 15.20, at which point I was in two minds whether to head back to the office for 10 minutes or drive straight down to St John’s ahead of a planning meeting at 16.00 with the DEFA Minister, Geoffrey Boot, MHK, DEFA CEO, Head of Planning and Tim Baker, MHK.

In the end I drove straight down to St John’s and arrived for 15.40, which was fine as it gave me time to go though my notes once again.

Over the past 18 months I have continually tried to convince the Minister of the Department, the Planning team and the DHSC to give clarity on two particular points relating to planning regulations and the interpretation of planning guidelines from a legal point of view, in order to bring closure on a particular planning dispute for everyone involved, and I do mean everyone involved.

Unfortunately, the DEFA Minister in my opinion has given my concerns very little credibility, despite the clear evidence presented over the last 18 months, and the final straw in my eyes was the Minister making me wait an extra 10 minutes before inviting me into the meeting at 16.10, which was already underway in my absence between the Minister, CEO, Head of Planning and Tim Baker, MHK.

I really felt it was disrespectful and unacceptable to keep a fellow House of Keys Member waiting unnecessarily, especially when the previous meeting was on the very same topic for discussion.

Let’s just say that words were exchanged between the Minister and me at the start of the meeting …..

It wasn’t my finest moment I have to agree, but after 18 months of sending correspondence, which was being ignored by the Planning Department and a Minister who clearly failed to understand the points being made, enough was enough….

Once we got down to the actual business in hand, I felt I had finally got the attention of the Minister, the CEO and the Planning head, and by the time I left the meeting I felt we had really made some inroads into the issue.

By 17.05 I was glad to head home after a difficult day in the office.

On Wednesday evening I needed to do various bits of research on behalf of a Constituent, which was a follow-up to my meeting in the morning. I was looking for accommodation and train links from Birmingham to Oxford ahead of a potential hospital appointment.

I finally finished for 20.30.

Thursday was a busy day, I was in the office for 8.15am and started going through various Budget documents, along with other Tynwald Papers.

I also had a long conversation with Patient Transfer in order to establish some facts and information on what level service the Isle of Man actually provides on behalf of patients.

I definitely have that feeling that there just aren’t enough hours in the day at the moment.

At 10am I walked over to DfE for a tourism briefing with the Head of Tourism, which was a general catch up but we needed to discuss several ongoing concerns.

I was also able to provide some feedback from my trip to the Olympia last weekend.

The meeting lasted over an hour and from there it was straight to the car park and up to Onchan for a meeting with a local business, which was another general catch up over a cup of tea at the Nutty Chef Cafe.

Back in the office for 12 noon to respond to several correspondence items.

I also needed to read a paper received from the Southern 100 Club ahead of a meeting which started at 13.00 between the Minister and Club members.

The meeting lasted around an hour and from there I drove back into Onchan to meet up with Constituents, in order to give them an update from my DEFA planning meeting held on Wednesday.

Back to the i-Museum for 15.00 for this month’s Manx Museum and National Trust board meeting, which didn’t actually finish until 18.40.

This meant I was running seriously late and had no time to go home at all before the usual group of backbench MHK’s met up for our quarterly dinner date…….

The Ballacregga Corn Mill, Laxey was the venue and I arrived just after 19.00. It is fair to say it was a another great evening – good company and great food.

I later dropped off two colleagues in the north of the island, so I didn’t actually get home until 23.00. I just needed to send two quick emails before finishing at 23.40.

Full details of Friday’s activities and what I am up to over the weekend will be outlined in next week’s Blog….