Apologies for the length of this week’s blog, but there are a lot of topics to be covered – so grab a coffee…..
On Monday the Isle of Man exited its second national lockdown, and although it was only a 25 day “circuit breaker”, it felt so much longer this time around.
The formal press release on Monday confirmed the end of the lockdown, which meant that life on the Island can return to near normal, but we still have to be extremely careful as a community. There is no longer any requirement for social distancing and government is no longer recommending that the public wear face coverings.
Businesses have now re-opened along with the Island’s schools and the majority of public services are returning to normal operations, which is welcome news.
Unfortunately, controls around the Island’s borders remain in place including restrictions on those who can travel to the Isle of Man, as well as the self-isolation and testing regimes, which are aimed at preventing anyone spreading the virus.
That said we do have to start preparing ourselves for when the borders re-open, but a lot will depend on the island’s vaccination programme that continues to gather pace.
We started the week with 6,308 island residents having already received their first vaccination and 1,038 people also receiving their second vaccine jab. By the end of Thursday evening more than 10,000 vaccinations had been delivered on island and this included over 8,000 first vaccinations and over 2,000 second vaccinations.
Just looking back and reflecting on the past three weeks, in my opinion far too many island residents faced a “cliff edge” on this occasion, and I know from my own personal experience when I was made redundant in December 2012, I wasn’t ready, and I definitely didn’t see it coming.
As a result 2013 and 2014 were a financial struggle for Ellen and me, and I guess the recovery from Covid-19 will be long and slow for so many businesses and families, but they will bounce back – it just takes time….
I think the article published last week by the Housing Matters highlights some of the extreme difficulties and challenges that some members of our community are facing at the moment. The housing charity had 540 cases during 2020, around 200 were from people with no fixed abode and 71 of those enquiries were from young adults aged 21 or under. There were also 405 children impacted and the charity had 130 open cases just in December alone, which again is highlighting a serious concern for our island.
The figures for Graih were also alarming, especially when they reported that the Charity provided around 4,300 meals and 524 bed spaces to 70 different individuals in 2020.
I know there is work ongoing around homelessness and poverty, but we have to find the core reason(s) behind this ever increasing situation, because we simply shouldn’t be seeing this level of homelessness and people with no fix abode on a small island with a population of 84,000.
Let’s move onto other topics. Given the poor weather last Saturday I was able to catch up with some work and projects at home over the weekend. Unfortunately, a considerable amount of time was taken up on Saturday and Sunday speaking to the DOI and DfE Ministers, along with drafting various correspondence on the Landlord Registration (Private Housing) Bill 2020, which is still causing me great anguish, especially trying to also represent the view of the tourism sector, which has been included in the draft legislation.
As I have said so many times over the past few months, I do favour the introduction of the Landlord Registration (Private Housing) Bill 2020. The Bill needs to lay the foundations, which can then be strengthened over time if required.
I also looked up the definition of “passion”, at the weekend, which was described as “strong and barely controllable emotion” and I know for me personally that passion has boiled over on occasion due to the weight of pressure that I am experiencing at the moment. As an MHK I am desperately trying to get the right piece of legislation introduced and it has to be balanced because it affects so many people.
Anyway, it was great to get back into the office just before 8am on Monday to get my head down for a busy year ahead. The first hour was spent catching up with a few things before going back into Onchan for a Constituent meeting at 10am. Since 2016 I have dealt with around 620 general enquiries from Constituents and most of them are relatively straightforward, but a couple are still ongoing four years later.
The Constituent meeting on Monday related to a family’s continuing search for some answers relating to a chain of events that happened a few years ago, which also involved a vulnerable individual.
I drafted correspondence on behalf of the family and I wasn’t impressed with the response I received, especially when I was advised that the matter had been investigated and has been closed, and I have to question how and why…
Back to the office at around 11.30 to pick up a couple more Constituent issues, which related to planning applications. At 12.30 we headed up to the Barrool Suite for the 2021 Budget presentation by the Treasury Minister, Alf Cannan, MHK and his colleagues in the Treasury, which lasted a couple of hours.
Unfortunately, I am unable to publish any further details on the actual Budget until it is published formally in Tynwald on Tuesday 16th February. The last few hours were spent in the office continuing to work through the House of Keys order paper.
That work continued on Monday evening until around 20.45. I must also thank the Health Minister, David Ashford, MHK for taking my call late on Monday evening, in order to help answer some questions on behalf of a Constituent.
Back in the office before 8am on Tuesday and I took the opportunity to go through the relatively short Tynwald Order Paper, along with a few other jobs in the office. Just before 10am I headed down to the Tynwald Chambers for an emergency sitting, in order to remove a number of the Covid-19 regulations from the Public Health Act 1990.
The sitting only lasted around 25 minutes and after a short recess it was straight into the House of Keys for this week’s sitting, which started with 24 oral and 6 written questions.
This was followed by the Chairman of the Education Bill Committee, Jason Moorhouse, MHK moving a number of recommendations which includes putting the House of Keys into a Committee of the whole House when the Bill is brought back. We then had the Second reading of the International Co-Operation (Protection from Liability) Bill 2021.
The Climate Change Bill 2020 was the next item on the order paper and it started with long debate around a target date of 2050 or 2035, in order to archive Net Zero Emissions on the island.
My colleague Lawrie Hooper, MHK again gave a strong contribution as to why we should now set a date of 2035. However, if we just step back to January 2020, which was just over a year ago, the Government’s Climate Change Action Plan for Phase 1 together with Professor James Curran’s “Impact” paper setting at target date of 2050 was unanimously supported by ALL Tynwald Members, and that includes by colleagues Lawrie Hooper, MHK and Bill Shimmins, MHK and others.
Since then the Isle of Man, UK, Europe and the rest of the world have faced one of their biggest challenges with the Covid-19 pandemic, which has had a significant financial impact on every single government, along with a financial hardship felt by most businesses and most households, not forgetting the job losses, and the jobs that will be lost in 2021.
It is worth mentioning the 120 job losses announced this week at Lloyds Bank, which is a massive loss of employment for our island – I hope the ex-Llloyds staff can find new jobs as quickly as possible.
I am sure the Treasury Minister will also outline the true financial impact of Covid-19 to the Manx Government in his budget speech later on this month, and for that reason alone we should take a moment to pause.
I don’t think anyone disagrees that the Isle of Man needs to set the course for the “higher ambition pathway” as recommended by Professor Curran, in order to achieve “Net Zero Emissions” by 2050 and a 45% reduction in Net Emissions of CO2eq by 2030.
Some would argue that the Manx Government has been slow to implement the initial parts of the strategy, but let’s not forget what has happened since March 2020. I have seen various social media posts this week by potential House of Keys candidates and political parties criticising current Members for not lowering the target date to 2035.
Unfortunately, none of these posts talk about how we can actually pay for the climate change action plan, especially if we had lowered the date from 2050 to 2035. Even setting the initial date of 2050 the Manx Government will need to invest around £25 million a year, but there will also be a financial impact on many businesses and family budgets. Hand on heart, how many families can afford to insulate their properties with 200mm or even 300mm of loft insulation or replace their old fossil-fuelled boiler, or replace their petrol and diesel cars for electric vehicles etc over the next few years? As an MHK these decisions do not get any easier.
With all of that said, I think we all acknowledge the emergency and the urgency especially seeing these extreme weather patterns over the past 10 years, and there is nothing stopping the next DEFA Minister from October this year seriously pushing the island’s climate agenda during the next administration, in order to ensure that this island can reach its net zero emissions well before the target date of 2050 – Anyway, let’s move on…..
Going through the 37 Clauses, various Schedules, along with the 65 amendments being tabled (less the ones withdrawn) took up most of the day and we eventually finished going through this particular bill at 18.50.
There was also a lot of discussion around “collective responsibility” throughout the debate, which will need to be reviewed and discussed at a later date. What I can say is that collective responsibility does appear to be slightly different in the Council of Ministers compared to a Department, but the aim is still the same. When working in a Department you can certainly influence policy and direction being taken on a particular topic, but the drawback is that you have a collective view when walking into the House of Keys or Tynwald Chambers.
The same rules apply in all Departments including Treasury and the Cabinet Office, but if you still fundamentally disagree with the policy or a decision so strongly, then you have the right to step down as I did in DHSC back in 2017.
Anyway, the sitting continued with the clauses stage of the Sky Lanterns and Balloons (Prohibition) Bill 2020, along with its third reading before the Companies (Amendment) Bill 2020 and the Beneficial Ownership Bill 2020 also received their third reading and the sitting finally finished around 19.15.
Once home I still had a few things to catch up with before finishing at around 21.00.
We also heard the sad announcement on Tuesday that Captain Sir Tom Moore had died at the age of 100 after contracting coronavirus. Sir Tom became a national hero during the Covid-19 pandemic after walking a 100 laps of his garden and managing to raise more than £32 million.
A very early start (6am) on Wednesday morning as I needed to go through the DEFA Policy and Strategy and Department agenda packs, which I was unable to do on Tuesday because of the long sitting in the House of Keys.
I still went into the office for 8am, in order to finish going through the DEFA packs, along with having a meeting with the DfE Minister and CEO relating to the Landlord Registration (Private Housing) Bill 2020. Just before 11am I headed to St. John’s for the two long DEFA meetings.
I had to leave DEFA slightly early at 15.00, in order to get back to the office for a meeting on the Competition Bill 2020 with Bill Shimmins, MHK, Martyn Perkins, MHK, Kate Lord-Brennan, MLC and OFT officers.
A very constructive meeting on another difficult piece of legislation, which finished just after 17.00. I spent a couple of hours catching up with a few things before a Constituent contacted me requesting urgent help.
Not entirely sure how it happened, but a Constituent was discharged from a hospital in Liverpool, flown back to the island, but somehow the arrangements around collecting him and taking him to a hotel for self-isolation had been overlooked, which meant that he was left stranded at Ronaldsway Airport.
A very stressful hour or so, but a massive thank you to the 111 helpline, the Chief Minister, Health Minister and the Chief Secretary for trying to resolve the situation, because it was more complicated than simply just picking the individual up at the airport and taking him home.
I finally finished for around 21.30.
Not much to report on Thursday – with no meetings or briefings I was able to work from home, which I was extremely grateful for, given the amount of heavy rain we had during this week. Most of the day was spent working through the budget pack, which will be an ongoing project over the next couple of weeks.
I also kept an eye on emails etc, but not a difficult day in many ways.
As for Friday, I went into the office just before 8am and the day started with the few Department papers and just after 9.30am I headed into Onchan for a Constituent meeting relating to a planning application, or more importantly a review of that planning process.
The actual meeting lasted over three hours and it is hard to believe that I have been involved in this particular case since March 2017, which has to be my longest ongoing Constituent enquiry over the last four years. I wouldn’t call myself an expert, but my knowledge of planning and planning regulations has improved greatly because of this set of circumstances and from my work on the Area Plan for the East.
Back to the office toward 13.30 and I was meant to head down to Santon to plant a tree in the “People’s Forest”, but had to give my apologies as I needed to respond to an urgent piece of correspondence, along with a few other items of department work.
The rest of the afternoon was spent in the office as I desperately tried to catch up with things. As for the weekend, I am sure most of it will be taken up with the 2021 Budget and attending an event on Sunday morning.