Blog 27 Jan 19It has definitely been a strange week with a few meetings and briefings cancelled at the last minute, but I have involved myself in a number of Constituent matters this week that required very detailed correspondence to be drafted.

A massive thank you to David Ashford, MHK and Malcolm Couch at the DHSC, along with Nick Black at DOI for helping to address some of those concerns very quickly this week on behalf of Constituents.

I often say that you never get two days the same in this role…

As for this week’s activities, I held my first Political Surgery of 2019 last Saturday at the Onchan Community Hub. The first 30 minutes were very quiet, but then suddenly a number of Constituents called in pretty much at the same time.

When this happens, I do feel that the Community Hub isn’t ideal for Constituent Surgeries. Although, the room is beautifully refurbished and offers excellent coffee facilities, it is only a single room so I do have to use the corridor on occasion when some of the detail given is in confidence.

The Surgery on Saturday didn’t finish until around 12.15 and there were some very interesting discussions, including the Eastern Area Plan, Japanese Knotweed, better support for Students, Towed Caravans and Street Lights in Onchan etc.

Once again a massive thank you to everyone who called in for a general catch up or to discuss a particular issue.

Other than drafting a few emails and starting to go through the Public Accounts Committee agenda pack, I was able to take the rest of Saturday and Sunday off.

Although I had no meetings or briefings scheduled for Monday, I still went into the office for 8.15am as I wanted to catch up with a few things.

I went straight into correspondence, drafting various emails on behalf of Constituents, which was a follow up from my Onchan Constituency surgery on Saturday. I also needed to put together an information pack relating to the Eastern Area Plan and one particular site, which is located on the boundary of Douglas and Onchan.

I then had two long discussions on the phone with Constituents – one relating to an ongoing planning application, and more importantly the manner in which their objections and concerns have been handled by the Planning Department and the Senior Management within DEFA.

Planning applications, and planning decisions to be more precise, remain one of the hardest elements of this role as an MHK.

There is always a winner, a loser and an MHK in the middle trying to build bridges, obtaining answers and trying to hold officers to account for their decisions that are normally based around their professional opinion, which can change based around a number of factors – talk about “50 Shades of Grey”…..

I certainly don’t object when Constituents offload their concerns, anger and frustration onto me as their MHK, and on occasion I genuinely wish I could demonstrate better to Constituents the level at which I push their enquiries through the Department and Officers, in order to bring an element of closure wherever possible.

It is also vitally important that as MHK’s we are not seen to be taking sides, especially on individual planning applications. However, if a Constituent raises a valid question or concern relating to a particular planning application or how a particular decision has been made, then they are certainly entitled to have those concerns answered.

It is normally at that stage when an MHK gets involved, in order to help raise those questions or concerns and to obtain satisfactory answers on behalf of Constituents.

Lawrie Hooper, MHK along with a few other MHK’s have raised various concerns around planning enforcement, the timescale for responding to correspondence and taking appropriate action when necessary.

Anyway, with no further urgent work in the office, I took the opportunity to walk home at 12.15, which took around 50 minutes.

Once home I still needed to draft a couple of detailed emails on behalf of Constituents along with continuing to go through the Public Accounts Committee agenda papers ahead of Wednesday’s meeting.

I finally finished at around 16.30.

However, I did take the opportunity in the evening to read through the latest newsletter published by the UNESCO Biosphere Isle of Man team.

At times we are so focused on the day to day stuff that we actually forget how beautiful the island is and what an honour it truly is for the Isle of Man to hold UNESCO Biosphere status.

The January newsletter gives an overview on a new charity being set up in Laxey to promote Laxey’s heritage, something I have supported within tourism.

It also has an article on a new campaign called “Refill Isle of Man”, which was launched recently.

For more information on the various ongoing projects and articles etc, then please visit: https://www.biosphere.im/

I was back in the office for 8.10am on Tuesday for the first sitting of the House of Keys in 2019.

The first part of the morning was spent at my desk or on the phone. Just before 10am we went to the House of Keys for this week’s sitting.

It wasn’t a big order paper and there were only 6 oral questions and a further 7 questions for written reply.

The Income Tax Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019 received its First reading and there was also a Second reading of the Dormant Assets Bill 2018.

The sitting finished just after 11am, which gave me an opportunity to print off the Agenda Pack for the DfE board meeting which was also being held on Wednesday morning.

I then needed to draft some more correspondence relating to an ongoing parking issue in Onchan, which meant that I was slightly later arriving in the Barrool Suite for the next briefing.

Fortunately, I didn’t miss any of the excellent presentation given by Shaun Dellenty on Equality and Inclusion.

It was a very powerful presentation, which included a number of heartfelt stories and personal tragedies by those associated with being LGBT.

It certainly makes you stop and consider other people (family, friends & associates), and in particular their position and your own position socially, as it’s true that no two people are identical in this world.

I really did enjoy the presentation by Shaun and it was good to see the Barrool Suite full.

The rest of the afternoon was spent at my desk, and a considerable amount of time was spent on the phone speaking to a couple of Local Authorities regarding the Energy from Waste Plant, and the Gate Fee that is increasing by 5.73% in April 2019.

At around 15.30 I took the opportunity to walk home once again.

Once home I started to go though the DfE agenda pack. I also needed to return several calls from Constituents that also required correspondence to be drafted.

I was busy writing one correspondence at tea time when another Constituent called and after a brief chat I was asked if I could call her back after Emmerdale – that certainly made me smile – talk about priorities…. (Only teasing, because I know that individual reads my weekly Blog!)

I also had to continue to work through the Public Accounts Committee agenda pack, which ran into hundreds of pages.

The Speaker of the House of Keys as the Chairman of the PAC certainly likes to keep us busy.

I finally finished at around 21.00

The Isle of Man woke up to 1cm of snow and ice on Wednesday morning, and I kid you not, the whole infrastructure on the island fell apart especially in Douglas and Onchan – we definitely do not handle ice and snow very well as a society.

Having left home at 7.50am as normal, I didn’t actually get into the office until 9.05am – it only takes me 45 minutes to walk home from work….

Once in the office I had very little time to print off a couple of documents before walking over to DfE for the usual Minister and Political Members meeting, which started at 9.30am.

At 10am we had our Board meeting, but instead of the usual Agency updates we discussed a couple of TT papers with the Head of Motorsport.

The DfE agenda pack was relatively light so I was back at my desk for around 12.30, which gave me time to finish drafting a number of letters in relation to an ongoing parking issue in Onchan, along with finishing off some prep work for the PAC meeting.

I also had to return several calls on a variety of issues.

At 14.00 we had our PAC meeting that continues to look into the Health Service and Noble’s Hospital, and the meeting lasted around two hours.

The last hour was spent at my desk trying to catch up.

I left the office at 17.15, but once home I still had a considerable amount of correspondence to draft, it does feel like a conveyor belt at times.

I finally finished around 20.30.

Running late again on Thursday, I didn’t get into the office until around 8.20am but again a number of meetings were cancelled in the morning, which certainly gave me a few extra hours to catch up in the office.

The first job was to draft a few questions for the House of Keys sitting on 5th February 2019.

At 9.20am I headed down to the Sea Terminal to meet up with an old journalist friend to discuss an ongoing project that I am looking to undertake over the next couple of years.

One my favourite articles was written by him, and it related to a big eight ball pool competition that I ran in the South many years ago….

It did feel like a different time and place in those days, and it was good to catch up over a coffee.

Back to the office but my next two meetings were cancelled, so I was able to use the time to go through a couple of motorsport papers, along with speaking to a Constituent relating to access and custody issues, which are never easy to resolve.

I also had a detailed discussion with the Information Commissioner, in order to obtain some general advice with regard to Freedom of Information requests.

Over the last couple of years I have read many Freedom of Information requests that have been denied, and many of them hide behind various Sections of the Act. However, on closer review, the answers don’t actually correspond to the questions being asked….

If anyone feels that genuine questions are not being answered under Freedom of Information, then I would certainly encourage them to appeal the decision.

I was also able to clear out my inbox before walking over to DfE at 14.00 for a general Motorsport catch up meeting.

Back to office 15.20 and straight up to the Barool Suite for a presentation and discussion with representatives from the island’s Fairtrade organisation.

Students from 17 of the island’s school were in the Tynwald building throughout Thursday undertaking various projects and tasks relating to fair trade, especially with the Isle of Man as a fair trade island.

I left the office at 17.15 but I had several missed calls waiting at home.

One of the calls related to the transfer of a patient from the Isle of Man to the UK, which required a follow up phone call and very detailed correspondence to be sent.

I also had to work on a few things, so I didn’t actually finish until around 23.00.

In the office for 8.20am on Friday and the day started with me sorting out some travel arrangements – further details will be published over the next few months.

At 9am the Public Accounts Committee had a meeting with Sir Jonathan Michael, in order to discuss his interim report on the Independent Review of the Isle of Man Health and Social Care System.

A very good meeting set in an informal setting, which enabled PAC members to ask Sir Jonathan various questions on his progress report, along with comparing his findings to those of the Public Accounts Committee.

The meeting lasted over an hour and I am certainly looking forward to receiving his full report in May 2019.

The rest of the morning was spent at my desk, other than going to the dentist mid morning.

At 12.15 there was a Tynwald Members briefing in the King Orry Room by Sir Jonathan, which I also attended in order to listen to him present his initial thoughts and comments to Tynwald Members.

Unfortunately, I had to leave that meeting slightly early in order to return a couple of calls before driving into Onchan at 14.00 for a Constituent meeting.

It is a regular meeting relating to an ongoing planning issue, whereby there is a clear lack of engagement, correspondence, investigation and enforcement by the planning department.

Hopefully, my meeting with the DEFA Minister and the CEO on 6th February will get some answers.

From there I went straight back to the Tynwald building to park the car before walking over to the DfE for 15.45 for a briefing with the tourism events team.

Next month the Chairman of the Visit Isle of Man Board and I will be attending, “Destinations”, the holiday & travel show, which is being held at the Olympia exhibition centre in London.

The Olympia travel show is over four days and is the only event that the Isle of Man tourism team visit, so it is vitally important for our tourism sector.

For my part I am hoping to visit various stalls, especially those that promote and sell the Isle of Man as a destination of choice. I am also hoping to spend some time on the Isle of Man main stand, which could be interesting.

Full details of that particular event will be shared in a few weeks’ time….

I actually arrived a couple of minutes early, so I was able to respond to a couple of emails before the meeting started.

Once the meeting finished it was straight back to the office to catch up with a few emails before leaving the office at 17.05.

Late on Friday night I received a text message from the DfE Minister saying that he missed us at the MGP Annual Dinner. Somehow I totally forgot about the event because I didn’t update my calendar when I received the original invitation, which is very embarrassing on my part.

Serious lessons learnt about managing my calendar appointments…..

I have a relatively quiet weekend scheduled, but I am hoping to attend the opening of the newly refurbished property of the Manx Deaf Society on Saturday lunchtime.