The Isle of Man took a further step towards a sense of normality this week when all schools across the island fully opened for the first time since 23rd March.
The last twelve weeks have been difficult for parents and students, and the Department of the Education has been criticised by the Tynwald Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which is chaired by Juan Watterson, SHK, for the inconsistency in their communications throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
The 39 page report by the PAC highlights some of the difficulties facing the new Education Minister, Alex Allinson, MHK and his department including the ongoing industrial action, but it also highlighted the mixed messages that were given to parents, especially around the school dates, data sharing and the emergency powers regulations.
I enclose a link to the PAC report, which makes interesting reading.
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic all secondary schools and nine primary schools have remained open to offer care for vulnerable children and for those whose parents are classed as key workers, and I take this opportunity to sincerely thank all teachers for their support towards island students and key workers over the past few months.
The focus now has to be on identifying any gaps in the education programme, in order to ensure that individual students are given an opportunity to catch up with any coursework, especially relating to exams etc.
In the House of Keys this week the Education Minister confirmed that 92% of primary school students and 85% of secondary students returned to school on Monday, which is fantastic news, but I know several Tynwald Members will continue to follow these events very closely.
Before moving on to my own activities this week, I think anyone following my blogs will have noticed that the number of comments relating to Covid-19 over the past couple of weeks have reduced.
This is mainly due to the island’s current response level, but also to support trying to get this Island back to some form of normality, which will protect jobs and sectors so vital to the Manx economy. This week the Manx Government sent out its long term framework to every household in response to the coronavirus, but the key message is to remain vigilant and if you have any coronavirus symptoms, then please stay at home, self-isolate and ring 111.
The island’s Covid-19 pandemic has five levels of response, level 4 is a complete lockdown, but at this moment in time the island is currently on level 1, which is stay responsible.
Level 0 means that the pandemic is over – I do wonder what year we will achieve that goal?
Unfortunately, I personally feel the UK is heading for a second Covid-19 wave that could be significantly worse that the original outbreak – this will almost certainly delay the Isle of Man fully opening its borders to the UK.
As weather temperatures have increased this week thousands of families across the UK headed to beaches and parks with little or no respect towards social distancing. If only they would realise that prolonging Covid-19 will seriously affect jobs at a time when the UK government is warning of a major recession just on the horizon….
Anyway let’s move on.
Last Saturday I held my first face to face political surgery for almost three months, and it felt good to be back. In advance of the surgery I needed to look at two constituent issues, both relating to parking in lower Onchan.
I was at the Community Hub early and the first Constituent called in just after 9.30am and several other people called in and discussed topics relating to employment opportunities, a case of bullying, a planning application, the Children’s Champion role and the Covid-19 exemption rules.
A couple of people just called in to say thank you for helping them out over the past few months.
Back home at lunchtime and I still needed to spend a couple of hours drafting various correspondence relating to the surgery issues. In between all of that I was up a ladder on the gable end of the cottage to sort out where some bees were trying to make a home in one of our chimney stacks – personally, I think I am getting too old for this but I still managed to sort it with some fine wire mesh to protect the top of the chimney….
On Sunday I spent three or four hours still trying to catch up on things, especially correspondence and reading.
I was back in the office on Monday just before 7.30am and there just wasn’t enough time in the day. Although I didn’t have any meeting until 12 noon the morning was spent trying to catch up with a continuous stream of messages and correspondence, especially relating to the Children’s Champion role.
I also had a long discussion with Andrew Stewart, Head of Policy Department within DfE and several of my colleagues throughout the morning.
At 12 noon I headed up to the Barrool Suite for the first of two presentations, the first one related to Covid-19 and the second one gave an update on the Government’s legislation programme.
Just time to return a number of missed calls before a further meeting between Treasury and DfE that got underway at 15.00. Unfortunately, not everything was covered during last week’s discussion so a second meeting was scheduled, in order to go through any remaining points or concerns.
Opinions were strong during last week’s meeting, but this particular meeting was far more measured with the focus firmly on the recovery of the Manx economy.
Back to the office briefly at 16.30 to collect a few things, but once home I still needed to catch up with correspondence and phone calls before finishing for around 20.00. Again, a number of lines of enquiry related to my new role as Children’s Champion. I think I received around 20 emails by the end of the day just on that particular topic, but I am not complaining because it is opening my eyes to various issues involving children on our island.
In the office before 8am on Tuesday in order to prepare for the House of Keys sitting that got underway at 10am with 9 oral questions and 7 written questions. This was followed by the first reading of the Manx Care Bill 2020 and consideration of the Council Amendments on the Registration of Electors Bill 2020.
My colleague Martyn Perkins, MHK was given leave to bring a Private Member’s Bill relating to the donation of human organs before the Home Affairs Minister gave an update on the Domestic Abuse Bill 2020.
The sitting finished at 11.45am, which enabled Ellen and me to have lunch at the noodle bar at the end of Athol Street – and after being unavailable for three months the food did taste good….
It was only a quick lunch and the next few hours were spent doing some research ahead of going onto the Manx Radio’s Manninline on Wednesday lunchtime.
The last hour or so was spent catching up with correspondence before leaving at around 17.15, but I still had to go through the DfE order paper and a few emails, but I was able to finish for 20.30.
Wednesday was a very interesting day, I got into the office for 8am to continue working on a few things before walking over to DfE just after 9am for the Department meeting. With no political meeting or agency update this week we were able to go straight into the order paper, which only had a couple of decisions to be made.
I then headed up to Manx Radio to be a live guest on the Manninline with Andy Wint at midday. The programme focused around my new role as the new Isle of Man Children’s Champion, but it also explored the time I spent in the National Children’s Home in Ramsey at a young age, along with the events in which I found myself homeless for a short period of time when I was about 17.
Hopefully, I can now put those ghosts to rest and move on with my life, but those actual experiences will always be with me and I genuinely hope that I can make a positive contribution as Champion’s Champion over the next 12 months.
A massive thank you for all the messages and emails I received after the programme, especially those people that shared their own experience of the island’s care system in the 1980’s – some very powerful messages, thank you….
At 14.00 I headed into Onchan for a meeting with a local travel agent business and the last couple of hours were spent in the office, but I still had a large number of emails to draft in the evening before finishing at around 19.30.
An earlier start on Thursday with a meeting with the Independent Chair of the Safeguarding Board who gave me an overview of their role and responsibilities etc. At 10am Chris Robertshaw, MHK and I walked down to the Palace Hotel for an Isle of Man Tourism Accommodation Providers meeting, which was chaired by Chris along with Clare Barber, MHK.
Around 130 people attended the meeting. I had to sit quietly in the audience as I listened to the various comments or points being raised, and to be perfectly honest I didn’t disagree with a single comment made throughout the meeting.
None of the comments were personally pointed at me as the political member responsible for tourism, but some of the comments were raw with emotion as hoteliers and businesses could see all of their hard work built up over many years simply disappearing in front of their eyes – it is heartbreaking to witness.
No one could have foreseen the events surrounding Covid-19 over the last three months, which eventually caused the cancellation of the Island’s 2020 tourism season, but I sincerely thank all hoteliers and businesses for being so open, honest and fair with their comments and for outlining some of the difficulties they are facing personally or as a business.
As the political member responsible for tourism I can assure the sector that I am representing the industry robustly at both a department level and during meetings that go across various Government departments.
I also thank my colleagues Chris and Clare for chairing the meeting. This was followed by a Visit Isle of Man Agency meeting that started at 14.00, which included an economic snapshot presentation by KPMG.
The last hour was spent in the office, but I still had a lot of correspondence to catch up with before finishing just after 19.00.
The weather on Thursday was well over 21C during the day, but the Isle of Man was hit with one of the biggest and longest thunderstorms I can remember, it seemed to go on all night and it definitely lit up the evening sky.
As for Friday my day started around 7.30am, and the first part was spent at home trying to stay on top of things, along with going through the Tynwald Order Paper ahead of the sitting in the afternoon. I also needed to catch up with a few constituent issues relating to benefits and an ongoing planning application.
Towards lunchtime I headed into the office and straight up to the Barrool Suite for a Health and Care Transformation Programme briefing, which gave Tynwald Members an update on the new “Manx Care Bill”, which is slowly being put in place, and it should be fully operational by April 2021.
That briefing lasted just over 90 minutes, which gave me an opportunity to start looking at a few things before heading into Tynwald Court for 14.30.
Not a long siting, but there was one emergency question relating to the exemption certificate before there was a Covid-19 statement from the Chief Minister, Howard Quayle, MHK.
This was followed by various motions being moved under the Emergency Powers Act 1936, which included a list of powers that will remain in place for a further six months after the island exits the Emergency Powers legislation.
As the Chief Minister highlighted in Tynwald on Friday afternoon, the island has been in a State of Emergency for 102 days and the time is now right to exit the Emergency Powers from 18.00 on Friday evening.
I guess only history will judge if this administration and / or the Council of Ministers made the right decisions on behalf of the island’s community over the last three months.
The final item on the Order Paper was to replace me as the Chairman of the Environment and Infrastructure Policy Review Committee, which I have chaired for the last four years. This particular committee oversees the work undertaken under by DEFA and DOI, so once I joined DEFA I had to give up that position, along with my seat on the Public Accounts Committee.
Clare Barber, MHK replaced me as the Chair and Rob Mercer, MLC joins Clare and Chris Robertshaw, MHK on the committee.
The sitting finished just after 15.30 and I was home shortly after what can only described as an emotional week in many ways.
As for Covid-19 on the Isle of Man, still no further confirmed positive tests for coronavirus. There have been 6,252 concluded tests and 21 people are awaiting results
As for the weekend, I have a lot of reading to catch up with, especially in respect of my role as the Children’s Champion and a few papers from DEFA relating to a report into the condition of private sector housing.
I also want to research a particular site found in the Area Plan for the East and to go through the Landlord Registration (Private Housing) Bill 2020 and the Climate Change Bill, which I still haven’t read in great detail.