Blog 12 Jan 20Still early in January, but you will definitely need to grab a coffee before settling down for this week’s Blog…..

I think people are now starting to accept that the Earth’s climate is changing and that global temperatures are predicted to continue rising, bringing changes in weather patterns, rising sea levels and increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, which we have all seen in the media over the past couple of years…..

The million dollar question is how governments across the world can change the hearts and minds of the population, and more importantly how countries such as France, Sweden, UK, Portugal, Belgium and Denmark, who are doing the most to fight climate change, can encourage countries such as China, America, India and Brazil, etc to play their part.

The countries listed above came from an article I was reading recently, and I thought it was interesting to note that the article leaves the top three slots of its rankings “blank”, with a footnote saying “none of the countries achieved positions one to three, because no country is doing enough to prevent dangerous climate change”.

Closer to home here on the Isle of Man, in June 2019 Tynwald recognised and acknowledged a climate change emergency, and thereafter agreed to take appropriate action for the Isle of Man to achieve net-zero climate emissions by 2050.

In July 2019 Prof James Curran was appointed as an Independent Chair and the following month an internal transformation team across all government departments was brought together to start working on the climate change action plan.

This week Prof James Curran published his long awaited Independent Report on options for targets and actions to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, and the main Impact document certainly makes interesting reading but it will take several weeks for me to go through the supporting information and documents.

Just looking at the Isle of Man emissions since the 1990s which are included within the report, there appears to be very little change in energy, transport and agricultural levels, but a significant jump in residential and businesses’ emissions over the last 30 years.

From the Climate Action Plan (2020 to 2030) Consultation, it Is also clear that island residents are looking for greater awareness, funding to support energy efficiencies and for the purchase of electric vehicles etc, for renewable energy projects and in respect of phasing out fossil-fuel boilers, along with ensuring that more of the island’s energy supply comes from solar and wind in the future.

The Impact Report from Prof Curran also sets out a higher and lower ambition pathway for the Isle of Man to choose, but both options will still achieve the target of net zero carbon omissions by 2050.

The higher ambition scenario during 2020 to 2030 will try to reduce the island’s greenhouse gas emissions by 45% in the first 10 year period, but it is likely to cost an estimated £52 million per year (Public & Private Investment will be needed).

The lower ambition scenario during 2020 to 2030 will try to reduce the island’s greenhouse gas emissions by around 25% in the first 10 year period, but it is still likely to cost an estimated £26 million per year (Public & Private Investment will be needed).

The costs involved are mind-blowing and future Manx Governments will have to balance the costs and objectives to achieve these targets without reducing current funding levels to education, transport, health and Infrastructure etc, which is going to be extremely difficult.

It is a fascinating topic and I am looking forward to the Tynwald debate, and seeing if we can achieve these targets by 2050.

I enclose a link to the report for ease of reference:

http://www.tynwald.org.im/…/sitti…/20182021/2019-GD-0102.pdf

Anyway let’s look at the rest of my schedule this week….

Back in the office for normal time on Monday after the Christmas holidays, which I certainly enjoyed despite watching far too much TV and spending far too much time asleep on the sofa over Christmas and New Year!.

That said, it was probably the first time in many years that I have actually managed to switch off from work and outside pressures, and it has certainly helped prepare me for the year ahead.

Even on holiday last September I still needed to put a couple of hours aside each day, in order to respond to messages and emails etc.

The first job in the office on Monday was to clear out any old paperwork or reports etc – just a general tidy up in the office. Later on in the morning a potential MLC candidate called in, so I took the opportunity to show them around our Chambers etc.

At lunchtime there was a Members briefing by Prof James Curran on his Independent Report on options for targets and actions to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

The briefing lasted close to three hours, which gave Tynwald Members an excellent opportunity to ask a variety of questions.

An excellent presentation, but I won’t expand any further on that particular topic for now.

The last couple of hours were spent in the office before heading home for the normal time.

The Christmas holiday already felt like a distant memory as I headed into the office just after 8am on Tuesday. I was looking to spend the first couple of hours in the office, but I received some correspondence late on Monday evening requesting a meeting with a head teacher relating to the ongoing pay dispute with the Education Department.

The pay dispute involving teachers has regularly featured in the local press over the past few months and it has certainly put additional pressure on the Education Minister, Graham Cregeen, MHK.

As a backbench MHK I was extremely grateful for the invitation, which gave me an opportunity to listen to some of those concerns. I can only hope that the Department and the Unions can find a satisfactory solution as quickly as possible for everyone involved, especially for the students.

I rushed back to the office for 11am for a Constituent meeting relating to a very difficult set of circumstances around family services and access to children, along with the actual process for fostering of children on the Isle of Man.

A very emotional meeting in many ways, especially for the Constituent who deserves a medal in my opinion for what they are trying to achieve, but as an MHK I had to give an honest opinion, which was never going to be easy…

That meeting lasted over an hour and from there it was straight into a members briefing on Domestic Abuse, which had already started at 11am but I still managed to catch the last hour of the discussion.

Once the briefing finished Tim Crookall, MLC and I had a meeting with a local business owner who was looking for support, in order to change some of the VAT levels for small businesses, in particular in the hospitality industry.

It is certainly an item that needs further investigation.

This was followed by a couple of meetings with Tynwald colleagues on various topics before getting back to office at around 15.00, in order to start drafting some letters before leaving the office at the normal time.

Once home I still needed to draft a further letter to the DOI Minister regarding the public sector housing rents levels, along with going through the DfE agenda pack before finally finishing at 21.00.

In the office for 8am on Wednesday morning, in order to send the correspondence to the DOI Minister relating to the Department’s announcement that they intend to increase public sector housing rents once again…

Over to DfE at 9.30 for the Minister and Political Members meeting before the usual Department meeting, which started with the agency updates.

The first agenda paper of the year was relatively light with only a couple of decisions to be made.

I was back in the office for just after 12 noon, but only to grab a few things before heading up to Manx Radio to do an interview on public sector rents once again, along with catching up with the station’s MD.

The rest of afternoon was spent in the office preparing various letters to send out to Onchan Social Housing tenants regarding the 1.9% increase in rents from April 2020.

I know that a 1.9% increase doesn’t sound a lot for most people, but this is on the back of a raft of increases since 2013.

As I outlined in my initial correspondence to the DOI Minister this week, I am not against an average CPI-linked increase to social housing year on year, but the Department has to be in a position to fully understand each individual tenant’s ability to pay these increases.

We should never lose sight of the fact that social housing is for low income families or individuals or for those individuals with particular housing needs.

When you apply for a mortgage or a private rental you normally pick something that sits comfortably within your own financial means. If your circumstances change, then you sell the property or give notice to the landlord and then try to find something more suitable.

Unfortunately, social housing tenants don’t have that luxury and therefore are left to simply accept further rent increases year on year, even when their own financial circumstances may not have changed for many years….

According to the DOI press release and an article on Three FM this week, it says that an estimated £6.2 million will be needed this coming year to plug the shortfall, which I believe is factually incorrect and misleading…….

Central Government (taxpayers) will always to have to pay some costs towards social housing by way of a deficiency payment, but I don’t want people thinking that these funds are in any way subsidising social housing rents.

The figure of £3.9 million in 2017/18 and the estimated figure of £6.2 million in 2019/20 represents the Government’s commitment to building new social housing, replace existing housing estates or to maintaining current property portfolios, which it should be applauded for….

This administration should be proud of the fact that the island is continuing to invest in new public sector housing estates in Douglas, Castletown, Ballsalla and Ramsey in recent years. I just hope that Onchan Commissioners will look at replacing or upgrading Ashley Park, Onchan in the near future.

These investments cost millions of pounds and local authorities apply for these funds through a central pot, and loans are then paid back from rental income received from tenants, less administration and maintenance costs etc.

Where the rental income is not sufficient to meet these payments, then Government steps in with a deficiency payment to make up the balance.

In January 2019, the Minister Ray Harmer, MHK made a statement in which he advised that “the surplus monies from their own housing stock are used to reduce the overall sector rental deficiency figure.’

The Minister also confirmed that the surplus in 2016/17 £3.5 million and £3.9 million in 2017/18.

Therefore, the actual deficiency payments made to Local Authorities is considerably less than the £6 million quoted by the Department of Infrastructure this week.

I hope that explains everything…

I continued to work on this project at home until around 21.00 and just for the avoidance of doubt, all my letters to tenants were drafted by me and I also paid for the postage, labels and envelopes etc.

As for Thursday, I was in the office all day sending various letters and starting to prepare for the next Tynwald sitting that gets underway on Tuesday, 21st January.

The only welcome distraction during the day was responding to various emails and a couple of phone calls. Another MLC called in for discussion about the role etc, and again I was able to show them around the Tynwald Building.

I left the office just after 17.00, but I continued to work on a few things until around 20.30.

Friday morning was spent in the office starting to go through the Tynwald Order Paper, along with sending out the last few items of correspondence.

At lunchtime I attended the Cruise Welcomer Volunteer thank you lunch, which gave the team an opportunity to thank everyone for their efforts during the previous year.

In 2019 we had 47 cruise ships visiting our shores, which included over 11,000 visitors and over 7,500 crew.

This was a significant increase from the 24 cruise ships which came to the Isle of Man in 2018.

The most popular attraction of 2019 was the Isle of Man Railways (Steam Train) with 2,259 passengers, and the most visited site (paid entry) was Castle Rushen with 1,816 visitors. The most visited site (for free) was Tynwald Hill with 1,113 visitors.

Port & Excursion income also increased – shore excursions increase to around £280,000 and harbour dues and the private sector income also increased.

Once again, a massive thank you to the entire Cruise team and the army of volunteers that give so much.

The rest of the afternoon and most of the weekend will be spent working on the Tynwald Order Paper.