Apologies for the length of this week’s blog – so I would certainly grab a coffee first and make yourself comfortable…..
Since the General Election in September 2016 there have been a few big announcements made under this Government, and I do wonder where the press release issued on Friday 3rd May 2019 will rank by the end of this particular administration in 2021….
Unfortunately it was far too late to include it in last week’s Blog, but on Friday 3rd May the Department of Health and Social Care confirmed that its CEO, Dr. Malcolm Couch along with his Deputy, Michaela Morris have left the organisation.
Firstly, I have to question the timing of the actual press release, which went out at 16.55 on a Friday evening just before a bank holiday weekend, which allowed social media to speculate on the events surrounding their departure.
I certainly do not intend to speculate or to involve myself in the reasons why Dr. Couch and Mrs Morris left their positions, but some of the comments posted online over the past 7 days towards me personally as a previous Department Member of DHSC couldn’t be further from the actual truth….
It is fair to say that over the last two or three administrations the Department has been embroiled in a game of musical chairs with Ministers, Political Members and Senior Officers who have failed to control Department budgets and to resolve a catalogue of issues and concerns involving Noble’s Hospital over the last 10 to 15 years.
That statement however should not reflect badly on the frontline staff at Noble’s who have continued to deliver an outstanding service at the coalface on behalf of the Manx Public.
I can also assure Constituents I didn’t pull any stunts around my resignation from DHSC in March 2017. In fact, I still remain extremely embarrassed by the whole situation, but I still believe that I made the right decision, at the right time and for the right reasons.
The evidence I gave to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Monday 30th October 2017 is an honest overview of the difficulties we faced as Department Members, and I enclose a link to the PAC Report (from page 156) for ease of reference.
In my opinion, there was definitely a clear difference in my working environment and a clear lack of engagement (or support) from the previous Minister, Kate Beecroft, MHK and the Senior Management within the DHSC compared to that which I experienced in DED (now DfE).
This is underlined by the fact that during my five and a half months in the DHSC I attended less than 12 meetings compared to over 66 in DfE for the same period.
2 years on I still find it extremely difficult to explain the actual working environment we faced as Political Department Members back then, especially newly elected Members at the time.
I can still recall our first Department meeting when the CEO, Dr. Couch walked into the meeting, sat down and started talking to colleagues but completely ignored the Political Members.
That said, once I left the Department in March 2017 until 3rd May 2019, I found Dr. Couch extremely professional, informative, approachable and helpful on every single occasion when I needed his help on any Constituent matter, and I can also confirm the same for Mrs. Morris.
In 2016 it was me that asked the Chief Minister, Howard Quayle, MHK if I could go into DHSC because of the historic failings within the Department, as I genuinely wanted to help turn the Department around or at least understand some of the historic problems.
I was extremely grateful for that opportunity and as a Political Member of DHSC I had joint responsibility for the Hospital with the previous Minister, but I didn’t actually attend a single meeting on the hospital or in the hospital…..
Unfortunately, anyone who has been heavily critical of a Government Department and more importantly key senior members of staff within the Department for long periods of time as a backbench MHK, and is then given a Ministerial position in that particular Department will struggle.
That said, I am still 100% convinced that if the previous Minister and the Political Members at the time worked together as a strong political unit, then we could have rebuilt trust and confidence within the Department and overcome any initial problems we faced with the DHSC Senior Management, but again we were not given that opportunity.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and looking back maybe I should have picked a different Department because this particular Department was clearly going to fail on a political level at some point during this administration.
A few of the other comments on social media over the last week said that I should have supported the previous Minister to have the CEO removed in March 2017. We certainly had the opportunity as political Members to get behind the Minister, but in my opinion there was insufficient or no actual evidence at the time that the CEO had failed in his duties since taking up his post in June 2015, and I certainly wasn’t going to be part of a potential “Witch Hunt”.
As a Political Member in DHSC I genuinely wanted to support the previous Minister wherever possible. It is just unfortunate I wasn’t given the opportunity, and I certainly don’t believe anyone should feel vindicated now that two reports have been published.
On Wednesday lunchtime this week, Sir Jonathan Michael published his long awaited Independent Review of the Isle of Man Health and Social Care System that could see a new chapter in the island’s Health Service, along with putting in place a better health service for future generations – more on that later…..
The Public Accounts Committee of Tynwald should also be applauded for its work in reviewing the overspend at Noble’s Hospital – one year on.
The Chairman of the PAC, Juan Watterson, SHK and the Third Clerk of Tynwald, Jo have done a brilliant job to bring everything together ahead of the PAC publishing its own Report that will be laid before Tynwald on 21st May 2019, along with Sir Jonathan Michael’s Independent Review.
Over the past two years the PAC has collected a considerable amount of evidence and reached the conclusions that there were pockets of unacceptable behaviour, poor data, poor financial management and failures of leadership at Noble’s.
These are very strong statements to make, but it is based around two years of hard work to build up that evidence both orally and written, not forgetting the now famous “Copy & Paste” of the Wigan Health Strategy document.
I am proud to be a Member of the PAC and I certainly endorse the recommendations in the recent Report.
Anyway let’s move on. As for the rest of my week, Bank Holiday Monday was spent at home catching up with a few things. Monday morning was spent drafting various e-mails, including one on behalf of St Peter’s, Onchan after I had read various correspondence exchanged since 2017.
I also started to have an initial review of Sir Jonathan’s independent report into the Isle of Man Health & Social Care System, but there is certainly a lot to read over the next couple of weeks.
In the afternoon I had the World Snooker Final on in the background as I continued to paint the inside of our cottage, which is starting to feel like the Forth Bridge at times.
Back in the office early on Tuesday, in order to prepare for the House of Keys sitting, which got underway at 10am.
Prior to the sitting, I drafted a few supplementary questions along with printing off part of the DfE agenda pack for Wednesday, as well as trying to catch up with a few e-mails.
The House of Keys question time was very interesting, with 16 questions for oral reply and a further 18 for written reply.
My own questions this week related to the sale of Manx Telecom to Basalt Investment Partners and asking the DOI Minister for an update on the Douglas Promenade Scheme ahead of the TT Festival that starts at the end of May. There were certainly a few interesting responses given by Ministers on the floor of the House of Keys on Tuesday.
Once the sitting finished just before 12 noon I was asked to do an interview with ITV Granada on the promenade scheme ahead of the TT Festival. Straight after that I attended a meeting with the Clerk of Tynwald and Martyn Perkins, MHK regarding a conference we will be attending later on this month.
Just enough time to catch up with a few emails before going up to the Barrool Suite for a CPD session on “Legislating for Legislators”, which started at 13.15.
Once back at my desk the rest of afternoon was spent going through the Public Accounts Agenda Pack and trying to catch up with correspondence before leaving the office at 17.20.
Once home I needed to deal with a couple of Constituent items and to go through my DfE pack before finishing at 20.00.
Back in the office on Wednesday at 8am for a busy day, but I was still able to catch up with colleagues for the first hour.
Just after 9am we walked over to DfE for the usual Minister and Political Members meeting before going into the Boardroom for a presentation given by the Public Records Office.
Once the meeting finished we started to work though the Agenda Pack but we still managed to finish just after 12 noon.
From DfE we headed straight into the Barrool Suite for a presentation given by Sir Jonathan Michael relating to his final report entitled “Independent Review of the Isle of Man Health and Social Care System”, which was released this week.
As stated in the foreword of the report, it is a document that should be seen as a catalyst for change, and we certainly have a once in a lifetime opportunity to identify deep-seated problems in the way that services are organised and delivered and to embrace change, because the current health service model is financially unsustainable.
It is an excellent report and I am currently working my way through it for a second time.
I left the presentation a few minutes early to return a couple of calls before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) meeting, which started at 14.00.
The meeting finished just before 16.00, which enabled me to catch up with a few things before heading home at 17.10.
I spent a couple of hours after tea drafting and redrafting this week’s Blog before finishing at around 20.30.
Thursday was all about the Environment and Infrastructure Policy Review Committee (ENVI) work ahead of three Oral Evidence Sessions on Friday morning.
I was in the office for 8am and first hour was spent going through the ENVI agenda pack before the Committee meeting, which started at 9.30am.
Just before 11am I drove onto the promenade to meet up with another local business owner who is seriously concerned about the ongoing work at the moment, and it fair to say that the number of complaints from businesses is increasing.
I also had to return a few Constituents calls, one relating to the ENVI Committee session on Friday and another one relating to Noble’s.
Straight into Onchan to the vets on behalf of Oscar (our cat), before getting back from the office for 12.30, but no time to stop as I needed to be at DfE for a Creative and Social Economy Stakeholder Group meeting.
I finally got back to the office for 13.45 and fortunately in many ways my 14.00 Constituent meeting was cancelled, which enabled me to spend the rest of the afternoon at my desk fully preparing for the ENVI Committee sessions on Friday before leaving the office at 17.15.
In the evening I continued to work on a Conference item – further details will be provided in due course.
Back in the office for 8am on Friday of what appears to have been a long week, despite it only being four days…..
Friday morning was taken up solely with the ENVI Committee as it took a closer look at Planning Enforcement on the Isle of Man.
At 9.30am there was a pre-meeting of the Committee before holding three oral evidence sessions. The first session was with DEFA and included the Minister (Mr. Boot), the CEO (Mr. Lole) and the Director of Planning (Ms Chance).
The next session was with the three MHK’s (Mr. Hooper, Dr. Allinson & Mrs. Caine) who submitted the original letter to the ENVI Committee for consideration.
The final session was with Douglas Corporation, which was represented by Councillor McNicholl, Mrs Eynon and Mr Salter.
Three very different oral sessions and a topic that is very difficult to define. I was encouraged by the evidence given by DEFA in respect of enforcement going forward, but I am sure many people who have reported breaches in recent years would feel aggrieved that their reports to the Department had such a low priority at the time…..
The ENVI Committee than had a quick post meeting but we still managed to finish all business by 13.00.
After lunch the rest of the afternoon was spent in the office trying to catch up with various things, along with emails which I am falling behind with.
I also noticed that the Chief Minister, Howard Quayle, MHK made an announcement at a local event that the Isle of Man would be bringing forward a Climate Change Bill.
This will be presented to Tynwald in the next legislative year and it could commit this administration and other administrations to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
I will be watching this one very closely…..
As for the weekend, I have a Political Surgery on Saturday morning at the Community Hub in Onchan between 10am and 11.30am.
I also have to go through a Tynwald Select Committee Report that requires careful consideration before a meeting scheduled for Monday.
Work around the Conference that I will attending later on this month needs finishing off, especially my notes etc, and there is still a lot of painting to do at the cottage.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that this is my 152nd Blog since June 2016, but without doubt one of the hardest to write…..