A lot of topics covered in this week’s Blog, so grab a coffee and make yourselves comfortable once again….
Now that the curtains have come down on a wonderful Tynwald Day and the celebrations around our National Day for another year, I have taken a few moments this week to reflect on what I certainly felt had been the best Tynwald celebrations I have attended so far as an MHK.
The weather was perfect throughout the week and having the Grenadier Guards on duty for the guard of honour for Tynwald Day in their scarlet tunics and bearskin caps certainly made the whole day something very special.
I don’t normally use a picture of myself in my weekly Blog, but I felt Steve Babb (Steve Babb Photography) had captured a wonderful moment in which Dr. Alex Allinson, MHK and I are walking back to the Royal Chapel from Tynwald Hill last week.
The sense of pride, honour and privilege representing our Constituents and this beautiful island is frozen in a single shot – definitely one of my favourite pictures….
Back to last Saturday for a moment, I didn’t attend any of the formal events being organised for our Tynwald Day guests, which included the Steam Train, the Manx Electronic Railway and Laxey Wheel etc, but I did attend the dinner on Saturday evening, which was being held at the Regency Hotel on the promenade.
It was a lovely evening, great company and excellent speeches from our guests, and I was very pleased that we were able to support a local business on the promenade, especially given the upheaval going on at the moment.
Before being elected to the House of Keys in 2016, I had heard various discussions around our Tynwald Day guests and if the Isle of Man should actually invite and entertain guests during Tynwald week at all.
I guess the Manx public will always be split on that particular topic, but as an MHK I truly feel that the Isle of Man has a duty to reach out to other jurisdictions, individual parliamentarians, political parties and other important guests wherever possible.
Rightly or wrongly, it does give the Isle of Man an opportunity to showcase everything that is good about our island, along with making those important contacts that might be so valuable in the future.
Looking at the Tynwald guest list this year, we had Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP who previously served as Secretary of State for Education, Dr. Miguel Clusener-Godt, a Director of the Division of Ecological and Earth Sciences in UNESCO Headquarters, Paris, Rt Hon Dame Eleanor Laing MP, Deputy Speaker in the House of Commons.
We also had Steingrimur Sigfusson from Althingi (the Icelandic Parliament) and Andrew Rosindell MP, who has also been a very close friend of the Isle of Man especially in Westminster in recent years – the list goes on and there were around 15 Tynwald guests this year.
I guess the most important thing is to ensure that the calibre of guest being invited is at a senior level or at an emerging level, in order to maximise the opportunities from any potential visit.
If a particular guest cannot attend Tynwald Day then we should also consider using the TT or the Festival of Motorcycling and any other key events being held across the island, in order to forge those relationships with businesses, individuals and political colleagues.
As for last Sunday, Ellen and I attended the Tynwald Garden Party, which was being held at Government House. Again, it was particularly special for me this year because both my mum and Ellen’s mum were able to attend – both looking fabulous as well…..
That said, I think I only saw them for about five minutes as I was busy catching up with so many people.
We finally got home at around 16.15.
As for this week’s activities, I was in the office early on Monday, but I still had time to say goodbye to Lesley (the mother in-law) and thank her for her company during the Tynwald celebrations.
First job was to update my CV as I am looking to update one of my professional memberships and they required up to date information etc.
I am still planning to start some additional professional training courses over the summer period as part of my own ongoing professional development – in fact I have already ordered a couple of accountancy books this week.
Just after 9am I started to look at several Constituent messages received over the bank holiday weekend, which included some general enquiries over the Eastern Area Plan and an employment issue, which is not the first enquiry I have received in this particular area.
Since 2016, I have seen a significant rise in the number of people contacting me as an MHK with the fear of being laid off, having to work longer hours due to staff cut backs, but with no genuine increase in job satisfaction or pay.
Dare I also add bullying to the list, and not forgetting pressure being applied to staff to work at an optimum level all the time and with a clear lack of control over how they do their work….
The island’s Industrial Relations team do an amazing job, but unfortunately I have had to refer several cases to them over the last three years.
I would highly recommend their impartial advice and support should anyone find themselves in any of the circumstances listed above.
I also had to draft a long email to the DHSC on behalf of one Constituent who is in need of additional funds to cover additional care at home for their mother, and provide a couple of references.
I didn’t actually catch up with all outstanding correspondence until around 12.30.
I then spent the next three hours going through various reports going before Tynwald this month, and although I left the office at 16.30 I continued to work on Tynwald until around 18.45.
At which time I needed to get changed and to head down to Peel for the opening practice session for this year’s Peel Longboat Race, which is always great fun.
We were only out on the water for around 30 minutes, so I was back home for 20.30.
Another early start on Tuesday, as I was in the office just after 7.30am to catch up with a few things before heading up to the Barrool Suite at 8.30am for a presentation by the Treasury Minister on the “Save Programme”, along with discussing the financial options for the Steam Packet Company.
There are certainly plenty of options available for consideration and I enclose a link to the Tynwald paper on the Steam Packet Company.
I would certainly welcome any views from Onchan Constituents on the options being proposed.
The simple option might be to secure a bank loan, pay back Treasury and for the Steam Packet Company to pay back the loan over a fixed period of time.
There was also a very lively discussion around the creation of an Isle of Man Government owned but arm’s length organisation to taking over responsibility for the operation of Ronaldsway Airport.
I know our role as MHKs is to look at a bigger picture at times, but this proposal has increased costs written over it.
Now, one of my colleagues said that we the taxpayers of this island already pay through a subvention because the airport loses money each year, and therefore the user pays principle should apply……
I am not I00% confident that statement is actually true when we take into account the airport duties, which actually go directly to Treasury.
We also should be mindful that there was almost a riot a couple of years ago when DOI tried to remove the one hour free parking when collecting friends and family at the airport.
This paper also highlights the difficulties that backbench MHKs face from time to time. One Minister mentioned that this paper has been an ongoing discussion for 12 or 18 months in the Department and the Council of Ministers, but as a backbench MHK I am expected to fully understand the paper and to vote on it within two weeks.
Unfortunately, this particular paper is leaving me with more questions than answers – trouble is definitely on the horizon…..
Once that matter was fully discussed and debated, Tynwald Members were then introduced to Professor James Curran who will chair the island’s Climate Change Transformation team.
A quick google will show that he is a very distinguished climate scientist and that he received an MBE for his services to the environment in 2007.
Hopefully, I will get an opportunity to read a couple of his papers over the summer period and I am certainly looking forward to receiving the Committee’s report in six months’ time.
Just after 12 noon I drove to Three FM for a quick interview, which was a mid term catch up etc – I wasn’t really prepared for it, so I don’t think it was my best interview, but we will see.
On Tuesday afternoon I wasn’t able to attend the second session on “Legislation for Legislators” as I desperately needed to catch up with emails after a further technical issue.
I also had to go through the Public Accounts Committee pack, which I continued to work on from home until 20.00.
As for Wednesday, I dropped the car off for a service before walking to the office and then over to DfE for the Department meeting, which started slightly early at 9am.
First item was the usual updates from the DfE Agencies, which lasted around an hour before we went through the main board paper that was relatively light with only four items for decision, but we also had several items for noting.
From there we went straight up to the Barrool Suite for a financial update on the Isle of Man Ferry Terminal in Liverpool.
Despite the costs increasing by around £7 million, I am comfortable with the update given to Tynwald Members on Wednesday by DOI officers.
The original construction costs for example were projected costs and had gone out to a formal tender, and some of the extra £7 million mentioned is a worst case scenario.
At 14.00 I attended the Public Accounts Committee meeting, which lasted over two hours.
I left the office 16.30 to collect my car and once home I continued to work on the Tynwald Order Paper until 20.00.
The first couple of hours on Thursday were spent in the office starting to go through the Environment and Infrastructure Policy Review Committee agenda pack before driving back into Onchan for a Constituent meeting over a boundary dispute.
From there it was straight to the office for 11am for a meeting with the vicar of St Peter’s, Clive Burgess who has been a very good friend to Ellen and me for several years.
It was good to catch up with Clive, especially with all the media attention at the moment, and I have wished him all the very best for the future.
At 13.00 I headed up to the Barrool Suite for the Chief Minister’s International briefing update to Tynwald Members.
With so much happening at the moment on the international stage, especially in Westminster with Brexit and the ongoing Conservative Party Leadership Election, it was certainly a lengthy update to Tynwald Members by the Chief Minister, Howard Quayle, MHK.
Once the briefing finished, we then had two briefings from DEFA relating to the new Building Regulations and Single Use Plastic Reduction Plan.
I finally got back to the office for 15.45 to catch up with things before leaving at 17.15.
Most Friday morning was taken up with the Environment and Infrastructure Policy Review Committee, along with preparing for Junior Tynwald, which is being held next Monday morning.
I was in the office for 8am and the Committee started at 10am. The Committee has a number of ongoing projects including the role of the RTLC, Planning Enforcement and the ongoing Promenade scheme.
The rest of Friday was spent in the office catching up with things, along with taking the opportunity to work on those projects.
I also had to deal with a very difficult Constituent issue relating to their own immediate safety and mental well-being, which is without doubt the most difficult part of this role as an MHK and one of the reasons why we need additional training in this area, in order to help deal with these types of situations.
I definitely don’t want people to read this and feel that they can’t call me, far from it – as everyone knows, a problem shared is a problem halved, and unfortunately life can be difficult at times.
A massive thank you to the mental health and crisis team for their help and advice.
I can’t finish this week’s Blog without mentioning the NatWest Games being held in Gibraltar. Some amazing achievements from the Manx athletes once again, as they finished second in the medal table – well done….
I should also mention that the Chief Secretary, Will Greenhow is also now a “blogger” as every Friday he sends out a message to the staff entitled “A Word from Will”, which has been going out for around six months.
You never know, we might even get the Chief Minister doing weekly video blogs by the end of this administration.
As for the weekend, we have the Onchan Fair on Saturday afternoon and we are meeting up with friends on Sunday for lunch.