Blog 14 Mar 21This week the Isle of Man continues to deal with a serious outbreak of Covid-19 in the Manx Community, which has increased significantly over the past seven days.

Hard to believe that on 11th March 2020 the World Health Organisation officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic, and that on 16th March 2020 Chief Minister, Howard Quayle, MHK here on the island announced emergency measures to protect the Isle of Man – one year on and we are still dealing with the events surrounding this pandemic.

Stepping back to last Saturday afternoon for a moment, the latest press release from central Government confirmed a further 71 cases of Covid-19 that brought the total number of active cases on the island to 234, which included five people being treated in Nobles Hospital.

On Sunday the number of active cases increased by a further 81, bringing the total up to 315, which included six people receiving treatment in Nobles.

Unfortunately, we are witnessing some of the biggest daily increases seen on the island in respect of this pandemic, which I know is heart breaking news and so frustrating after all of the work done to minimise the spread of Covid-19 on the Isle of Man since March 2020.

More on Covid-19 and our roll out of the vaccination programme in a moment…

Not much to report from myself last Saturday – I managed to get into the garden for a few hours in the morning, but I spent most of Saturday afternoon catching up with various bits of work relating to Tynwald and the House of Keys.

On Sunday I went into the office first thing, in order to get some other work done and to collect various reports and meeting agenda packs. Once home I needed to catch up with some other jobs before getting back in the garden, which gave me an opportunity just to switch off for a couple of hours as I moved various concrete blocks and paving blocks before I look at doing some groundwork and putting down a couple of tons of gravel over the next couple of weekends.

As for the rest of my Sunday afternoon it was spent responding to what felt like a continuous stream of messages and phone calls relating to the Vehicle Duty Order 2021 that was due to be debated in Tynwald later on this month.

The topic also generated a public petition of more than 5,000 signatures, which will explain the reason behind such a high number of calls and messages being received this week.

Given the fact that some previous DOI Members are now publicly distancing themselves from the policy, I think it is important that I give an accurate timeline around this particular decision.

I joined DOI in July 2020, but the actual discussion around the Vehicle Duty Order, and more importantly the discussion around finding a suitable and sustainable funding model to raise “road tax” on the Isle of Man in the future has been ongoing for many many months. This included a public consultation undertaken back in January 2018, which was entitled “Possible futures for car tax” and included a Tynwald Members briefing in March 2020, which is well before I joined the team.

I enclose a link to that consultation for ease of reference:

https://consult.gov.im/…/Vehicle%20duty%20consultation.pdf

The reason behind the consultation was the fact that the department could clearly see a significant change in attitude towards zero or low emission cars on the island over the past four or five years, which is fantastic news especially with one eye on our climate change objectives.

The government raises around £13.7 million in “road tax” each year, but the question remains – how do we raise that same amount, plus any RPI increases in the future, especially during this transition period as the island continues to look beyond petrol, but more importantly diesel vehicles and move towards zero or low emission cars?

Recently, there was a policy and strategy meeting within the Department, in order to give the new political team within DOI an overview of the policy. At the time we discussed a number of options including adding an amount onto a litre of fuel, weight of the vehicle, a fixed fee and emissions etc, but it was still based on the original March 2020 presentation.

I am more than happy to confirm that during the presentation I fully supported a 1% increase in road tax from April 2021, along with introducing a £50 vehicle duty for zero emission cars in order for them to make a small contribution along the way, together with introducing a new six-month payment option, which I know constituents have been asking for.

The consensus at the members’ briefing was towards “weight of vehicle”, but it needed a lot more work in my opinion, and for me personally I still wanted to explore the option around a “fixed fee” similar to the system being used in the UK. However, regardless of my own personal choice I would have expected a further public consultation on the final option, because it is a major change in policy, which was built around the public consultation undertaken in January 2018.

The public were right to lobby their elected Members this week after the Vehicle Duty Order 2021 appeared on the Tynwald Order Paper, and I am grateful to the constituents who brought the paper to my attention, because I hadn’t seen a copy of the paper before it was put on the agenda.

There was clearly a misunderstanding somewhere, but as a DOI Department Member I have to take an element of responsibility for the stress caused to island road users this week, and for that I offer my sincere apologies to Constituents and to other road users.

Once I realised that the “weight option” had been included in the Order Paper for consideration I wrote to the Department late on Sunday, along with speaking to the DOI Minister and other senior Council of Ministers members, in order to request that the document be pulled from this month’s Tynwald Order Paper.

I have also seen that some other Tynwald Members are trying to take credit for having the motion pulled from the Order Paper, and I would love to take the credit myself, but the fact is the final decision to remove the paper was made by the Council of Ministers.

Apologies, for the length of this explanation, but I feel it is important that all the relevant facts are put into the public domain.

Anyway, let’s move on — I also had to go through the Ports Division agenda pack before finally finishing for around 17.30 on Sunday evening.

As for Monday, well it was another stressful day, especially in respect of the Vehicle Duty Order 2021, which I have already outlined above. Given the comments over the weekend, from 7am I was drafting a social media post on the same topic that generated many more comments. Not actually sure how many messages and phone calls I received during Monday, but I guess it went beyond a hundred or so….

At 9am I had a DfE meeting around a department paper on the TT, Classic TT and MGP, which lasted an hour. From there it was straight into a DOI Ports Division meeting, which had a relatively light agenda, which was fortunate because between meetings I was still responding to messages relating to the Vehicle Duty Order 2021.

At 12 noon I dialled into a meeting with Beamans Management Consultants who are currently undertaking a Capacity and Capability Review of the Department of Infrastructure.

The meeting lasted over an hour and I answered various questions around efficiency, effectiveness, interaction with stakeholders and the general public etc by the Department. From there it was straight back on the phone to answer more questions on the Vehicle Duty Order 2021.

At 15.00 there was a tourism meeting as we look at a future funding and financing model for the sector. At 16.00 we were meant to have a Tynwald Members’ briefing on the Vehicle Duty Order 2021, but it was cancelled so I was able to tune into the latest media briefing.

After tea I still needed to go through the Tynwald and House of Keys Order Papers before finishing at around 20.45. Just after 21.00 on Monday evening a formal press release was issued confirming a further 110 cases of Covid-19 on the Isle of Man, and that eight island residents were now receiving treatment in hospital.

It really was heart breaking news to see the number of Covid-19 cases on the island increasing to 419 with eight people now in Nobles Hospital, but that figure would continue to grow throughout the week.

As for Tuesday, the day started around 7.30am catching up with correspondence and going through any remaining items relating to the Tynwald and House of Keys sittings. Just before 9am I joined my colleagues for the latest Covid-19 update with the Chief Minister and officers from within the Cabinet Office.

Again, the briefing was restricted to 30 minutes. At 10am we had the extraordinary sitting of Tynwald, which started with a Commonwealth Day Message from Her Majesty the Queen.

This was followed by a statement from the Chief Minister, Howard Quayle, MHK who gave an update on Covid-19, and this again generated a considerable amount of questions from Tynwald Members.

After the statement various pieces of regulation were considered and approved before the sitting finished at around 13.00. This gave me time to catch up with correspondence and phone calls. I also had to do a Manx Radio interview on the Vehicle Duty Order 2021, which has generated so much comment this week.

At lunchtime the DOI issued a press release confirming that the Vehicle Duty Order 2021 had been withdrawn from this month’s Tynwald sitting, which will be welcome news to thousands of road users.

At 14.00 we had this week’s House of Keys sitting that started with 14 oral and 9 written questions, and this was followed by the Second Reading of the Adoption Bill 2021.

The final item on the Order Paper was the Consideration of Clauses on the Statue Law Revision Bill 2020, before the sitting finished at 16.15. From there it was straight onto the phone to return a large number of missed phone calls mainly from key workers having to stay at home at the moment, mainly because schools hubs haven’t reopened yet.

Unfortunately, the number of Covid-19 cases on the island increased by a further 87, which brought the total of confirmed cases on the island to 506. After tea I still had to go through the DEFA and DfE agendas before finishing at around 21.15.

Wednesday was also very busy with back to back meetings all day. Fortunately my first meeting wasn’t until 9.30am so I was able to catch up with correspondence and a couple of department papers.

I then joined my DfE political colleagues for a general catch up before the department meeting, and this was followed by a Tynwald backbench members meeting on Covid-19 and a general discussion around the Government’s response to the pandemic over the past couple of weeks.

From there it was straight into the DfE department meeting at 11am, which started with the agency updates etc, but the actual agenda this week was relatively light. Just time to catch up with correspondence before dialling into the DEFA Environment Directorate meeting that started at 15.00.

At 17.00 I tuned into a discussion on the island’s “Exit Framework”, which was being hosted by James Davis, along with Mark Lewin, Chief Executive of the Department for Enterprise and Dr Henrietta Ewart, Director of Public Health who gave an overview of the strategy.

An interesting document, but there is very little information within the document around how we are actually intending to allow people to travel in the future, especially those visiting the island, and how we intend to re-build confidence in order to encourage people to travel again in the future.

I have put online a separate post on this particular topic, in order to reduce this week’s blog.

It was also confirmed on Wednesday that the Classic TT and Manx Grand Prix 2021 due to be held on the island in August and September were being cancelled, along with the Southern 100 event this year. I guess the announcements will not be a surprise given the circumstances, but it will be a further further blow for the island’s tourism sector.

As for Covid-19, the numbers continued to increase on Wednesday by a further 75 new cases, which brought the total number cases up to 580 with seven people in hospital.

On Thursday it was a complete change of pace, and with no formal meetings or briefings I was able to slow things down just for a moment. I spent most of the day catching with some reading and a few constituent issues, along with finally being able to start working on next week’s Tynwald Order Paper.

At 10am I had a virtual coffee morning and a couple of people dialled in to say hello, which was fantastic. I was also able to join my Tynwald backbench colleagues for their catch-up meeting, which focused on Covid-19.

I even managed to get out for a short walk in the afternoon, because the pressure has definitely been intense this week, and I just needed to switch off for an hour.

At 16.00 I tuned into the latest media brief in which the Health Minister, David Ashford, MHK confirmed that a further 65 cases of COVID-19 have been detected in the Isle of Man, and which brought the total up to 644, with 12 people receiving treatment in hospital.

As for Friday, the day started just after 7.30am as I continued to do some research around travel once restrictions are lifted at some point in the future. At 9am there was a Tynwald Members briefing from the Chief Minister and the officers from within the Cabinet Office, at which point we were informed that an island resident had died of Covid-19.

This is the first Covid-19 death on the island since 5th November 2020, and it takes the total number of deaths on the Isle of Man to 26. I also take this opportunity to extend my deepest condolences to their family and friends at this difficult time.

Once the briefing finished I logged into the latest backbench Tynwald Members’ catch-up before I held my second virtual “coffee morning”, which I really enjoyed.

Ellen and I then headed out for a short walk towards lunchtime and most of the afternoon was spent working on this month’s Tynwald Order Paper, which is fast approaching.

At the media briefing at 16.00, the Health Minister confirmed a further 66 cases of COVID-19, which brought the total number of confirmed cases on the island to 704 with 12 people in hospital.

It really has been a difficult week for the Manx Community and the Government, but on a more positive note we started the week with 15,875 first vaccinations being delivered, along with 9,304 island residents also having received their second vaccinations.

The Government aimed to deliver 1,000 vaccinations per day this week, and by Friday teatime more than 30,500 vaccinations had been delivered. This included 19,888 first vaccinations and 10,782 second vaccinations, which is fantastic news, but so much needs to happen if we are to vaccinate our community as a matter of urgency.

A couple of urgent DOI papers to go through on Friday evening, but I was able to take the rest of the evening off.

As for the weekend, I will have to spend some considerable time going through the Tynwald Order Paper, but hopefully I will be able to switch off for a few hours along the way.