Last Saturday evening the main news channels in the US and UK confirmed that America had spoken and had elected Democrat Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States of America, which was almost 5 days after the election, but the current President Donald Trump continues to dispute the election result, both publicly and in the Courts.
Vice President, Kamala Harris has also made history by becoming the first woman, the first black person and person of South Asian descent to hold the office of Vice President, which is some achievement.
If nothing else politics does break down all sorts of barriers – I know that from my own small political journey over the last eight years……
Covid-19 also continues to dominate the news both locally and internationally and as the news was breaking in the US, the Isle of Man was unfortunately announcing that another brave island resident had lost their battle with the pandemic.
Our thoughts are with the family and friends at this difficult time, but there is some good news on the horizon as an effective vaccine might be available by the end of the year. This is after the Pfizer and BioNtech vaccine was tested on over 40,000 people in more than six countries, but that testing continues in order to ensure that the vaccine is safe to use.
More on Covid-19 in a moment.
As for my own activities this week, last Saturday morning I attended the Children’s Poppy Service at St. Peter’s Church, which is designed round the Onchan School’s and it allowed students to read out poems and to lay wooden crosses with the names of those individuals that didn’t return to Onchan from various conflicts.
On Sunday Ellen and I attended the Remembrance Services in Onchan and St. John’s, along with having lunch in the Archibald Knox in between. Despite the damp weather early on in the morning, there was a fantastic turnout in Onchan for Remembrance Sunday.
The Onchan Silver Band led the procession away at around 9.20am ahead of the Church Service at St. Peter’s before we walked back to the War Memorial for a short service and wreath laying ceremony. A special thank you to all the Onchan schools and students for some wonderful readings.
For me personally, it is always an honour to lay a wreath and to pay my respects as an Onchan MHK to those individuals that didn’t return home from war or conflict. A big thank you to all the Guides, Scouts, Explorers, Cubs and Leaders etc for such a wonderful turn-out, and it is on occasions like Remembrance Sunday when the Community comes together – I am proud to serve Onchan and this Island.
After a grabbing a quick coffee at the Methodist Church Ellen and I headed to the Archibald Knox for lunch, which was very nice.
Home for 30 minutes before driving down to St. John’s for the National Service of Remembrance and Re-Dedication, which was held in St. John’s Chapel. With so many remembrance services being scaled back or even cancelled in the UK due to Covid-19, it was great to see the Chapel full and the choir in fantastic voice, especially when they were singing some of my favourite hymns.
It was also very poignant, especially with no other sound than a handful of crows in the sky, the mist falling all around us and a single piper in the distance as the wreaths were being laid.
I also have to pay special tribute to my wife Ellen for her continuous support over the years especially during these events. Onchan might have elected me as their MHK in 2016, but the job is a lot easier when you have the love and support of someone standing by your side.
Finally got home for around 17.00, but I still had to catch up with a few correspondence and other jobs until around 20.00.
As for Monday and the rest of my week, it was all about trying to stay one step ahead. Although I was in the office by 8am and the first couple of hours were spent catching up with correspondence and going through the House of Keys Order Paper.
Towards 11am I headed into Onchan for a meeting with the Head Teachers of Onchan School and Ashley Hill School, in order to discuss “Breakfast Clubs”, which was a follow up from one of my political surgeries recently.
A big thank you to Jo and Peter for their valuable time and input, but there is still a lot of work to be done if we are to get this scheme off the ground.
Back to the office and straight up to the Barrool Suite for a presentation by the Chief Minister, Howard Quayle, MHK and the Cabinet Office on Covid-19. The presentation gave backbench Tynwald Members a better understanding on how the Council of Ministers make these difficult decisions around Covid-19 and what information and data is considered etc.
A very interesting presentation and a lot of questions raised by Tynwald Members.
Just time to catch up with a few things in the office before heading down to the Sea Terminal just after 15.00 for the Douglas Promenade Political Oversight Board meeting, and it is fair to say that these meetings are not getting any easier.
A lot of discussion focused on the Christmas period, getting Broadway open and bringing this scheme to an end, but also keeping the public fully informed.
I finally got home just before 18.00 and after a quick tea I still needed to go through various correspondence and DOI reports before finishing at around 19.45.
Back in the office for 8am on Tuesday ahead of the House of Keys sitting that got underway at 10am with 19 oral questions and 13 written questions, which were followed by the second readings of the Climate Bill 2020 and Competition Bill 2020.
During the lunchtime break there was a presentation from the Cabinet Office on the Area Plan for the East before the item is discussed next week in Tynwald once again, and it will be interesting see how close the vote is….
Back to the House of Keys to finish off the second reading of the Competition Bill 2020 and and the Justice Reform Bill 2020. My colleague Martyn Perkins, MHK then asked for leave to introduce a Private Member’s Bill to prohibit the sale, supply and release into the atmosphere of sky lanterns.
We then went through the Clauses in respect of the Human Tissue & Organ Donation Bill 2020 and Medicines (Amendment) Bill 2020. The final item on the Order Paper related to the Courts, Tribunals and Local Authority Procedures and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2020 and the amendments back from the Legislative Council, which were supported.
The Keys sitting finally finished for around 16.30 and the last hour or so was spent in the office. In the evening I needed to go through my DfE agenda pack before finishing at around 19.30.
In the office for normal time on Wednesday and it was straight into some research work relating to the island’s National Infrastructure ahead of a policy and strategy meeting in the Department of Infrastructure.
Over to DfE just after 9am for the Minister and Political Members’ catch up before the Chairs and Heads of Agencies’ updates. The meeting stopped just before 11am to observe a minute’s silence for remembrance day.
This was followed by a presentation from the Isle of Man Aircraft Registry and going through the main Department order paper, which finished just before 13.00.
Back to the office to start drafting a few letters that I will need to send over the next couple of weeks before I walked down to the Sea Terminal for 14.15 ahead of three presentations on key road improvements, one of those being the TT access road.
The meeting lasted over three hours, and boy, was it tough – and it will get harder as we work through some of these key initial ideas. In the private sector you make decisions that are for the good of the business etc, but in the public sector every single decision affects someone – there are just no easy or simple decisions at times, but still fascinating to be involved in these projects.
Anyway, I managed to get home just after 18.00.
Also on Wednesday evening it was announced that the Isle of Man had two new cases of Covid-19, which is not unusual. However, there were serious questions being raised as to whether the pandemic was back in our Community, because the two new cases came from contact tracing – a point that the Health Minister, David Ashford disputed.
However, my colleague Clare Barber, MHK who is a member of the Department of Health & Social Care said that the government needs to be more open and honest about Covid-19 cases, a point that I totally agree with.
Clare did two very good interviews with Manx Radio and with Paul Moulton, and during the Thursday teatime at press briefing the Chief Minister, Howard Quayle, MHK said he didn’t want to quibble over semantics and technical definitions.
Personally, I think the Manx Community do have a right to know if Covid-19 is in our Community or it isn’t, and that any terminology is secondary.
As for Thursday, I was able to spend the first three hours in the garden at home clearing up some leaves around the cottage, and I know it is still November but I took the opportunity with the dry weather to put up some Christmas decorations ready for the switch on in December.
We don’t normally put up many decorations on the outside of the house, but given the fact that it has been such a difficult year for so many people I want to put a little more effort into Christmas this year, especially on the outside.
From around 12 noon I needed to go through the Manx National Heritage (MNH) agenda pack and catch up with correspondence and a couple of constituent issues before I dialled into the MNH meeting at 16.00, which lasted almost three hours.
I was back in the office for 8am on Friday to get a few jobs done before driving back to Onchan for two Constituent meetings, both of which related to Social Housing concerns.
I was back in the office before 10.30am to meet up with another Constituent who is desperately looking to find suitable employment, but feels that their disability is limiting their opportunities, which is disappointing.
We managed to work through various options along with going through the Job Centre and pulling together suitable positions – hopefully, we can find a part-time or full-time position in the very near future, but the employment market on the island is still difficult.
At 12.30 I headed up to the Barrool Suite for two briefings relating to the new Heads of Terms agreement between the Manx Government and Manx Gas, which will be debated in Tynwald next week.
The first briefing was with the CEO of Manx Gas who gave a presentation remotely and the second briefing was given by the Cabinet Office who gave further details on the actual Heads of Terms.
Question time was interesting and on occasion very heated, especially when one Tynwald member continued to push the Manx Gas CEO and the Policy and Reform Minister for more information and detail on how Commercial customers using more than 12,000 KhW per annum will be treated, and if they will be treated fairly, because the agreement only appears to protect Domestic Customers.
For me personally, I was looking for the data that will sit behind the Heads of Terms. Unfortunately, the agreement doesn’t provide enough detail or information to show how Manx Gas bills on the island will actually reduce in the coming months. Neither does it give clear details on the refund policy for those occasions when the Manx Gas exceed 6.99% return.
Once the meeting finished I started to look at next week’s Tynwald Order Paper before taking the opportunity to head home at 15.00. Once home I still needed to go through a new immigration case, which is far harder than the previous one that I was involved in a couple of weeks ago.
Again, I have to thank the Immigration team for their input and advice.
On Friday evening Ellen and I went the “Whole Hog” as we joined around 30 other diners at Close Leece Farm in St. John’s for their taster menu, which involved eight courses all based around their Tamworth pigs.
The food was delicious and by the end of the evening we felt like stuffed little pigs, but it was great to support a local business and to eat fantastic local food – a massive thank you to all the staff at Close Leece Farm for a wonderful evening.
As for the weekend, I will need to work on the Tynwald Order Paper and I have a few engagements, more details will be given next week.