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State of the Nation Address 2018

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Mr President, Honourable Members,

This administration has now entered its third year and it is once again time for me to review the state of our Island Nation.

This is the year when Brexit changes from a concept into a reality.

One possible outcome is that the UK will leave the EU on 29 March without any form of a deal.

There is still a huge amount of work that needs to be done to make sure that the Isle of Man is totally prepared for that scenario and indeed for all scenarios.

This is one of the greatest challenges that a Manx Government and parliament has ever faced.

Our European Union and Trade Bill – which will come to the Keys for its first reading later this month – is probably the most important piece of legislation that this Honourable Court will need to consider in a generation.

We simply don’t know whether there will be a deal or not.

There are many critical issues that are still unresolved.

The EU will not allow free movement of goods without free movement of people.

The UK does not want a physical border in Ireland and it does not want free movement of people.

After all, this was one of the key drivers behind the vote for Brexit in the first place.

If you had asked me about the likelihood of a deal before the Salzburg conference I would have said with some confidence that I think they will find a way through.

But as we saw the summit did not go to plan.

The signs are now improving and I am picking up more of a note of optimism.

But we have to remember that this is a difficult time both technically and politically.

Especially politically.

And we know there are still difficulties on the UK side as well as with the Northern Irish MPs, which means that any deal may not get the backing it needs in Parliament.

The UK and the EU both need to agree and sign off the Withdrawal Agreement with a workable backstop on Northern Ireland as well as the broad scope of a High Level Political Declaration which will set out the future relationship.

We are entering a crucial stage and we will hopefully see some detail emerge at the end of this week with further scope for final sign off in November.

This means that the negotiations will be intense over the next two or three weeks.

But I want to make sure that what I say next is totally clear:

Deal or no deal, we are making the necessary preparations so that we are ready whatever happens.

And we will have made the necessary preparations for either scenario.

Because we are small and agile we will be ready to take advantage of post-Brexit opportunities.

And because we have planned meticulously for any outcome we will be as well prepared as possible.

I have always said that when I finish my political career I want to leave the Island in a better position than when I started.

The cornerstone of this administration is sustainability.

We have continued to deliver the Programme for Government to make the Isle of Man an even more special place to live and work.

I will not steal the thunder from my colleague Minister Thomas who will return to this Honourable Court next month for a debate on the Programme for Government but I would emphasise that we remain committed to delivering our three core aims:

  • An inclusive and caring society
  • An Island of enterprise and opportunity; and
  • A financially responsible government.

We are focusing on achieving some very specific outcomes in the Programme for Government.

One of the actions set out in the Programme was to 'Ensure the future security, sustainability, and reliability of our sea and air routes.'

We now own our strategic sea services.

After an enormous amount of careful consideration the Council of Ministers decided in the best interests of our residents, in the best interests of our businesses, and in the best long-term interests of the Isle of Man, as a whole that we would take control of the future of our ferry service.

We listened to the concerns of the public and with the support of Tynwald we took action.

And that has secured sustainability on our seas for many years to come.

Our investment in infrastructure will have benefits for many future generations.

Planning is in for Lord Street with an intention to build a new hotel, seven screen cinema, restaurants, and parking.

And, ending many years of prevarication, work has finally begun on the promenade.

Yes, it is going to be a little bit more difficult for us to get around Douglas over the next two years, but this work will benefit the Island for many decades to come.

A deal has been signed with Peel Holdings to build a new ferry terminal in Liverpool.

And we spent a few extra months negotiating the details so that we could get the best possible deal for the Isle of Man.

But it’s not just our physical environment where we have made sustainable decisions.

We took the decision to write-off £95 million of debt from Manx Utilities, scaling down proposed significant price increases and therefore helping every resident of the Isle of Man.

In fact we are always looking to help those people in our society on low income.

Writing-off this debt also meant that the MUA could realistically plan for the future.

Their sensible and robust new pricing structure is laid ready for discussion with Members later in this sitting. It is a structure that I wholeheartedly approve of.

Socrates once said:

'The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new.'

None of these important decisions have been easy and quite rightly there has been debate.

But ultimately this Honourable Court has worked together for the greater good of the Isle of Man.

I have set up a Chief Minister’s committee to look into the policy for gas regulation on the Island.

And I am delighted that the Minister of Policy and Reform will be reporting back to me in December.

And also laid before the Court today is our telecommunications strategy.

This is an area in which we used to lead the world.

But we have now fallen to sixty-second place for the speed of our network.

If we want to maintain and grow our digital economy and our associated industries like fintech and digital health then we have to have the right infrastructure.

Sustainability is also at the heart of our policies for the environment.

We remain the only jurisdiction with UNESCO biosphere status.

This is an accolade that even The Guardian newspaper couldn’t ignore.

The Minister for Environment, Food and Agriculture recently announced nine new marine nature reserves, bringing the total up to ten.

The reserves will cover over 10 per cent of the Island’s territorial sea and more than 50 per cent of the inshore waters that contain the highest diversity of species and habitats. 

Over the past year we have given Beach Buddies funding to help their magnificent work of clearing plastic from our beaches and footpaths.

In the business arena we are making real and lasting reforms.

Businesses told us that work permits were not working. So we fundamentally reformed our work permit regime.

The new system provides a balance between supporting employers and the need to protect our Manx workers.

As a result overall business confidence in the system has doubled and over 90% of all permits are now approved within 24 hours.

Business told us that planning needed to be reformed.  

So we consulted on a wide range of reforms and back in May a plan to reform the planning system was laid before this Honourable Court.

A fundamental change to the Town and Country Planning Bill is currently out for consultation.

The Bill proposes a number of key changes including national policy directives and community infrastructure levies.

Business told us that we needed to make it easier to work with Government.

So we reformed the Department for Enterprise, setting up the delivery agencies so that we can work more closely with those at the coal face. 

As a result we have improved the way we communicate with business.

But we still need to improve our communication with the public.

We want to build openness and transparency.

We know that every day more and more people want to access information and services online and through social media.

The way that people receive information is constantly changing and they may not always want to hear what politicians have to say.

We have to constantly improve our ability to convey information in a clear and simple way to all audiences, especially younger audiences. 

Last week saw an important focus on mental health with World Mental Health Day recognised globally.

Indeed Minister Ashford attended the first global Mental Health Summit hosted by the UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.

We have a huge task ahead of us to ensure that our people, especially the younger generation, receive the support that they need in facing mental health challenges.

The Department for Health and Social Care is rolling out mental health first aid training for Government employees, followed by private organisations.

We will be training members of staff to be mental health first aiders so that they learn how to identify, understand and help someone who might be experiencing a mental health issue.

Yes we have made advances in this important area but we can and should do more.

And now I am going to spend a couple of minutes celebrating some of our recent successes.

At the Commonwealth Games in Australia we had the enormous pleasure of supporting Charlotte Atkinson when she finished fourth in the women's 200m butterfly swimming.

And I was proud to watch Tim Kneale win a silver medal in the men’s individual double trap shooting.

In fact the whole team was just magnificent.

And in the Arts:

  • The 2018 BBC Young Folk Musician of the Year is Mera Royle
  • And the first Pretty Woman on Broadway is Sam Barks
  • And there are many, many other people performing on the international stage and representing the Isle of Man with pride.

And I have not forgotten our young people.

This summer saw the best A-Level results ever, with a 5% increase in A*, A and B grades.

And there was an increase in the number of pupils obtaining five or more GCSE's including maths and English.

There was also the highest ever levels of achievement across most areas in early years and key stages 1 and 2.

I hope that all members share my pride in everything that these Manx people of all ages have achieved.

There have also been significant achievements in our economy.

Our GDP in real terms has increased by 7.4%.

The amount of money people take home in their pocket has increased by 4.4%.

Whilst we cannot expect growth like this every year, I believe that we are heading in the right direction.

And when I talk about sustainability I don’t just mean in our environment.  I also mean in our society.

We are rolling out the Equality Act – part of our commitment to an inclusive and caring society.

From 1 January 2019 there will be wider protection for all members of our society ensuring equal treatment when accessing services or in employment.

As an employer the Government has introduced the living wage and is committed to increasing the pay for 86 Public Services Commission and healthcare workers to the living wage of £8.61 per hour.

Members will hear more about this shortly from the Minister for Policy and Reform.

And Minister Thomas is also looking at how we can help those who are cold, hungry or homeless.

But I think we still need to do more than this.

I have asked the Minister for Health and Social Care, David Ashford, to chair a new Chief Minister’s committee to look carefully at the issues faced by those on zero hour contracts.

This is something that I’ve been concerned about for some time.

I know that some workers like those in the care industry or those in seasonal work rely on this type of contract.

But we need to ensure that they are not being abused by employers.

This is also the Year of Our Island.

And we have had some fantastic activities run for our young people our old people and for everyone in between.

It has been fantastic to see so many people out and about and enjoying this beautiful Island.

There has been the trail guide, the dark skies events in January, and the summer passports, to name just a few.

Many of you joined us for the opening of the Blein Yn Ellan Ain garden in St Johns.

And I was deeply proud of the work that our children carried out.

On a more sombre note next month will be the centenary of the end of World War One.

It will be a deeply moving occasion for us all.

This year I visited my Great Uncle’s grave in France as part of my trip to represent the Island at the commemoration of the centenary of the Battle of Amiens.

I would also like to commend the Isle of Man community for all of the moving ways in which they have paid tribute to those who served their country.

Personally I was very moved by Ramsey Commissioners when they invited me to attend the commemoration of the one hundreth anniversary of the loss of my Great Uncle.

This is a poignant act of remembrance that the town is observing for every single person on the war memorial.

Mr President, in summary the Government is well placed to continue delivering sustainability for the Isle of Man.

But we are not complacent.

We have a lot more work to do.

And we are still facing significant international challenges:

  • TAX 3
  • Moneyval
  • The EU Code of Conduct Group
  • And the debate over beneficial ownership still goes on.

In all good organisations you have the front of house team and you have the behind the scenes team, without both you won’t succeed.

And I would like to thank all of our public sector workers for their valuable work and the contribution they make to the Isle of Man every day. 

And we will continue down the path of delivering sustainable policies at home and meeting international standards abroad.

We will make the most of every opportunity that we can find in the post-Brexit world.

And we will continue to make the right decisions for the present and for the future of this most special and proud Island nation. A truly special place to live and work.

We will make absolutely certain that the Isle of Man will always be a shining jewel in the Irish Sea.

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