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State of the Nation Address 2019

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

By: Hon Howard Quayle MHK, Chief Minister

Thank you, Mr President. 

Honourable Members. 

This is my third State of the Nation address to this Honourable Court. 

Previously I have looked back at preceding year’s achievements and challenges. 

I think it is fair to say that this administration has had its share of significant achievements and challenges – both of which we have tackled head on. 

Have these challenges been a threat or an opportunity for us? Well to quote Sir Winston Churchill:

'A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity;

an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.' 

These challenges thrown at us, often outside our own control, are best faced by working together; public, business, third sector, Tynwald and government. 

As we are now past the half-way mark of this administration, I feel it is important that I make it clear that we have no intention of slowing down. 

We are, in many ways, ahead of where we hoped to be at this point in terms of the state of the economy and of public finances, however, we will not become complacent. 

Honourable Members will note I have warned against complacency many times previously. 

Mr President, some countries have paused their domestic agenda due to Brexit. 

Not here; our focus remains on delivering the Programme for Government. 

I am proud we have continued to deliver our ambitious domestic agenda in addition, in spite ofall the extra work that has resulted from Brexit. 

We will keep our pace right to the very end of this administration; this is shown by the Programme for Government Year 3, which came before this Court in April. This sets out those ambitious actions we are committed to delivering, alongside the ‘day job’ for the next two years. 

This is only possible due to our hard working public servants. Each and every one plays an important role in delivering the Programme for Government, services to the public and ultimately the success of the Island. 

Achievements 

I want to reflect briefly on elements of our delivery of the Programme for Government. 

I’ve talked many times about the big capital items; the investment in the Liverpool landing stage or the acquisition of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company for example. 

But there are many other actions in our Programme for Government where we are delivering on our promises. 

In my first State of the Nation address in 2017, I said that we heard the concerns about gas prices and announced that I had set up a Committee to look into the Manx Gas Regulatory Agreement. 

Their report published earlier this year clearly shows the need for tightening the agreement. 

Negotiations with Manx Gas on the form of a new agreement continue, but rest assured Honourable Members, we know the importance of ensuring that a future agreement robustly protects Manx Gas customers. 

We continue to negotiate with Manx Gas in good faith. 

If negotiations are not completed by 30 November 2019, we will consider a legislative route. 

I talked two years ago about public sector pensions; and now we are making substantial progress. 

There is secondary legislation in the pipeline that will make cost-sharing across all schemes a reality rather than an idea. 

Last year I announced that I was concerned about the practice of employing people on zero-hours contracts. 

Minister Ashford has chaired a Committee on the issue which found no evidence of widespread systematic abuse of these contracts. 

But - concerns were raised, and we are committed to taking action in this area including raising awareness of worker’s rights and changing legislation. 

This year, I can announce that a Committee chaired by Dr Allinson will look into community and public engagement. 

Social isolation and mental health issues are, in my opinion, a ticking time bomb. 

The more we as a society and a government can do to get people out and about in the community and talking together has to be the best way to help with these issues. 

We need to ensure that our communities are vibrant and inclusive for all generations. 

It was the strength of the community response to the flooding in Laxey that particularly resonated with me. 

Part of the foundations for our communities is ensuring that the Isle of Man remains a uniquely safe place to live and work. 

This year’s budget saw the most significant increase in funding for the Police in real terms for many years, recognising that the safety of our Island is a fundamental part of our quality of life. 

And I am pleased to be able to say that the Isle of Man’s position as the safest jurisdiction in the British Isles has been reinforced. 

At the end of September, crime has reduced by 5%, reversing in part the increase we saw last year. Reported incidents are down by 4% and this is becoming a significant trend.  Arrests are up by 5% as a result of police officers being specifically tasked to target drunkenness and anti-social behaviour. All of this is being achieved when there is growing complexity in the demands facing the Constabulary. 

Sporting and arts achievements 

I’ve talked so far about Government’s achievements but yet again I can stand here and repeat that this Island continues to punch above its weight, in the sporting world and in arts and culture on an international stage. 

I could be here for some time listing achievements but, Honourable Members, how fantastic was it this year to see:

  • world ranking for the Isle of Man netball team for the first time, after winning the Netball Europe Open;
  • Yasmin Ingham becoming British Under 25 Eventing Champion;
  • or Joe Reid becoming 800 metre British indoor champion with the 3 legs of Man on his vest, to name but a few.

I said last year that it is not just sport where we outperform our size; it is also in the arts and culture. 

One highlight for me as a proud Manxman was joining the Manx delegation at the Festival Interceltique de Lorient. 

The quality of the performances from the Manx artists was exceptional, and I take my hat off to those who I know work incredibly hard to organise the Manx delegation and the pavilion. The Isle of Man truly shone to over 800,000 people over 10 days at Europe’s largest Celtic festival. 

Parliamentary year 

Mr President, Honourable Members will see the Legislation Programme before them today. This is legislation prioritised and aligned for delivery with the Programme for Government. 

It is ambitious and heavy, we intend to bring 33 Bills into the Branches by the end of the parliamentary year. This is more than double the usual amount. 

Mr President, we have huge, complex topics of reform on the Order paper today - rates reform - means testing. 

The far, far easiest form of reform Mr President, is none at all; simply maintaining the status quo ad infinitum. 

We could have ducked out of these sticky, difficult topics which are easier not to tackle, to push aside for a future administration. 

But that is not what I came into politics for. And I’m sure that’s not what Honourable Members would want either. 

I became a politician to work for a sustainable future for following generations of this beautiful Island.  Intergenerational fairness in our society is extremely important to me. 

At the end of the this administration I want to be certain that we did not shy away from difficult issues or reform, no matter how painful, if it is the right decision. 

Indeed, we are in a period of potentially, in my view, significant and bold change for Isle of Man Government. 

It is always easy to identify that something needs to change, or that something could be improved. 

I always welcome constructive criticism and especially when Honourable Members come to me with well-thought out potential solutions to the pressing problems. 

And I’m always willing to admit that you don’t enter Government knowing all the answers. 

But I feel that, starting with the findings of the Health and Care Review, the path that we must embark on has become clear. 

The transformation of our health and care services into a new delivery model is underway, and will deliver the separation of policy making and the delivery of services to the public. 

When we talk about policy and the delivery of services, some may feel that Government is navel-gazing. 

But, as we have been told very clearly by Sir Jonathan Michael’s findings, we need transformation of this type to ensure that we are allowing our frontline staff to deliver the best possible public services for our community, for the best possible value for money. 

This theme of separating policy and operational delivery continues with the work regarding options for running our airport. The review of the airport and the transformation of health and care show Tynwald’s recognition of the principle of policy and oversight being a “Government” function with service delivery being an operational responsibility. 

Climate change 

Speaking of transformation, we keenly await the recommendations of Professor Curran’s ongoing assessment of how the Island can meet our ambitious target of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. 

I’m sure no member of this Honourable Court will disagree with me when I say that the issue of climate change has rocketed in importance in the minds of the public, even since the start of this administration. 

Climate change is a huge challenge facing the world, but the Isle of Man can play an active part in finding solutions. Our community will benefit if we can build on the opportunities presented by a more sustainable, low carbon future. 

But we must also expect that to achieve this, the Island may need to embrace some significant changes. 

Given the scale of the challenge we have set ourselves, I have no doubt that Professor Curran will too call for bold action when he reports to this Honourable Court in January. 

We need to find deliverable and sustainable solutions that will tackle the global climate crisis and bring opportunities and a better future for the Isle of Man. 

Business 

Sustainability is a theme that is always at the forefront of my mind. To be able to fund provision of public services, we have to have sufficient public finance. This is inextricably linked with the performance of our business sector. Thomas Jefferson is quoted as saying:

'Never spend your money before you have earned it.' 

We need income, Treasury receipts, generated by our businesses, before we can fund any public service. 

In my budget speech earlier this year I made no apologies for the fact that this is an administration that is business focussed. 

I told this Court it is only by having a successful and growing economy; with more businesses, employing more people and paying more earnings that enables us to deliver high quality public services. This continues and always will be the case. 

Economic growth continues; latest GDP data, for 2017/18 shows real annual growth of 3.6%. Whilst this level of real growth is the envy of some, I know that this is not what matters to people. 

The latest earnings data shows that real median earnings remain steady, which means that earnings - the money in the pocket - hasn’t been eroded by inflation. 

The Island’s economy is largely outward looking; the global economy is facing challenges including escalating trade wars such as that between the US and China and the risk that the UK and other major economies could tip into a recession. 

We need to continue to be prudent in how we manage our economy and finances. 

Cautious optimism continues throughout the economy, evidenced in the most recent business confidence survey with many employers looking to expand their workforce.

We have launched the Locate strategy to increase inward migration – with two consecutive quarters of growth in the economically active population since its launch this year.

We have reviewed our High Net Worth proposition and as a result are relaunching a stronger campaign focusing on this important area.

As a Government we launched Blockchain Isle of Man, our initiative to support and guide businesses using blockchain technology.

This confidence is mirrored in our construction sector that is seeing exceptional levels of activity and growth.

All of this work cements the Isle of Man Government’s promise that we are a special place to live, work and visit.

Brexit 

However, our economy and so many others will without doubt be influenced by side-shocks from Brexit. 

When I spoke this time last year, we were preparing for the imminent exit of the UK from the European Union. 

Now, one year on, we are preparing for the imminent exit of the UK from the European Union.

I do not need to remind Members that the political situation in the UK remains unclear and the much-used phrase ‘the only thing we can be certain of is uncertainty’ remains true. 

A deal remains the stated objective of the UK Government. 

And while recent events in the UK parliament may have reduced the likelihood of a no-deal exit in just over two weeks, it is not impossible. 

Our contacts across Whitehall and Westminster continue to tell us that they are still preparing for all eventualities, and still cannot call the likely outcome. 

But, there are things that we can be certain about. 

Either a Withdrawal Agreement will be signed, with a transition period to follow, or, the UK will cease to be a Member of EU without an agreement in place. 

And the possibility does still exist that the UK could remain an EU member, either through a further extension to Article 50 or possibly even indefinitely if we see a marked shift in Westminster politics. 

We have prepared for all outcomes. This is the responsible thing to do. 

Following the extraordinary sitting of Tynwald, we were pleased last week to see that the EU confirmed agreement that the Isle of Man has equivalent agri-food regulation and that they would accept our high quality products even in the event of a no deal exit. This reflects a great deal of hard work together by both our high quality industry and DEFA as our regulator. 

To help people prepare for Brexit, we have updated our guidance for people and businesses in the Isle of Man. 

We have ensured that everyone in the Isle of Man has the information they need to get ready. 

Whether this is to check the validity of their passports before travelling, to start the settlement process if they are an EU national living here, or be ready to export their products overseas. 

These are, without doubt, unprecedented times, but we must not lose sight of our place in the world and the importance of our social, cultural and economic links with our closest neighbour and international representative, the United Kingdom. 

We are working closely with the UK to ensure we can be included in any potential new arrangement between the UK and the European Union. 

Our primary concern has always been to ensure that we maintain an open border between ourselves and the UK for goods, and for people. We have done that. 

Looking ahead, we now stand ready to take advantage of the opportunities that may arise from this new chapter in the UK’s relationship with the EU and the rest of the World. 

Mr President, there is no doubt that we are entering uncharted waters in the coming 12 months. Whilst we have been successful as an Island we cannot underestimate what difficulties we may face. 

For example, whilst we have steered a clear way forward on beneficial ownership that is both achievable and which aligns us with the strongest existing multinational standard in this area, political events across the globe are creating further ripples on our shores. 

We are seeing the impact in other places that political disunity brings and I am extremely proud that this Court has continued to work together, often when the course is a difficult one for us to navigate. Henry Ford said:

‘if everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself’ 

and I wanted to use this opportunity to acknowledge Honourable Members’ continued support. 

Whilst we can predict and forecast, nobody has a certain view of what is coming over the brow of the hill towards us. 

But I know one thing - Never has our national motto rang more true:

Whichever way you throw us, we will stand.

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Please note: these are speaking notes and may differ from the speech as delivered.

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