Christian: Our Purpose In This Island Plan Is Forgotten

H A N S A R D

Douglas, Tuesday, 1st February 2022


The President: I call on the Hon. Member for Douglas South, Mrs Christian.

Mrs Christian: Thank you, Mr President. I would like to thank the Chief Minister for his speech. There was a list of commitments which I will, with interest, reread from Hansard. This might just be the priority list that we have all been waiting for.

Mr President, during my part in this debate, Members will receive an amendment. I will speak to this amendment at the end of my contribution.

Having read this Island Plan word-for-word now, in the brief time we have been allowed, I am pleased to say I have some constructive concerns which I would like to address to you and to this Court. As the Chief Minister has pointed out, there are some of us who are not happy with the aesthetics or format, but what this is causing is the great confusion of what are our priorities and our policies.

First and foremost, we have a purpose. We are here to serve and represent the best interests of our communities. Our purpose in this Island Plan is forgotten. Instead, it is a document describing visions. What worries me, Mr President, is that using this kind of language, like ‘turning our vision into reality’, detracts from any real, firm commitments, and this ultimately encompasses the frustration with this document.

I have asked the public what they think and the intel that has been provided is that it is not simple, which was something that I know this Government was trying to achieve with good intention. The public do not know really what the core priorities are. It is missing clarity in this. In fact, I have pulled a list of might-be priorities from this document, and at my last count there were 60-or-so ‘visions’. I fear the language in this document has drifted away from our core purpose.

Mr President, we are not visionaries. Calling the Plan a vision, one vision for the Isle of Man, does not instil the reassurance that this Government is going to be any different from any other. And in this current climate, with the mistrust that is building across the waters in the UK, and the mistrust that has built up on this Island over the years of overspending, I hope this Government realises they are going to have to work thrice as hard as any before to regain that trust and belief, (A Member: Hear, hear.) and faith in us, and we need to provide trusted leadership now more than ever. (Mr Thomas: Hear, hear.)

Leading by example. We are already seeing how quickly the public’s faith is lost over one such error to do with an FoI, and internally, when Members are not being given respectful time to read and digress a document that is the sole purpose for this administration for the next five years. (A Member: Hear, hear.) My message to this Government is simple: please stop talking about visions, as these visions will soon become mirages, especially when this vision has no idea at what this will cost to the taxpayer.

This document talks about some challenges, but I would like to see more on what the Government thinks about critical challenges that will face us in this administration. I am very concerned there is no mention of a global downturn in the economy, achieving better efficiencies within Departments, public sector pay negotiations, pension liability, the real cost of COVID in the long term, Brexit, Moneyval assessments, our border, international travel and links to the Island  in depth, contributions to overseas aid, population needs, mental health, costly capital investments and exponential rising inflation.

Mr President, there are areas within this document that we need clarification on, and I am sorry, Mr Henderson, but I am going to go into the minutiae. In the first section, ‘An Island of health and wellbeing’, we will: 2. Address how waiting times and access to health and social care can be improved as a priority. You can understand why from this language a person might be confused. ‘Address’ – it is ambiguous. Surely an improvement in this service is to reduce, not address? If reducing is our outcome, and I believe it is, this will improve the access.

In point 5, we will: 5. Provide appropriate support for those who choose to care for others at home. What does ‘appropriate’ mean? Who decides what appropriate means? The fact that this is a priority means that the current support is not appropriate. This is a big challenge. ‘Appropriate’ will mean something different to you, to me, Mr President. I do not know what we want to achieve here. What is the real outcome? That a person can access funds to support them to care for loved ones at home whatever the need is. As a principle, the last administration agreed that the living wage was fundamentally what people needed to live a meaningful life. Is this what the Government is saying is appropriate support?

We will: 7. Review financial support towards meeting nursing home fees … [including] social care costs. Mr President, a review is not an outcome. A review is a means to an outcome. Unless of course this is all the Government want to achieve. We will do a review; do what the public perceive governments do all the time and do nothing about it. At this point, I will point out that a review is mentioned eight times in this document. Is this going to be eight times we review something and do not do anything about it? You might argue you do not want to pre-empt the outcome, but this is just a red herring, Members. A review is needed to change something. The public want some clarity. This should read we will, ‘Provide financial support towards meeting nursing home fees and social care costs’, but I feel the reason we are not saying this is because we know this is unachievable. But if we are seen to do a review, then this will look like we are doing something about it.

In this section, in point 8, we will: Recognise the link between healthy places, active lifestyles and overall wellbeing in policy choices. Members, what are ‘healthy places’? Can the Chief Minister give me an example of an existing healthy place? A Member: It’s not the canteen! (Laughter) Mrs Christian: How is a healthy place going to be imbedded in our policy choices? You can see why this is confusing.

Moving on to ‘A strong and diverse economy’, we will increase ‘2. … the Minimum Wage towards parity with the Living Wage …’ However, we agreed in Tynwald and also confirmed in the appendix of this document to increase the minimum wage to the living wage, not merely towards it. The wording of this seems designed to give Government a get-out option if they do not deliver on raising the minimum wage to the living wage. Which are we doing, Mr President: ‘towards’ or ‘to’? We will: ‘7. Deliver key Legal and Justice Reforms.’

There is a mention of this – that it should be fit for purpose and will meet the needs of the Island – in the appendix. What are these key legal and justice reforms? What are our needs? I would very much like to hear more on this, and I apologise to the Minister that I have not had the time to speak with her on that, and I will take that up. But what really concerns me in this section is there are a lot of dependencies on the Economic Strategy to inform our future actions to create a strong, diverse economy. I await this strategy report with great anticipation and sincerely hope that it is not a chimera masquerading as a panacea.

Mr President, in the section ‘An environment we can be proud of’ we need to be bolder in our ambition with this section. Words like ‘We will achieve climate change transition’. This document says we will just have a plan, a road map! This is not an outcome. It should say we will deliver food security; again, not just provide a plan for it. Deliver a thriving agriculture sector to meet the needs of the people and farming industry. Another example: deliver an effective waste management, not a strategy; that is not the outcome. Deliver road safety fit for purpose. A report and an update is not an outcome. If we do not have the actual outcomes of what we will achieve, how we will achieve it, an environment to be proud of, how are we going to know what that is?

I was also surprised not to see a priority in this document to include retaining our UNESCO Biosphere accreditation. I understand it is in the appendixes, but it should be there as a priority, I feel. In the lifelong learning section, we will: 2. Ensure attainment and quality benchmarking … With who are we benchmarking? If we were to benchmark against the UK, this would be unachievable as we do not have the same curriculum. Should this read ‘quality assurance’, as it does in the appendix?

Mr President, the Chief Minister has asked for clarity on what we believe are policy directives that are missing from this document, and I would like to address this. We are missing a real emphasis on children. Sadly, this has been lost in lifelong learning, I feel. Children need to be put first, not just in terms of aesthetics in this document, they need to be put first in the heart of policy: early intervention, improving their educational outcomes; involving and engaging children in decisions that have an impact on them; Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services; targeted youth support; further development for regulation for children’s rights, safeguarding, welfare and vulnerable children. What are our commitments to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child? What is the long-term view of this Government? If we get children’s education and services right, this will have a dramatic effect on our economy, our Health Service, our environment and much more.

It does not stop there. We need to value the people that teach and care for our children. If they are better rewarded, we will attract talent and be the envy of other jurisdictions, which brings me to my next point: we need real key-worker recognition, for our teachers, for our Police Force, for our healthcare workers, packages that include housing incentives to work here. If we cannot raise salaries what other rewards can we provide as an Island?

If we are to compete in the global market, we need to have a unique selling point to our Island and key-worker packages are a unique selling point. What is our Island identity? What does it mean to be Manx? Where does our heritage and culture fall in terms of priority? What is the Island’s image globally? This is not just economically, this is our overall image.

The public want to see a commitment to provide trusted leadership and accountability. The public want to see a commitment from this Government to sort out medicinal cannabis licensing and prescribing to make it accessible for those who need it. Remove the barriers. If we are prepared to produce it here, allowing others to profit, then allow the public who do need this for medical reasons proper legal access to it to improve their lives, so that they do not have to go on the black market to source it, threatening their core values and human rights.

The public want to see well-thought-out apprenticeship schemes at different levels, length of times, not just establishing apprenticeships with employees. We need a policy that is fit for prison leavers, for school leavers, for university leavers. The public want to see a policy where you can upskill at any point in your life, some that are Government-supported initiatives, and some that are business-paid initiatives. For example, if we provide 14 years of education, a person should be able to access that at any point in their life.

I would like to see a census versus Island Plan review in our calendar. I would also like to ask why has it taken so long to accumulate the findings of the census? Would you not agree that by doing it digitally this would have helped to evaluate quicker? The forms should have been completed up to 14th June. This was 33 weeks ago. If this Government had wanted to support this document with the census data, if the will had been there, I am sure it could have been done. As we have seen from this Government, when they want to move fast, like bringing forward an urgent motion for an Island Plan, they do it. Why has the same vigour not been applied here?

What are we doing about policy legacy challenges? There is no mention of the previous Bills in the last administration which still need a point of day order. The manpower and infrastructure needed to give these Bills are so important. Mrs Poole-Wilson has already confirmed in the other place that this is a huge undertaking for her Department. These Bills, which need urgent secondary legislation will change lives, (A Member: Hear, hear.) and swift completion should be a priority for this Government. How are we measuring the success of this? How are we improving this if that is not included in this document?

The public want to know what this Government is going to do to stop the drug crisis that is ruining our children’s and families’ lives. The public want to know how we are going to ensure everybody feels safe. But what do I say to my constituents who live in Pulrose who have been asking for a simple fence around the border of their property to prevent anti-social behaviour? What do I say to the constituent who sits in her lounge terrified because of young children running past her window? What do I tell the constituents who do not feel safe in their own home? Where in this document does it help them? How is this going to make a difference to their lives?

The public want to know how this administration is going to achieve safer communities. Are we investing in our Police Force? Are we increasing actual police on the ground? When are we going to pay them a valued salary? How are we going to increase retention? What are we going to do to address that? How are we going to provide our key workers with affordable homes? And importantly, what are we going to do to help those children, give them something to do in their communities instead of causing anti-social behaviour?

This document confirms a new delivery board has been established. We have asked for confirmation of who is on this board, and yet been told that it will be formed after this document has been approved. But yet this document says the board has been established. We do not have the terms of reference and we are being asked to take a leap of faith on this.

There is also mention of the Island Plan Delivery Committee. Could the Chief Minister confirm is this the same as the Board or an additional scrutiny committee which members will be voted for in Tynwald? The Chief Minister has also appointed himself the Chair of the Policy and Strategy, and Delivery sub-committees of the Council of Ministers. I am confused. How many boards, how many committees are there, and finally, could the Chief Minister please clarify why he believes he is the best person to chair this or the Committees/Boards?

I will be supporting the Hon. Member for Douglas East’s amendment, because that, I feel, does help contribute to this. We need the terms of reference for these Boards and I need to know exactly who they are.

Mr President, I have today brought an amendment for Members to consider. I am hoping you have all got it. The very point of this debate is to get on with the Island Plan, but to get on with this, Departments will need to produce delivery plans and consider in more detail the financial implications of such a plan. The amendment quite simply adds to the end of the motion: and Tynwald calls upon the Government to submit: (a) for debate at the May 2022 sitting of Tynwald: corporate, departmental, and transformation Island Plan delivery plans; and (b) for debate at the July 2022 sitting of Tynwald: corporate, departmental, and transformation Island Plan financial plans.

The aim of this amendment is to quite simply put in place a Government commitment for us to have more detail in the form of delivery plans and financial plans to support this document. You will notice this amendment lists corporate, which means the office of the COO. This Government has already accepted that the office will be held accountable as they commit to the office to produce an annual report in the delivery and performance section in the Island Plan.  Departments and Transformation Boards, which include the Climate, and Housing and Communities Boards, and Manx Care. This amendment will set the premises for future annual reports.

The Departments – as I know, being in both DESC and DEFA – are already preparing their delivery plans. This amendment allows 10 weeks from today to the necessary date to add to the six-week Register of Business. Departments will have time to present their delivery plans to Members, and for Members to engage with Departments. Furthermore, collaboration with the public can be sought, and I hope we will have the data from the census.

The Budget will be debated in this month’s Tynwald sitting and the Departments will be now looking how to allocate their budgets in reflection of the Island Plan, I hope. The second part of this amendment gives the opportunity for Departments to present their financial plans, identifying their commitment to our Island Plan. Mr President, it is not all about spending. It is also about what efficiencies Departments will be contributing to and these financial plans are essential to identify this and hold this Government to account.

I do hope that you will support this amendment and show the public that we are jointly committed to delivering this Island Plan – our Island Plan. Thank you, Mr President. (A Member: Hear, hear.) I beg to move: To add at the end the words: ‘and Tynwald calls upon the Government to submit: (a) for debate at the May 2022 sitting of Tynwald: corporate, departmental, and transformation Island Plan delivery plans; and (b) for debate at the July 2022 sitting of Tynwald: corporate, departmental, and transformation Island Plan financial plans.’