This tends to be an emotive issue and one that the Isle of Man has been pressured to address, see below press release regarding the same. In my opinion we are adopting a sensible approach in that there will be a register of Beneficial Ownerships but it will not be available to the general public, only available against specific enquiries from other jurisdictions that revolve around criminality, terrorism and tax evasion.
A full day and early start for a Department of Economic Development (DED) briefing on Pension Reform followed by a full DED Department Meeting as usual many work streams and confidential.
The afternoon an informal meeting, the Construction Industry Bodies being one of my delegations. We had an open and frank discussion about challenges facing the Construction Industry, Government Capital Programme and various other concerns to the industry.
Finished the day with a visit to the Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture (DEFA) Small Business Marketing Workshop run by Heather Blackley, a Chartered Marketing Consultant. There were 17 participants with the course running over four weeks, all aspiring small or medium size business representatives keen to take their businesses forward. I didn’t stay for the whole workshop but could see it was going to be a useful exercise for participants. Many entrepreneurs have ideas but at the end of the day if they don’t identify their market and promote accordingly their businesses will not succeed.
Good news for anyone that has been on an electoral role in the UK in the last 15 years you can still get a vote in the EU in or out referendum. See Cabinet news release.
House of Keys sitting what looked like a chunky order paper reduced dramatically with the withdrawal of the Town and Country Planning Amended Bill 2016 and Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill 2016. There were a number for amendment tabled and no doubt some negotiation will go on prior to them coming forward at the next Keys sitting.
Some interesting questions – How many people will not be part of digital inclusion. This is to do with access via the internet and apparently we have almost the highest rate of access to computers in the world, in excess of 92% but still approximately 10% of the population have not used computers. Government training and incentives are there and it is hoped over the next few years nearly everyone will have access.
It would appear that there are an increasing number of petitions of doleance with regard to planning matters. I asked the question which seemed quite relevant to exactly how many there had been in the last five years, the answer is six. I didn’t think this is necessarily a cause for concern.
A lot of discussion resulted from questions to Manx Utilities as to whether we were to see lower electricity prices to reflect the drop in oil and gas prices. A very confusing reply but the essence is there are going to be small reductions in the domestic tariff from 16.25p to 16p, 8.75p to 7p per unit but a 20 plus percentage increase in the daily standing charge from 15p to 19p per day. A similar scenario to Manx Gas and one that is going to result in an overall increase for most consumers of around 85p per month or £10 per year. Not what we were expecting to hear bearing in mind the dramatic fall in fuel and gas prices!
Lunchtime briefing on Wellbeing the Benefits of Moving beyond GDP. An interesting concept and one that has been championed in the UK by David Cameron putting wellbeing above physical wealth. Not a bad concept and worthy of consideration but I did feel that some of the statistics where questionable, particularly when it comes to wellbeing flat lining despite an apparent increase in wealth in many countries. I did question how they assess wellbeing and also the fact that once peoples basic needs are met and they become wealthier it is difficult to get them to say they feel better as there is a tendency to reflect on those less well off.
The proposition was that we could become the first country to put wellbeing at the forefront of our policy making.
See below press release passed in Tynwald this week. Hopefully this will go some way to addressing ICT staff shortages which are already losing us business on island.
Work permit exemption approved for ICT and e-Business staff
Tynwald has approved the Department of Economic Development’s proposal to exempt certain workers employed in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and e-Business roles from the requirement for work permits. The changes will come into operation on Tuesday 1st March.
E-Business, which includes e-Gaming, is the Isle of Man’s fastest growing sector and it is estimated that an additional 100 skilled workers will be required each year for the foreseeable future.
E-Business contributes approximately 25% of the Island’s National Income and directly employs over 1700 people. In addition, skilled ICT workers are required in nearly all sectors of the economy and such skills are in high demand globally.
Jonathan Mills, Director of e-Business, Department of Economic Development said:
‘I am very pleased that Tynwald has approved the work permit exemption order. There is a definite need for workers to fill the high number of vacancies in the ICT and e-Business sectors and I believe that this change in legislation will help to ensure our sectors continue to grow and thrive on the Isle of Man.
‘We have been working closely with leaders in the private sector to ensure that we have the right restrictions on the exemptions to make sure that essential, skilled workers can be found and hired.’
The exemptions form part of a wider strategy to tackle the shortage of employees in these sectors, including work to develop skills locally with education, training and the expansion of apprenticeship provision.
More information on the conditions of the exemptions will be available on the Isle of Man Government website in due course.
AM visit to St John’s Amenity Site with Chairman of the Patrick Commissioners Richard Jones. A good fact finding meeting and able to discuss some matters of concern from users of the Site.
Strategic Sea Services Working Group (SSSWG) Good progress but still confidential. We reviewed the results of the recent consultation.
Back to DEFA in St John’s where I Chaired the ‘Food Matters’ Food Business Development Steering meeting. Many interesting work streams managed by the new Business Manager Andrew Lees, this feeds right into my role in Retail at the Department of Economic Development (DED).
Time to catch up with some constituency work in the morning. Then to Tynwald for a Department of Economic Department (DED) briefing on Financial and Professional Services.This was a comprehensive brief on the economy as a whole as well as the great efforts we are going to ensuring we comply with regulation worldwide standards in disclosure etc as the way matters are moving countries that don’t comply will simply be locked out of international markets.
The good news is that overall the number of employed is up and the trajectory is predicted to continue that way provided we make the right decisions with regard to future regulation. The recent easing of work permit requirement in the ICT sector will assist in this respect.
A later meeting with a rep of Christian Aid proved useful and informative particularly with regard to our contribution to foreign aid.
Another full day in Tynwald Court. Started with questions and queries on how often Harbour safety is reviewed. We are assured this is daily, weekly and monthly following the recent tragedy but it was pointed out that Harbours were built for access to Ships and will ultimately never be 100% risk free.
Further teasing out of the Steam Packet debt which now remains at round £105,000,000 after right down of £100,000,000 estimates of the cost to customers anywhere between £1,250,000 and £3,000,000 per year.
A topical question on the Meat Plant and whether it intended trading as a retail business, something a number of Farmers and Wholesalers have broached with me, we are assured that retail ready packaging does not mean retail. Apparently 70% of our meat is now imported so there is definitely scope for locally produced produce.
The main order paper included a relaxation on gaming machine limits to £500, confirmation of the relaxation of work permits for ICT workers, legal vires for the pupil database, smoking in cars with young children now an offence, an enabling motion backed by Treasury for legislation to allow a Manx Credit Union and finally a long debate on whether the Dependability Limited Assessments for Personal Mobility Allowance are fit for purpose – the result a referral for a month to the relevant Department to review procedures.
My first Budget and I knew I would be in for a long day. We were of course pre briefed and I had feedback from my Department delegations aspects of the Budget that affect for instance the Construction Sector, Retail, Mines and Minerals etc in the event the Budget is fairly steady as you go nothing radical, this is after all an election year.
Some tweaks to income tax but no one is really worse off. Corporation tax and zero tax regimes stay the same, some easing with regard to release of pension funds and from the Constructions Sector point of view a Development Land Tax Holiday, something that has been casting a shadow since its introduction last year.
In summary the mantra of economic development of maintaining our low tax status whilst protecting the vulnerable and front line services probably sums it up.
There were some fairly long speeches and undoubtedly an element of grandstanding with the election looming.
We did however finish the Budget and 13 other related items by about 18:30, the other items were to do with altering various acts to accommodate the Budget changes we then managed to move through 14 items of the main order paper which means we may finish later today, not Thursday.
Morning meeting at DEFA to discuss Community Woodland as a result of a representation from a Dalby resident who has been progressing various Schemes since 2004. A positive outcome, Officers will in due course engage in looking at suitable plots within the DEFA Estate and this could grow into not only a Scheme that can provide firewood but school engagement in the growing process through to harvesting.
After lunch back to Social Affairs Policy Review Committee to take further oral evidence from people who have had interaction with Social Services with fostering and adoption.