MAINTENANCE OF A STRONG AND DIVERSE ECONOMY
On the face of things, the Islands economy has never been in better shape than it is at present, even allowing for the effect that recent world events will have had on the value of our reserves and investments. A clear statement made to quantify this effect would be helpful in the run up to the election so that we know our exact current position. Our strength is partly as a result of the foresight and vision of some past and present politicians and their financial advisors, coupled with the hard work and iniative of the Island's work force.
However, major challenges lie ahead. It is likely that the atrocities in America will lead to calls for total transparency in financial centres around the world, in a bid to locate, then prevent terrorist funding being moved around. Automatic disclosure may be the only acceptable solution to this, as opposed to the "on request" situation we have at present.
Our current fiscal strength should give the Island a sound base from which to offer the range of services we have come to expect for ourselves and families. There is a perception in some quarters that we have become too reliant on our financial services sector which has grown to over 40% of our GNP. In my opinion, it was an inspired move to focus our iniatives in this direction as there is a low reliance on expensive imported raw material, yet a high turnover, employment ratio, and exchequer benefit.
There is a feeling that we need to encourage more of the decision makers to locate here, instead of companies simply using the Island as an administrative base which leaves us vulnerable to downsizing or complete withdrawal. We must continue to bring forward imaginative iniatives to retain and develop this business. We live in a rapidly changing world and must never become complacent.
I believe that some excellent work has been done over the course of the last decade in securing the Islands' position with regard to our relationship with the U.K. the E.U. and the O.E.C.D. who were all looking at, or beginning to look at us with an increasing element of suspicion out of pure ignorance.
In Brussels a decade ago, E.U officials hardly knew where we were let alone what went on here. Government delegations, or "road shows", in many cases accompanied by private sector representatives, have done much to remove the myths and suspicions, along with the scrutiny and reassurance provided by the "Edwards Report".
Regulation to maintain quality was overdue, but we must now guard against over onerous regulation driving business away to other jurisdictions. This can impact on ordinary domestic activity as well, such as simply opening a bank account. Governments role must increasingly be that of facilitating private sector iniatives, supporting and encouraging entrepreneurial spirit and vision, rather than being involved as an operator.
Some say the economy was overheating, and that the growth should be slowed or stopped. I feel we should be in control of the situation and not allow the situation to control us. Why are we continuing to create jobs if we do not have the workers here to fill the opportunities? Are we encouraging our young people to consider the full range of career opportunities? Are we offering the necessary training to fully develop local teachers and nurses?Who will be our trades people of the future? Will we have to import workers from further afield than Liverpool and Ireland to do the manual and dirty work for us? We must guard against importing poverty to the Island. There are worrying signs of this already.
Manufacturing, Tourism, and Agriculture play important roles in the supporting cast of the economy, all being quality driven to maintain their positions in a competitive market place.
We have some world class players in the manufacturing sector on the Island, and their continued prosperity needs to be safeguarded for the diversity it offers. Whilst our full employment and relatively high wage costs (compared to the far east or sub continent ) will prove a distinct disadvantage in terms of attracting new business, we must continue to look at ways to build on this base. I was pleased that Tynwald supported the introduction of the minimum wage, and would support a move to a higher figure as quickly as possible. Private employers could be cushioned from any short term effect by adjustment to the NI contributions, even if it necessitated a negative contribution in some instances.
The Island has built up a great level of expertise in event organisation, as witnessed by this years Island Games which were a huge success, and a credit to all those involved, making full use of the excellent facilities at the NSC, and at other venues Island wide . The unfortunate cancellation of this years racing programme was a test of the strong relationship which has existed for many years between Tourism and Agriculture. I am certainly keen to see a return to a full programme for next year, and am acutely aware of the sacrifices made by others to help protect our Island's livestock. I see the future of our visiting sector growing slowly in the activity and event areas.
Major change has overtaken the Agricultural Industry with the BSE and Foot and Mouth situations. Production was already becoming much more customer led, and this has been accelerated by recent events. Morale in this sector is probably at an all time low, but the general recognition by the Island's population of the importance of maintaining production of staple commodities, and managing the countryside will have helped restore some confidence in this strategically important industry.
The growth in E business opportunities, the creation of the shipping register, and other innovations such as the "film industry" have filled a small gap in our employment opportunities and could be grown steadily (if necessary), given the right conditions. The Island yearns to play host to a major box office hit to rekindle the enthusiasm of " Waking Ned ". Trying to quantify the financial benefit to the Island of the likes of the film industry is not easy, but largely revolves around VAT receipts, and greater transparency would help convince the skeptics that there is some exchequer benefit here.
BALANCE BETWEEN DIRECT AND INDIRECT TAXATION
I have included this item because of the concern I feel about our increasing reliance on stealth tax and the affect that it has on the less well off in the community who increasingly are taxed proportionately to a greater level than the high earners.
At the moment the motorist is a primary target through fuel duty and VAT, and those who live in areas where public transport is not readily accessible will be contributing substantially under the present tax regime.
The recent decision by Tynwald to adopt a lower direct taxation policy, with a minimum of consultation in the public arena, seems destined to eventually lead to further increases in indirect taxation.
I can see the rationale behind the changes proposed to keep us competitive in the location and skills market place, but I do not think that adequate consideration has been given to the impact of this policy on the less well off. Now is the time to bring a little more "prosperity" to those at the bottom of the pile in our "prosperous and caring society".
Most of our population would probably rate good health as paramount to the quality of their lives, and it is something we take for granted until either ourselves or someone close to us suffers a serious accident or illness. We then turn to the health professionals and place ourselves in their hands.
Doctors lists on the Island are currently fully subscribed in all but one practice. Given the present population of Ballagarey / GlenVine / Crosby and Strang / Union Mills, there must surely be a case for a new practice to be established in a suitable central location. This would in turn ease some of the pressure on the Douglas practices, and help a little with traffic congestion in the capital. The only problem is where to find the GPs to take on a new practice.
The strength of our financial position leaves us well placed to take some action to reduce waiting lists in the surgical areas of our health services. In an ideal world no one who is suffering and in pain should have to wait, if the medical decision is that an operation is necessary. The difference in delay between national health and private access to treatment must be reduced even if this necessitates amending the terms of consultants and others. To have to wait weeks for something therapeutic such as physiotherapy is counter productive.
The massive investment in the New Hospital will need to be matched now in resources if we are to get the best out of the facility. The addition of a nurse training facility is a logical move although there will still remain the obstacle of encouraging sufficient recruits into the profession. There is the constraint of "head count", the need to attract skilled staff into the Island and keep them here as well as holding onto the dedicated professionals we have currently working in our Health Service.
Being in the midst of bringing our family of three through the Schools system, I can say that quality Education is high on my list of priorities. There has been a tremendous investment in the building programme, and yet as fast as we open or extend the schools, they are filling to overflowing, principally because of the higher than expected population increases. The Departments response to the Braddan Plan (issues and options) was woefully inadequate, and as a result, their first choice sites for a new school in Braddan have been ignored.
Our own youngsters are being well taught in the schools they attend, and there is no shortage of opportunity for them to learn, should they choose to take it. The expensive OFSTED reports carried out on a number of the schools in this constituency must be used to drive standards up where necessary, by utilising the expertise of those conducting the reports, to the maximum. Who is now measuring this improvement, and the ability of the Department itself to manage these administrative as well as educational responsibilities?
Ideally we should be in a position where we can avoid following too closely the policies adopted by the UK where education is often used as a political football and kicked about between the parties, diminishing morale in the profession and affecting pupil achievement. We need to recognise that other than a child's parents, their teachers will exert more influence over them than anyone else in the formative years of their life. In my view, the status of the teaching profession needs to be elevated to fully recognise its importance. As parents we need to be more accountable for the behaviour of our children outside the home environment, to ensure that they do not disrupt the learning process for others.
The Department of Education is expanding its wider role in the area of youth and community activity. This is something which ought to be looked closely at to see if in fact the right Department is in control of the situation. Is youth club activity educational, or should it be thought of as a leisure activity and treated accordingly?There is an unacceptable difference in the standard of community facilities between areas that have had new schools, and those that have not.
COMMUNITY SAFETY, COMMUNITY SPIRIT, AND AMENITIES
Community safety / policing / vandalism are issues which have caused considerable comment on the doorstep in some parts of the constituency. It is my opinion that the population levels now applying in the centre of this constituency warrant the establishment of a permanent police presence in the area, but I am told the chances of this happening are "remote". At the very least a dedicated community officer for this area is essential, and I will press for this. As part of my preparation for the election I have met with the Chief Constable to discuss policing in general, and spent a friday evening / saturday morning shift in Douglas with uniformed officers to get a feel for "real policing", and witness at first hand some of the problems they have to deal with. There is certainly a different view of policing at street level, and the growing numbers of young people hanging about on the streets late at night, along with alcohol related incidents, absorb vast amounts of police time.
Many of the incidents you have referred to in conversation would be described by others as minor, but when it is something affecting you, your family or property, then things look different. IF the police force can deliver the aims and objectives set out their " community safety is our primary goal" document, then we can all be greatly reassured. Our own role as responsible members of the community, is to support neighbourhood watch schemes, ensure that we know where our youngsters are and what they are up to, and be less tolerant of anti social behaviour.
Community spirit is difficult to define, and can revolve around various forms of activity within a village or parish. Sports clubs, youth clubs, churches and chapels, schools, pubs, young farmers clubs etc can all bring people together in their different ways. Popular events such as the Braaid Eisteddfod or the Crosby Pantomime are vitally important in focusing our attention on others who live in the same neighbourhood, and identifying the "characters" of all ages, who help make a community. It would be beneficial to be able to regenerate community spirit, and a starting point would be to add to the amenities which give people the opportunity to get together.
Community facilities for holding a range of events and activities in an appropriate and safe environment, with adequate parking and lighting are vital. Marown School fits the bill, but there is nothing of this standard in Braddan. Large public meetings called recently by Braddan Parish Commissioners have been staged outside of the parish at Mount Murray. If we are to rely on the building of a new school to provide the full facilities, then it is vitally important for it to be centrally located and not miles away from where the bulk of the population live at present.
CURRENT DEVELOPMENT AND FUTURE HOUSING NEEDS
5 years ago the shortage of affordable housing hardly rated a mention in the build up to the election, now some are describing the situation as a crisis, whilst others claim that measures currently being taken are addressing the shortfall. The recent "empty property" survey identified a surprising number of premises which have medium term potential for renovation into habitable accommodation.
Your view on the current housing situation is likely to be influenced by your present circumstances. Those wishing to gain their first step on the housing ladder have seen prices spiral out of reach in some cases, whilst those owning property may well have increased their equity as values rise against a background of falling interest rates.
The planning process is viewed by many of you with a mixture of suspicion, cynicism and contempt, which will lead me to call for a fundamental review of planning on the Island in an attempt to restore confidence, install accountability, and give the people more ownership of planning in their area. The perception is of developer controlled activity with little or no regard for the availability of the necessary infrastructure of roads, schools, community facilities etc.
As Braddan and Marown have accommodated a significant increase in population, (well above the average for the Island), it becomes vitally important in my opinion to retain sufficient land with development potential to meet local requirements in future. Middle is a popular place to live and will continue to attract those wishing to migrate from other parts of the Island as well as those moving here from other countries. Why should young people have to leave the locality in which they have grown up, because large expensive houses have been built on available land instead of affordable property.
I would work at increasing the opportunity for local people to have a realistic chance of affordable housing whether to rent or buy, and the concept of housing associations is one worthy of consideration in more detail, along with a joint equity purchasing scheme, a revitalised government mortgage scheme (which I will elaborate on at the meetings), and additional local authority property. Braddan Parish Commissioners have for the last 4 decades, been a high quality housing authority, and as Marown rates income grows, there is no reason why it too should not become a housing authority, take control of the local government housing stock in the parish, and add some quality new build.
In fill development looks good on paper and is fine in principle, but there is much bad feeling created by this policy particularly if the new build is out of keeping with existing styles, and access difficulties have not been properly thought through. Finding a balance between over intensive, high density use of land currently zoned for building, and keeping the rural nature of the constituency, will be difficult to achieve and will need some old fashioned "compromise".
STRATEGIC AND LOCAL PLANNING
The Draft All-Island Strategic Plan is something which very few will have studied in any depth, but is a welcome concept that deserves to be up there with the annual Policy Document, and the Budget in the hierarchy of planning for the future. There is confusion in some peoples minds who fail to realise that this document was only produced to consider land use and not the quality of life.
It is claimed by DOLGE that the Strategic Plan will not be in conflict with any of the local plans but certainly the scale of some of the land zoning proposed for 800 houses in the Braddan Draft goes far beyond what could conceivably be considered to be "development within the natural boundaries of villages or settlements".
Some element of site specification with regard to vital, but unpopular, major developments (such as incinerators, land fill sites, prisons etc) which could be considered detrimental to an area, is necessary. Without it we will still have local resentment when we trawl around looking for sites, particularly when it is apparent that no Minister or Departmental member with responsibility for the project in question will allow their constituency to be considered.
I would like to see proper studies being undertaken into each of the settlements in Middle to ensure we allow for future local planning needs, and to define exactly what can be accommodated within "natural boundaries"", and within the existing or proposed infrastructure. I think it is vitally important for the local population to become more interested and involved in the planning process to ensure "ownership" of their area, and that positive aspects and amenities are incorporated to counter any disadvantages.
As a nation we have committed the next generation to substantial debt with the Water Authority and MEA Bond issues for infrastructure improvements. There seems to be widespread acceptance for the need in the area of water supply, although many of you are confused by the need to install the gas pipeline and the under sea cable, to secure the Islands future electricity supply. My understanding is that it offers us more diverse energy sources to accommodate the ongoing increased demand.
Whilst I still believe that the hospital could and should have been redeveloped in Douglas, it is a fact that we are only just over a year from completion. In my opinion the conditions of the Ballamona Estate Planning Scheme have already been breeched twice and the prison proposal would be a third. The hospital is a vital facility which does need to be centrally located, although I have grave reservations about the increased traffic volumes and speeds on Braddan road outside the school, and access to the Hospital during TT course closure. As a project it has been fraught with difficulties, and much more will surface over the coming months and years. However we now must focus on investing in the skilled people who are essential to make the best use of this substantial investment.
Whilst I am sure we are all in favour of improving the cleanliness of our rivers, beaches and seawater, the IRIS project leaves me cold at the prospect of pumping all the Islands sewerage to Meary Veg. I would have supported a proposal to take waste from Douglas, Onchan, the Central Valley and the West of the Island to one treatment area, with something along the lines of a deep sea outfall for the North and the South after primary treatment. I don't see other countries around the Irish Sea rushing to build inland treatment works for their sewerage. Why have we gone for this expensive option? A considerable percentage of the power stations output will be needed to pump the material around our undulating Island.
The Incinerator project has lumbered forward to the point where it would appear to be impossible to prevent its construction on what is in my opinion the worst possible location, 2 miles down wind of 50% of our population. There is a need to incinerate animal and surgical waste, but I think that the scale of the "Energy from waste" facility proposed is incompatible with a policy of minimilisation, reuse and recycling. The responsibility for disposal of waste will in time move from the end user to the producer, which will result in a lot less unnecessary packaging being brought to the Island in future. It will be a major responsibility for the Member for Middle having this facility in the constituency, and the recent release of possible landfill sites for the disposal of inert waste, raises the possibility of yet another case of Middle being used as a dumping ground.
Has proper scrutiny been applied by Tynwald into the scale and appropriateness of these three capital projects to the real future needs of our population, and what population levels have been factored into the calculations which "proved" the need for expenditure on this scale? It is not immediately apparent to me why each Department of Government brings forward its own capital project, instead of building up expertise in a cross Departmental manner to avoid some of the major problems.
The prison project is a different proposition in that no decision has been taken by Tynwald with regard to finance or location. The Department of Home Affairs are still progressing their preferred site at Ballafletcher behind the scenes as the Council of Ministers are now seemingly intent on including the prison in the Braddan Plan. Two stages of public consultation have already occurred, and will now presumably be bypassed.The manner in which this project has been handled over the past 3 years warrants investigation. Minister Bell is on record as saying that the majority of "rational people in Braddan" accept the need for, and the reasoning behind the choice of site. I am not finding this opinion on the doorstep!The silent majority are also opposed to Ballafletcher!
I will continue to oppose this site, and have to remain optimistic that Tynwald can eventually be persuaded to do so as well. Consideration of alternative sentencing options previously indicated by the judiciary, the possibility of an "open prison", the outcome of the drug and alcohol strategies and community policing iniatives, would all be awaited by me before committing taxpayers to another item of capital expenditure on a more acceptable and appropriate site, and in proportion to our needs.
In common with Malew and Santon, Castletown, Glenfaba, Peel, Michael, Ayre, and Garff, the electorate of Middle will have just the one vote on 22nd November. Voters in Ramsey, and the 4 Douglas constituencies will be able to cast two votes, whilst in Onchan and Rushen they may cast three votes.
Some would say this unique constitutional situation is an important part of our heritage, I suggest that in the interests of equality, all the Island's voters should have the same numerical opportunity on polling day, and the same representation in Tynwald. In an ideal situation we would have either all single or two seat constituencies. At present, with 3223 voters on the electoral role, particularly given the unique pressures of Middle, we are under represented with one member. I will address this imbalance if elected.
The ministerial system of government is proving to be unpopular with a very significant percentage of residents. Not so much for the titles, or the status assumed by some as the result of their position, but because of the undemocratic manner in which some ministers discharge their responsibilities, and because of the perceived or real power block created in the Keys and Tynwald by the Council.
The issue of reformation or amalgamation of local authorities is not one which I view as a high priority. Many of the smaller authorities operate on a very limited budget, and rates are kept to a minimum principally because there is no full time staff and very few services are offered at a local level. There remains to be answered the question of how waste disposal will be funded in future. The cost burden of Incineration and IRIS could have a considerable impact if they were to be placed on the rates. I can see no useful purpose being served by imposing change in the structure of local authorities, although I do see the need for some of central governments powers to be devolved back down the line, especially in planning to give a much greater local say in development.
TRAFFIC AND HIGHWAY ISSUES
This is certainly a matter of concern to many within the constituency, for a variety of reasons, but all connected to the fact that 8 arterial routes into Douglas pass through Marown, Braddan or both. Volume and speed of traffic coupled with the unsuitability of many of the roads to cope with peak demand or the size of heavy goods vehicles are the issues facing us. The ability to simply cross the road safely is a major concern in areas such as Crosby and Union Mills.
There is no easy answer to this conundrum, but a starting point would be to pursue with some urgency a decentralisation policy, which could be inspired by Government locating some of its departments in other regions of the Island. This would undoubtedly have the effect of stimulating private sector interest in those areas, and start to reverse the flow of traffic at peak times.
An integrated transport strategy would assist in the more populated parts of the constituency, providing roads are adequate to accommodate busses, but the more rural areas are totally dependent on the car to give people their independence.
DRUG AND ALCOHOL STRATEGIES
These two iniatives have my wholehearted support, although it is a matter of great regret that it has become necessary to embark on either of them. Without doubt, in my opinion, the greater threat is posed presently by alcohol, with 5 times more alcohol related crimes being recorded, than drug related.
Unfortunately, the setting up of the specialist squads within the police force to deal with this twin threat to society, has had a diluting effect on the uniform section which incidentally comprises only one quarter of the forces' strength. The educational aspects of the twin strategies are important if we are ever to prevent both cultures taking an even firmer hold.
The outcome of each of these iniatives is crucial to planning for our future prison and probation needs given the proportion of past and present inmates charged or convicted of offences related to either drink or drugs.
The move by some to legalise 'soft drugs' is one where the medical advice will be crucial, and it will need a great deal of informed debate to bring all the facts forward into the public arena where the decision ultimately should be made. This is certainly an issue upon which I would take extensive soundings from the electorate before casting my vote. My initial reaction would probably be to support the use of cannabis on prescription, in an appropriate form, for the relief of pain.
Please use your vote on November 22nd and give one of your candidates a strong mandate as the result of a high turnout.
Those of you whom I have met have encouraged me with your interest in what I have had to say. Please convert this now to votes in the ballot box.
Published by Graham Crowe, Ballachrink, East Baldwin, Isle of Man. IM4 5ER
Printed either by Graham Crowe of the above address, or by the individual who downloads this document from www.iomelections.com
REPRESENTATION OF THE PEOPLE ACT 1995