Bold Economic Vision outlined at Conister Bank sponsored Three Ministers Event
Bold Economic Vision outlined at Conister Bank sponsored Three Ministers Event
The Isle of Man’s leading political figures have delivered an upbeat economic message to the Island’s business community at the Conister Bank sponsored Three Ministers Event 2023 – despite warnings that this year is likely to be a tough one.
Organised annually by the Isle of Man Chamber of Commerce, the Comis Hotel- hosted breakfast event saw presentations from IOM Chief Minister, Alfred Cannan; Treasury Minister, Dr Alex Allinson and Enterprise Minister, Lawrie Hooper.
Kick-starting the event, Douglas Grant, Managing Director of Conister Bank, told a packed audience of Chamber members that this annual gathering provided an excellent forum for business delegates to quiz Ministers about Government strategy.
“Through prudential management, the Bank is in a sound financial position – despite the economic turmoil. But I appreciate we are truly fortunate,” he said, adding that the impact of the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, the energy crisis and supply chains had left no aspect of this Island’s society untouched. “Whether you are a consumer, a small business, a charity, a public service employee or, indeed, the Government – we have all been negatively impacted by this current environment,” Douglas said.
“It will be interesting to hear today, not just about the economic plans that the Government has, but also the social strategies, to see that our young people are properly educated to enable them to fulfil their ambitions and also how the elderly are treated - not just fiscally - but from a healthcare perspective,” he commented.
He said that he was also keen to see how this all related to environmental issues. “We must make sure that the environment doesn’t play second fiddle. It’s got to be championed in the same way that all the fiscal policies are, which we hear about,” Douglas commented.
The increasing popularity of the Three Ministers Event
Presiding over the meeting, IOM Chamber of Commerce President, Kristan McDonald, said the increasing popularity of Three Ministers event showed how the Chamber had gone from strength to strength over the last few years. He said the organisation’s membership covered both large and small businesses throughout the Isle of Man, representing around 20,000 private sector employees across 14 sectors of industry and commerce.
Mr McDonald told the audience that 2022 was meant to be the year when the economy was due to bounce back after the pandemic.
“I don’t think any of us predicted some of the really difficult times that were coming last year and continue to face this year. I think most would agree that the outlook for 2023 is not even as rosy as it was for 2022. We’ve got some rather difficult times ahead of us,” he commented, adding that whilst the Chamber was very supportive of the Government’s Island Plan “we need to see its delivery and execution.”
Reflecting on the last 12 months, Chief Minister Alf Cannan, said the Government had dealt with a number of challenging situations, but that the Island could be proud of its record. On Covid, he said the Isle of Man had led not just the British Isles but the wider world in the correct response to the highly infectious Omicron variant, by advocating a policy of self-testing and self-management.
He went on to say that the Council of Ministers had made “the bold decision” to authorise Manx Utilities to freeze electricity prices, underwritten by a Treasury loan. The Island’s households and businesses were now paying the lowest electricity prices anywhere in Europe, he declared, adding that the Government had also negotiated a £1.4m rebate with Manx Gas for domestic gas customers, which would also help sustain local businesses.
He said the Government had acted decisively to negate the impact of the Ukraine war by providing £17m of financial support for the local economy.
Mr Cannan said the inaugural Government conference in September 2022 had delivered the Tynwald Climate Action Plan Net 2030 Strategy. This had set a defined target of 20MW of on-Island renewable energy by 2026. There were also commitments to tackling hospital waiting lists, with an £18m initiative to undertake around 3500 operations by the middle of this year, as well as important work to reform the Isle of Man’s legal and justice systems, along with the launching of an independent inquiry into the Covid pandemic.
He outlined a number of business achievements. These included a growing number of gaming licences, expanding the number of blockchain businesses and financial assistance schemes to deliver 132 new jobs. The Island now also had the lowest unemployment figures for 19 years, said Mr Cannan.
The Chief Minister also cited that the creation of the Manx Development Corporation (MDC) was well underway in its initial project at the old Nobles site, plus the Westmoreland Road Village project and plans.
Securing the Island’s long-term future
Turning to 2023, he declared that the Government had developed “an Economic Vision and Strategy for the Island, for the next 10-15 years” to secure the Isle of Man’s future.
- Plans to generate 5000 new jobs
- Increase the Island population to 100,000
- Delivering £200m of additional revenues
- Decarbonisation pledges
- Infrastructure commitments
Mr Cannan then went on to reveal the more recent news of the Updated Island Plan, which pledges that by 2026, the Government will:
- fill 1800 new jobs
- accommodate 2500 new residents
- build 1000 homes
- improve health outcomes
- deliver quality assurance scheme for education and improve educational outcomes
- develop at least 2 key brownfield sites using private-sector leverage
- create an additional £75m of Government income
- deliver 20MW of onshore renewable energy
He said the targets were ambitious but achievable. “This Government is putting in foundations for long-term success. We are not thinking in the short term. Our plan is designed to provide 15 years of economic growth, that will make the Island a better place to live and work.”
Highlighting the Westmoreland brownfield site, Mr Cannan said this would create 133 homes in a modern, future-proofed village financed and built by the private sector and underwritten by the Government. “This is part of our infrastructure blueprint to create modern, vibrant town centres to attract young working professionals,” he said.
The Government was working hard to ensure it functioned as efficiently and effectively as possible across all departments, with economic priorities being at the heart of everything.
He talked about the plans to replace the Chief Secretary and 10 other senior positions and recruit an IOM Government CEO and COO for greater focus. Mr Cannan also said a new Operational Performance Board would be set up to fulfil “what we perceive to be a missing piece of the jigsaw in terms of oversight and governance. If you wanted a Government shake-up, then you’ve got it,” he told delegates.
Business determination delivers economic strength
“This Government is facing once-in-a-generation challenges. We are doing so in a calm, controlled and speedy manner, protecting our citizens from the worst effects of the cost-of-living crisis, tackling and improving healthcare and education delivery, improving our justice system and protecting and growing our economy in the toughest circumstances,” said the Chief Minister.
Over the last 13 months, the number of economically active people on the Island had increased by 494, support for 178 jobs had come through relocation incentives and 1700 work permits had been issued or reissued.
“We are making progress but entirely recognise that the economic conditions are tough for everybody who is struggling with costs, supply chains, staffing and productivity. Your determination to find solutions is helping to maintain our economy at strong levels,” Mr Cannan declared. “That’s the attitude we need to sustain more densely populated and vibrant town centres, sustainable town centre businesses, a future commitment to renewable energy and building stronger public services, providing a future of jobs and opportunities, not just for the younger generation but for all of us.”
A nation reaching out
Finance Minister, Dr Alex Allinson, said the Government was determined to demonstrate clear and effective leadership and to instigate decisive action, engaging with businesses both at home and abroad. He said we needed to be a nation that reached out more around the world, forging new partnerships “to extend what we can provide here.”
The Treasury’s role was to act as an enabler. He said this year’s budget would be very different, with each department being given more financial autonomy. There would be more support for front line services, staff and infrastructure. The aim was for efficiency savings, with enhanced digitalisation and customer engagement. And a £1m economic strategy fund had been set up to encourage and leverage private investment.
Results would soon be announced regarding the National Insurance Review. Sustainable government finances were vital in the future, said Dr Allinson. The plan was “to rebalance our population demographics, releasing the burden on the active working population and encouraging more people to settle here. We will only achieve our aims with cooperation and collaboration with business sectors and individual investors,” he suggested.
Enterprise Minister, Lawrie Hooper, said there were challenges in finding sufficiently skilled workers on the Island. The Economic Strategic Plan was designed to confront these issues. He cited the Workforce Skills Programme, which worked with the Chamber to attract a younger population and supported those entering employment for the first time or returning to the workforce.
Mr Hooper said Locate IOM was delivering an international skills-based campaign to attract individuals, as well as creating a database of people who were interested in working on the Island. These campaigns related to healthcare, education and hospitality, to name but a few. There were also plans to expedite on-the-ground promotional events in the UK during 2023. Mr Hooper said there was keenness to welcome new workers to the Island, to reform work permits and to improve and streamline the work visa process.
He also spoke of the work of the Digital Agency, which aimed to create 290 jobs across eGaming, eSports and Fintech this year, building on 2022’s success. Strong collaboration between the Government and private sector would enable the Island to build an economy that was diverse, vibrant and sustainable, said Mr Hooper.
During a Q&A session, a number of topics were covered, including plans to streamline and expand the international visa system, allowing more workers from across the world to come and work in the Island. Some 2400 applications were approved last year.
And in answer to a question about what the Chamber can do better to ensure that private sector collaboration with Government is strengthened, the message was clear: “provide Government agencies with data. Tell us the data about what needs to be done and changed – and we’ll see if it can be fixed.”
Regarding air travel, it was explained that there was currently an ongoing consultation regarding air links, to secure routes and to ensure that the Open Skies policy was working. The aim was to liaise with carriers to maintain and strengthen the Island’s link with all the major hubs in the UK and Ireland. Discussions were taking place with carriers about landing fees, pricing and timing of flights to facilitate business day trips. At the airport, the priority was to ensure that Ronaldsway offered an efficient gateway to enable business travellers to get into Douglas quickly.
The Chief Minister also said it was important to leverage the private sector’s ability to finance and build, in order to deliver the Economic Growth Plan and more projects like Westmoreland Village.
Regarding health, Mr Hooper said the CQC was currently undertaking a massive benchmarking exercise across all healthcare sectors, in a bid to improve services and transform waiting lists with fresh investment. One of the biggest challenges was proving to be recruitment, he said.
And on education, the Chief Minister said the aim was to bring the best professionals and standards into the Manx education system, including developing a Quality Assurance scheme, to deliver measurable standards.
Summing up, Kristan McDonald said it was heartening to hear lots of positive plans and action. And it was encouraging to see the Government engaged in longer term planning, essential for a secure business footing. “It’s not just political cycles – it’s business cycles, which go on and on,” he remarked.
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