More about What has not been said than what has!
It’s a great feeling and indeed a luxury, to be asked to comment on the Manx Budget one month or thereabouts,“after the event” and at a time when many of the “bears of big brain”, that I respect, have already opined “hot of the press” and within the first 24 hours, of issue.
I am also ever mindful of the huge care and planning that goes into this plan by the Minister and his executive team and I respect greatly the professionalism and thought that will have been applied.
But rocks and a hard place?
Nevertheless , I feel that this particular budget is more about what has not been said, than what has.
The devil is always in the detail and it sometimes takes a little time for the full picture to emerge.
(The emergent Vat windfall was always going to be a sop to cheer us up!)
It was also amusing that the Manx Budget coincided with the release on Netflix, of the fourth episode of one of my favourite serials - the one that describes the Underwoods' journey - that’s it - “House of Cards”, in which clearly, there is no reference to any persons alive or dead etc.
I perceive that there are huge “elephants in the room” called “healthcare” and “public sector and state pensions” and I hope that the next administration will have the resolve, to tell it how it is (and it’s not just a few quid here and there, or £5m or so, on some worthwhile project) - we are talking millions and millions! and at least begin to address the problems more robustly.
They simply will not go away.
I am not going to recite what my reader! already knows, but where thoughts may be offered, is in relation to the external environment, to which there are many variables. I do not think they have been suitably addressed.
We are a small island, geographically isolated and yet we rely on international business for our survival.
Why then would we isolate ourselves from the issues that transcend all our borders, rather than acknowledge them head on, and offer innovative solutions, which surely can be our USP?
Playing naive or delaying tactics, simply makes us look ignorant.
The repercussions of a low oil price, Syria, European refugees and immigration (they are very different and are not to be feared). We must learn from history and cannot allow ourselves to be frightened by the scare mongering of politicians or 24hr media, the Isle of Man and Brexit (in that order), the Common Reporting Standard, the impact of Social Media (it is that important), The US election (and I cannot get an image of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson out of my head, how scary!); to name a few.
But rapid change is now the norm.
We are independent and in control, yes? so why not vote with our feet, take the chance to be progressive, calm the turbulence with evidence-based thinking, create stability by accelerating head on into the waves. We can neither afford, nor are we big enough, to allow drift.
I am sorry to be a little negative, but for me, this all means yet more uncertainty and change.
So we are told we are in “Phase 2 of the Plan”.
Growth is not a certainty, sustainability is a priority and efficiency, is everything.
We must protect the vulnerable; absolutely and we must not forget the human element. All this on the basis of other things being equal, but you see - I don’t think they are and this is the problem.
The rules are changing constantly and fast. We have to be at the sharp end of business and maintain the flexibility to stay there, or adopt, in relatively short time.
Costs are always more controllable than revenues and whereas I am mindful of a recent article in the economist magazine, praising our Island’s can do attitude, to encourage growth in e gaming (thank God) and assist to bring high operating standards and reputation to this sector. I cannot help but be struck by the irony of a once methodist society, now pretty reliant on e gaming - and let’s face it, without these good, good folk, we would be in massive recession.
So we hope the growth will come and some of it will, but what about the big picture costs and threats?
And for the record, I like: the Enterprise development fund (so long as we run it like private equity), relieving some tax pressure from the lower earners, the keynesian stimuli of capital projects - all good stuff!
The recent Biosphere announcement - fantastic!
But I am very disappointed, that perceptively and optically yet another opportunity to begin to address “the elephants” has essentially, been deferred.
That this is a massive issue and will not be solved overnight, is not in doubt; but can we not make a start to the stopping of compounding the problem.
The health service must change, the cracks are there for all to see.
Why can we not have a novel solution - we are independent - aren’t we?
Everyone wants free healthcare for all, but it just ain't sustainable.
Ideology must take a back seat to research led, evidence-based and simply affordable, pragmatism.
Pensions - of course honour existing commitments, but money purchase or a phased hybrid solution please, or at least start the process.
Future generations have accepted they will work a very long time. Let us understand their concerns and address them.
Strategically, I hope we are talking to the UK about the EU and better access.
Considering closely, the implications of Brexit, it might actually happen.
I hope we are also talking to Norway about our “heritage” and having closer links please, (do not forget they have a $500bn state wealth fund and oil!) and they remain outside the EU.
Maybe it’s time to be ruled by Vikings again.
As a broadly monetarist tory with liberal tendencies, strong feelings of care for my fellow countrymen and an incurable optimist, I could be persuaded to spend some more time in Oslo!
The bottom line is that in the private sector, folk end up in court for using Peter’s money to pay Paul and it did not end well for a certain American gentlemen (also beginning with P), whose name we use from time to time.
Harley is really concerned about the future and will be looking hard at the next administration to say it how it is.
It is only by getting the issues on the table, utilising the wealth of knowledge that we have available to us, acting robustly and fairly - kindly (not weakly), that we will be able to manage the necessary changes - elegantly.