For 4.5 days last week I was in the Isle of Man and I had a really great time.
I went because of the way that the Manx Government has been a major player in our recent International Festival of Business. Erica, as Lord Mayor, had officially opened one of their events and I went to another one. Erica and I also sat with two Manx Ministers at the final IFB Dinner.
Erica and I have been to the Isle of Man on many occasions. It’s a great place and only 20 minutes by plane or about 4 hours by ferry. Either way it is incredibly quick to get to and has a wonderful scenery and interesting things to do. More of the holiday opportunities later!
It is, of course an independent nation. It has a reputation as a tax haven which if it ever was true is no longer the case. Yes it has a lower tax regime than other countries which some people take advantage of but it has open and transparent banking systems that are signed up to all European and world banking standards. This nation of just 85,000 has 22 strands of industry and development which includes, for example, being one of the leading registries in the world for ships and aircraft. It does not pretend to be a major manufacturing state although it does offer some very hi-tech manufacturing jobs. It makes much of its money by selling services to the rest of the World.
In Liverpool we used to know the IoM well. Indeed it used to be known as the Scouse Riviera. Up to 7 boats would cross to and from the island on a busy Bank Holiday but that trade went quickly when budget travel and packaged holidays opened up Spain and Italy. Liverpool University used to have a world renowned marine research facility in Port Erin which, alas closed some 10 years ago.
In my discussions with Ministers, including briefly a chat with the Chief (Prime) Minister, Alan Bell, it became obvious that there were 3 ways in which opportunities could be developed:
Firstly, the interchange of goods and services to the Liverpool City Region and the wider North West. The Government was very clear that it had over-emphasised the relationships with the City and London whilst not looking at the opportunities just over their horizon. With 1.65 million people the Liverpool City region could and should be a major area for two way commercial activity. The Department of Economic Development are looking at ways in which we might help them with some of their economic and commercial starnds and we will then follow uo those opportunities.
Secondly, there could be more mutual assistance between the Governments (and to a lesser extent councils) and the LGA and our work of peer review and peer support. So much of what the IoM does is modelled on what we do. Most of their professional practices and structures (for good or bad) model ours. There are many opportunities for looking at good practice with this again being a two way and not a one way trade. There would also be the opportunity to look at governance issues with the Municipal Association which is a sort of cross between the LGA and NALC. Outside Douglas, which is the only Council with Councillors, the island has commissioners sitting on what we would class as parish or two councils.
Lastly there seem to be opportunities for helping the Manx Government improve contacts within the wider worlds of the UK, Europe and the Commonwealth. Just as what we do impacts on them so does what Europe does. We can help them with their influencing work because in many, but not all, cases what they want to say is the same as what we want to say.
Douglas Council was fascinating. I met the Mayor and Leader and saw that their council functioned in much the same way as ours in Liverpool. I exchanged a present from the Lord Mayor of Liverpool for a present to the Lord Mayor of Liverpool. In both cases that present was a book which told of our proud histories.
The area that I would like to explore most quickly would be that of two way tourism. My mate, Ken Perry, came over to join me and we had a good couple of days. We quickly regressed to the 8 year old state that our wives think we live in and went by two trams to the top of Snaefell. The next day we took a steam train to Port Erin. I ate at three restaurants whilst I was there and all were excellent. Especially, ‘Little Fish’ on the North Quay. They also have two good breweries Bushys and Okells which serve good ale and there are apparently micro-breweries growing up as well. Good ale; good food and steam trains – what more could a 61 year old lad ask for!
I believe that there many opportunities for multi-centre holidays and simply us going there and the Manxies coming here for weekend breaks.
My last tasks were to spend some time with the Liberal Vannin Party our sister Party on the Island. LibVan has 2 MHKs (MPs) out of 24 but none of the 11 MLCs (a sort of House of Lords) are from the Party. Our leader there, Kate Beecroft, is a very energetic Leader and I met a number of the people who will be standing in the General Election in 2016. I felt very much at home in their company. But I feel at home with liberals everywhere. As we explored our common beliefs I saw that there are things that both Parties could do together as there are things that both states could do together.
In many ways the problems faced by the politicians (Party politicians or not) are the same as the UK. Austerity is forcing changes some of which are bad but many of which are good. Services are becoming more customer rather than producer centric. Old departmental barriers to good services are being torn down and more value for money will result.
I hope that things will come from my visit and will be enthusiastically following up the contacts that I have made. Yes of course we must chase for the opportunities of countries like China but we should not overlook the opportunities of a small but resolute nation just 20 minutes away in a plane