Emphasising the vital need for the Isle of Man to remain competitive, Hon Allan Bell MHK, reminded an invited audience of Sir Roger Bannister’s quote: “Every morning in Africa a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must move faster than the lion or it will not survive. Every morning a lion wakes up and it knows it must move faster than the slowest gazelle or it will starve. It doesn't matter if you are the lion or the gazelle, when the sun comes up, you better be moving.”
Designed by the Chief Minister to elicit feedback that can be used to improve the Manx economy, this, the first in a series of events organised by Manx Business Connection provoked an extremely useful debate and identified a number of areas where changes could be very helpful . John Webster, chairing the evening, explained that the main aim was to identify issues, large or small, that actually could be affected by Government. He reminded guests, comprising many ReallyManx companies, that the Chief Minister was interested in listening to constructive critics so asked for questions to be direct and relevant to the Isle of Man. He noted that the global economic climate was very difficult and that it was important to recognise that the Island must transform its economy to succeed in the face of the new challenges facing us.
The guests responded superbly and there were many clear ideas put to the Chief Minister, who threw himself enthusiastically into the discussions, enabling a frank and useful exchange of views and consideration of what changes could be usefully introduced. It was agreed that the Chief Minister’s Forum should not become a “talking shop” but a platform for generating practical ideas which could lead to identifiable improvements in the Isle of Man. Mike Dee, Managing Director of Manx Telecom, sponsors of the dinner, said,
“Manx Telecom has a clear vested interest in the continuing prosperity of the Isle of Man and as a family man ensuring the Island prospers in order that there are good opportunities for all our children. Therefore, we are delighted to sponsor this event and to be one of the first companies to be involved with ReallyManx, the organisation established to formulate practical solutions to the strategic questions facing the Island”.
Mike Dee, Chief Executive Officer, Manx Telecom, Hon Allan Bell MHK, Chief Minsiter, John Webster, Chairman, Manx Business Connection
One issue which raised genuine concern from a number of quarters was that of planning. Refusals and delays in planning consent have lost the Isle of Man millions of pounds of work for the building industry and a number of investors have decided not to locate to the Island because of frustrations with the planning committee. The Chief Minister was aware of these problems and lamented the fact that few business people had applied to be members of the planning committee, hence the perceived bias against development and economic growth. He explained that whilst the Department of Economic Development does now have a strategy in place to assess the economic benefit of each application the business community had to be represented on the planning committee if there was to be a balance. The Isle of Man cannot afford the luxury of refusing planning permission to reasonable requests unless there are very clear reasons to do so as the economic future is uncertain.
Among the guests present was Howard Rosen, President of the British Chambers of Commerce in Europe and it must have been very apparent to him that the Isle of Man has a real determination to succeed as a business centre providing a range of economic opportunities, a secure life style and quality of life that truly differentiates the Island from all other jurisdictions. While there is no reason to be complacent and lots of room for improvement, the Isle of Man remains a great place to live and do business. Mr Rosen was also impressed with the excellent working relationship between Government and the Island’s business community.
The Revised Scope of Government Report, compiled by Robert Quayle, who was present at the dinner, was also discussed. The Chief Minister confirmed there was no doubt that the scope of Government in its current form is indeed too large and measures had already been introduced to address this. However, whilst it was essential to stimulate the economy rather than use “slash and burn” tactics the result was that the population was not yet experiencing pain and therefore not taking seriously the changes needed. The Chief Minister asked business to assist Government in communicating the serious nature of the financial problems facing the Isle of Man and subsequent action that would be required in reducing the scope of Government.
The Chief Minister concluded the evening by saying,
“This idea to identify and implement solutions to problems which inhibit economic development by combining Government with private sector thinking is not just a daydream. ReallyManx companies have brought a number of issues to my attention and already I have established systems that will greatly assist companies to overcome obstacles to growth. In the near future I hope to be able to reveal a very significant boost to the economy that has been facilitated by our new procedures; this is very welcome positive news”.