Articles from June 2016

An issue to important to fudge

The Steam Packet Company has a long, proud record of service to the Isle of Man. Inevitably though, throughout its history, the company has endured difficult periods, none more so than through the war years.

Now it faces a new battle, to convince members of Tynwald that it is the right company to be entrusted with the Island’s lifeline ferry services into the future. As part of its bid the company has gone public with a bold offer, which includes the promise of new vessels, additional back-up in the form of the Ben-my-Chree, increased passenger and freight capacity, more special offers and a new ‘frequent traveller’ scheme.

There’s even an offer to share extra revenue growth with the government to fund low fare initiatives.

The total investment involved in the offer adds up to around £170 million – a considerable sum in anybody’s language.

The task facing Tynwald members is whether to make a decision now, and give the company the green light to put its plans into action, or wait until
after the election and then proceed with a full tender process for any interested parties.

IOM Steam Packet Company, Chief Executive Mark Woodward isn’t convinced that any of the major ferry companies currently operating in British waters would be interested in the Isle of Man’s ‘niche’ operation. He may have a point. The issue is not just a case of who offers the best vessels and the cheapest deal for customers. Ferry services are complex operations and some services in British waters are heavily subsidised. Under the terms of the Steam Packet’s offer the company is pledging to take all the commercial risk, based on its assumption that the Manx economy is strong and will continue to grow. Given the uncertainties that abound in the current climate that’s a brave move. Other operators may be more reticent.

The Steam Packet isn’t perfect – something Mr Woodward would openly concede. But the promises made in its offer document suggest the management is acutely aware of its weaknesses, and the improvements that need to be made.

With the summer recess looming and the general election just three months away some Tynwald members will be packing their factor 15 and dreaming of a sunshine break. It’s hoped though that they can retain sufficient focus to give this important issue proper consideration and don’t just kick it into the long grass for the next administration to pick up post election. (See page 12: “Steam Packet throws down the gauntlet’)

Hot air and hypocrisy won’t end corruption

The recent anti-corruption summit in London produced more than its fair share of headlines in the UK and international press, though what the event achieved is difficult to quantify.

Six countries, Britain, Afghanistan, Kenya, France, the Netherlands and Nigeria, have agreed to publish registers of who really owns companies in their territories, the so-called registers of beneficial ownership. This is a primary objective of anticorruption groups. Six more, including Australia, have said they will consider doing so.

Meanwhile eleven nations have pledged to join the 29-strong group where lists of beneficial owners are drawn up and shared between governments, although not publicly. The Isle of Man and Jersey are among this group.

Two of the main speakers at the summit were UK Prime Minister David Cameron and US Secretary of State, John Kerry.

Both produced stirring speeches expressing their desire to stamp out corruption and clean up the world, and there was praise from Mr Cameron for the work done by the Isle of Man. Meanwhile Mr. Kerry said he had been shocked at the extent of global corruption since taking up his post – though not it seems shocked sufficiently to commit the US to the pledge to share registers of beneficial ownership.

It was possibly the hypocrisy of Mr Kerry’s position that finally proved a step too far for Isle of Man Chief Minister, Allan Bell. In an unusually frank and hard-hitting repost Mr Bell told the summit that there wouldn’t be any real progress until the US made its own tax havens such as Delaware more open.

Mr Bell stated that to defeat corruption every nation must sign up – “We need action not fine words,” he said, while later accusing the US Secretary of State of presenting a speech full of platitudes, but little substance.”

How much notice the Americans will take remains to be seen, but it’s about time the outrageous hypocrisy of the their position was challenged publicly.

Mr Bell’s comments will have caused little more than mild embarrassment for the Americans, but at least they have received an airing in many of the world’s most influential newspapers, including the New York Times.

Just how much of the summit’s final 32 point communiqué, full of grand hyperbole and ambitious objectives, ever comes to pass awaits to be seen. A global declaration against corruption needs a coordinated global response. That remains some way off.

The Isle of Man may not be perfect and there is clearly work still to be done, but by its actions the Island has shown itself to be part of the solution, not the problem.