Are Tynwald members sailing into trouble with the Steam Packet?

in Politics

With Tynwald in recess for the summer, PAUL SPELLER reflects on the first parliamentary year of the Quayle administration. Here he takes a look at how members have handled an issue that could end up dominating for a long time yet.

The biggest challenge Howard Quayle will face as chief minister may not be the one he was expecting.

On an international scale, the spectre of Brexit may continue to loom large - too large in the mind of the Manx Government, some critics have argued.

But, the future of sea services to the Isle of Man has the potential to overshadow everything else.

The Steam Packet issue is a tricky one - and one that, unfortunately, Tynwald members appear to be reluctant to discuss publicly.

Discussion

It must have been one hell of a briefing that was given to Tynwald members by the government ahead of what was meant to be a debate on what to do with the offer from the Steam Packet, for them to decide that it was not worthy of proper discussion.

A glance at the Hansard report of proceedings certainly seems to suggest that even President of Tynwald Steve Rodan was caught off-guard when members called for a vote on the motion before them.

Six minutes and 20 seconds was the time members spent on what to do about the Steam Packet’s offer in exchange for a new agreement.

They took longer discussing where the swearing-in ceremony for the Lieutenant Governor should take place.

This lack of open political discussion is perhaps even more surprising when you consider the Council of Ministers wanted to reject the Steam Packet’s ’final’ offer of a deal that would have secured sea services beyond 2040 in exchange for a number of pledges on new vessels and services, while the Department of Infrastructure’s recommendation - the one that was put before Tynwald - was to allow it to continue negotiations.

In previous administrations, the suggestion of a less than unified approach within the cabinet would have come under much closer scrutiny, even if ministers were sticking rigidly to a party line when the matter was raised.

Commercial sensitivity is a handy cop-out to call on to avoid discussing the matter in public, but one cannot help but feel that members of the public are either being cheated or taken for granted to not be considered deserving of being privy to what is going on in the minds of our parliamentary representatives, both inside the government and in the wings.

Yes, the motion was to support the Department of Infrastructure in continuing negotiations, which was the argument proffered for not talking about it further, but, do we actually know, genuinely, what the thoughts of members are?

Shouldn’t we?

It would be nice to think that, if they are contemplating something as far-reaching as taking ownership of ferries and franchising out their operation, for instance, that, somewhere down the line they would consider letting the public in on that train of thought before the process hurtles down the track and the spending of £150 million is announced and approved before the public can say ’shipping forecast’.

Criticism

If they consider the Steam Packet gets a lot of criticism now, and that has emboldened some members to take a hard-line stance, Tynwald and government should have a long think about what level of scrutiny they would come under if they were to own the vehicles that provided the lifeline sea link to the Isle of Man.

Oh, and good luck, telling anyone - ever again - that there is not enough money available for a minor scheme that is close to the heart of a section of the community.

Of course, some of the above is conjecture, because the members conveniently decided not to discuss it.

Sometimes, you get the impression that, if they could get away with it, Tynwald members would quite like to hold some debates behind closed doors.

Disappointing

It’s all the more disappointing when many seem happy enough to dance many, merry circles about several aspects of parliamentary reform, or the procedural niceties of where the Queen’s representative puts on his or her hat, yet they fall shy of talking about the Steam Packet.

Stop people in the street and ask them if they care more about what their MHK plans to do about the island’s sea links, or whether the Bishop continues to have a vote in Legislative Council.

The reticence to talk publicly suggests that there may already be a preferred option from the suggested alternatives in the report that was barely debated.

But, if Tynwald and the government thinking the Steam Packet will not be - quite rightly -assessing every possible option that Tynwald could come up with, they are naïve in the extreme.

By not talking publicly, it cannot help to fuel suspicion that the corridors of power are full of shadowy corners.

It may not be regarded as particularly conciliatory towards the Steam Packet, either.

Political posturing is all well and good, but it does not carry you across the Irish Sea.

â?¢ See next week’s Examiner for Paul’s one-year review of the House of Keys.

Add Comment
Add Comment

34 Comments

Comments are not moderated

Fell · 9 days ago · Report

K you are correct but also if there is no new agreement the book value of the IOMSPC for BES & partners will diminish significantly as the duration of the current User Agreement continues to shorten. "Almost monopoly" (Mark Woodward's words) access to the Linkspan is central to its value. String negotiating points.

Kionedroghad · 9 days ago · Report

The reason the SP want a deal sooner rather than later is because borrowing costs are at all-time lows, so can only go in one direction. The length of contract and its terms will also effect the rate of interest they pay. That is why they are unwilling to leave the offer on the table. Not pro or anti SP myself, just pointing out business realities.

Manx born (formerl CV) · 9 days ago · Report

When did Gov.im run our ships Gav?

Gav · 9 days ago · Report

Gov.im ran our ships once. A private operator will always be much more efficient. Maybe not always giving everything we want. Our economy is being killed now by huge freight charges. These affect business and affect our pockets subversively. It also prevents imigration.It's time we had a genuine competitive market for our personal and business travel.

Manx born (formerl CV) · 9 days ago · Report

And you do Conch?

Manx born (formerl CV) · 9 days ago · Report

And you do Conch?

Conch · 9 days ago · Report

I agree with everything Modern democracy has said about the CM and the packet. they don't understand commercial shipping

Conch · 9 days ago · Report

What is wrong with them, if it took longer to discuss the swearing-in ceremony for the Governor? as the report says. Priorities need to be gotten right. it is a mockery otherwise, pomp and ceremony can wait, we need common sense and answers and solutions and level headedness

Fell · 9 days ago · Report

MD that is called a very powerful negotiating lever....

Modern Democracy · 9 days ago · Report

Why should IOMG underwrite a major boost in the, otherwise declining, value of the IOMSPC for Banco Espiritu Santo?

Fell · 10 days ago · Report

The most up to date profit margin information I can find is from a report that quotes 2006 data. At that time the IOMSPC profit margin was 36% compared with an average margin of 13% across 20 something European ferry companies.

ET · 10 days ago · Report

RE. You equally know well I'm referring to IOMSPC's parent company, BES. I suspect we've got more liquidity than they have, and for interests sake the ownership of IOMSPC has changed 4 times since the 1990's.

Fell · 10 days ago · Report

When our social media gurus stop bickering over what is or isn't excessive isn't the big issue that the IOMG has within its gift the ability to underwrite a major boost in the, otherwise declining, value of the IOMSPC for Banco Espiritu Santo & its co-owners? For that it needs something very significant in return for taxpayers, business, residents & tourists.

Modern Democracy · 10 days ago · Report

Is my figure wrong - what ROI are they achieving?

RichEader · 10 days ago · Report

MD, please don't confuse margin with ROI.

RichEader · 10 days ago · Report

ET, you know as well as I do that a contract can only be sold on to a third party if the terms of the contract allow that. The longevity of the contract affects the terms of finance. The IOMSP is a private limited company; the shares are not going to fluctuate on any market because they are not listed on any market.

Modern Democracy · 10 days ago · Report

A 30% ROI is not excessive?

Manx born (formerl CV) · 10 days ago · Report

MD so your post was inaccurate then

ET · 10 days ago · Report

On that last point RE it's relevant to IOMSPC to obtain a new contract because their share value is affected by the value of the contract which in turn is affected by the longevity or lack of it. The chairman is wily old fox but he's not re-inventing the wheel here with reference to the value of the contract on the open market and he could, if he so wished, sell it to the highest bidder. A small point to consider in the excitement of it all.

Modern Democracy · 10 days ago · Report

I understand that IOMSPC is taking a 30% return on investment from us

Manx born (formerl CV) · 10 days ago · Report

Blimey RichEader, sorry to insult you but you are sounding a bit like me. Same question to you MD about excessive profits. And once more MD which bit of Liberal Vannin caused Mr Quayle to be elected as Chief Minister do you not understand?

RichEader · 10 days ago · Report

Which 'excessive profits' are those MD? I'll ask you the same as I asked hoodlum; what is the IOMSP return on investment? Exactly what 'excessive profits' are you speaking of and how much are they?

Modern Democracy · 10 days ago · Report

The criticism of 'Chief Minister' Quayle is that a) he was foisted upon us by unelected LegCo, & b) he hasn't got a clue what he is doing

Modern Democracy · 10 days ago · Report

The criticism of the Steam Packet is that it is making excessive profits at the expense of Manx people & our visitors.This cannot be permitted to continue

RichEader · 10 days ago · Report

Or could it be, ET, that borrowing conditions now are particularly attractive, whereas future conditions promise not to be ---- to the resulting cost of the IOM consumer, it has to be said.

ET · 10 days ago · Report

At the moment RE it's not relevant to the IOM. But borrowing requirements are entirely relevant to IOMSPC or should I say the organisation who currently hold the badge. You don't pledge a island Nation's economy for a term of 30 years to a commercial operation who have borrowing difficulties restricting required investment.

RichEader · 10 days ago · Report

It may be tough, ET, but if the IOMSP go away, what is in the pipeline to replace it?

ET · 10 days ago · Report

I'm amazed with this article going to press. We're allowed 500 characters max to post a 'rant'. And frankly Mr Speller, that's what your article is...a rant. It doesn't give any extenuating facts, it just lays out an opinion. That's not news, it's simply subjective interpretation. I don't support the government's stance on many issues but neither do I support IOMSPC's campaign to stir up disquiet amongst the public. The packet desperately need to borrow on the back of a new contract. Tough.

Fell · 10 days ago · Report

The current ferry arrangements can last until 2026. Did Phil Gawne and Ann Reynolds fire the starting gun way too soon for sensible, comparative, tendering? If so, why?

RichEader · 10 days ago · Report

That begs the question, hoodlum; if the ferry service makes a "healthy proven profit", why don't we have other companies queued up begging to take over from the IOMSP? As you seem to be privy to these things, what is the IOMSP return on investment?

hoodlum · 10 days ago · Report

I agree with RE's comments about saddling the taxpayers with debt successive governments have been excellent at this, however saddling taxpayers with something that makes a healthy proven profit might be something new and unique for them ! Stop bending over to the whims of the monopolies and start to govern !!!!

Manx born (formerl CV) · 10 days ago · Report

A very good article. One which I trust all MHKs will read and digest.

RichEader · 10 days ago · Report

I cannot fault Mr Speller's comments. At the heart of them, however, is the assumption that those in Tynwald have a sufficient grasp of commercial shipping to adequately judge the IOMSP negotiations. Many of us doubt they do. In the end it is a commercial decision, after all, and not just a political one. Saddling taxpayers with yet more debt through purchase and maintenance of ferries is not, in my mind, the best use of taxpayers' money.

hoodlum · 10 days ago · Report

Nice political commentary from the steam packet ! I expect my MHK to act commercially in the interests of the consumer and the island, not in the interests of some remote investment vehicle. If that means thinking outside the box then so be it, the tail has wagged the dog for too long !

Add Your Comment

You don't need an account to leave a comment

By posting your comment you agree to our T & C