Keys Preview: Gas, Businesses and Buses

After last week’s interrupted sitting, Keys is back (insert crowd cheering)!

There are nine questions on this week’s order paper, some of which are carried on from last week, so with that done, let’s meet the players.

First up to bat for the backbench is Rushen MHK Dr Michelle Haywood who will ask the Chief Minister: ‘What standards of conduct apply to Members of Tynwald and to Ministers; how any alleged breach would be addressed; and if he will make a statement?’

This is followed by two questions from Douglas Central MHK Chris Thomas. His first goes to Manx Utilities Chairman Rob Callister: ‘How the loan agreement between Treasury and Manx Utilities was modified in summer 2020; how this modification affected monies received from Manx Gas; and if he will make a statement?’

Mr Thomas’ second will be headed straight to OFT Chairman John Wannenburgh: ‘When he will publish the Office of Fair Trading report into Bus Vannin’s demand- responsive transport service; and if he will make a statement?’ This is arguably one of the more unusual issues inherited by this administration as the on-demand bus service has proven to be a Marmite system since it was first introduced.

Of course it wouldn’t be a Keys sitting without a question or two from Arbory, Castletown and Malew MHK Jason Moorhouse. His first question goes to the Chief: ‘What the Government’s policy is on the extraction of natural gas from beneath the seabed; and if he will make a statement?’ We all know why this is being asked, so it’ll be very interesting to see the response.

Mr Moorhouse will then be asking the Treasury Minister: ‘What contribution has been paid to the UK Government in each of the last three years for defence and international relations; and if he will make a statement?’ The figure here will be interesting, but we already know that the island has paid more than twice what our Channel Island counterparts have since 2015, so surely the supplementary will go something like this: ‘Why are we paying this and how can we cut it?’ Mr Moorhouse does have one other question on the paper, asking DHSC Minister Lawrie Hooper: ‘How his Department prevents isolation and loneliness amongst retired people in the south of the island?’

The other three questions come from the Douglas South MHKs Clare Christian and Sarah Maltby. Mrs Christian will ask Mr Ashford: ‘What winter support packages are available for businesses and individuals affected by COVID-19?’ I get the feeling she may not like the answer, but it will be her supplementaries which could dig a little deeper to see what the Treasury Minister has up his sleeves.

Mrs Christian will later ask the Enterprise Minister Dr Alex Allinson: ‘What engagement his Department has had with customer-facing businesses in order to understand the current economic impact of COVID-19, and what its findings were?’ I’m willing to bet a Freddo the answer involves the words ‘LoveIOM Card’.

In-between Mrs Christian’s questions, Mrs Maltby will ask Cabinet Office Minister Kate Lord-Brennan: ‘What plans there are to promote voter registration via the online portal by 16- to 18-year-olds and others?’ Youth voter turnout was pretty poor in this year’s General Election, so surely anything that can improve this must be looked at, but I must ask why stop at teenagers?

We finish with a little bit of housekeeping, with me off on my hols this week, a special treat for you all as Paul Speller takes over Gef’s Keys coverage, but fear not, I’ll be back soon…

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