There’s been a lot of debate about KPMG’s new economic strategy document for the island over the past week.

But let’s be clear: devising a strategy to ensure the future prosperity and success of the island is an essential task for Government.

As The Chief Minister made explained in his media interviews: the Isle of Man risks heading into managed decline unless it gets on the front foot. To do that it needs a clear strategic plan.

The KPMG report offers four important new aims – or ‘policy pillars’ as they’re referred to in the document. 

But with no clear strategic vision for the island, implementation risks being too ad hoc to realise its full value.

Given the tumultuous social, economic and political environments in which the island finds itself knowing what we stand for now and what we want to stand for in the future is vital.

Without such a vision the risk is that any strategic plan will be pushed and pulled out of shape by the many external forces influencing the world around us – both within the British Isles and globally.

Having a ‘north star’ (or should that be Raad Ree Gorry?) by which to navigate our future growth and development will ensure that regardless of whatever happens in the world we will be equipped with the right strategic direction and polices to get to where we want to be.

Of course, some people will say: “we have a vision. It’s in the Island Plan.”

But a quick side note on that. The Island Plan’s vision is this: ‘create a Secure, Vibrant and Sustainable island’.

I’d argue that’s not strategic. For example, a good test of strategic value is whether any country would create the opposite of those things. The reality is these are basic qualities – ‘hygiene factors’ – for a modern democratic country.

All of which brings us back to the new Economic Strategy.

The Chief Minister stated the Strategy document contains the ‘policy pillars’ (i.e. goals) of what KPMG identified the island needs achieve, i.e. grow the population, economy and public finances, while improving sustainability.

But Government doesn’t yet have the ‘policy levers’ (i.e. policies) to deliver these goals. 

And, here’s the rub: with no strategic vision you can choose almost any relevant policy to achieve your goals. 

The question is: which is best for the island?

For example, which ‘policy lever’ do we pull to increase our population?

Do we go down a Dubai route where we attract new people to the Island through tax incentives and property development., but with the risk that we compound inequalities and create ethical challenges. Such a route has already been raised online:  

“In all likelihood the solution is a Dubai style free zone. Rebuild Jurby with the airstrip and an IT & trading free zone built around it. Sell apartments for £1M on a gated complex to get tax free status in IOM. No access to any services unless you PAYG. It works for Dubai.”

Is that the Island we want to create? Or do we go for a different approach, such as a Scotland-style growth strategy based on taxation for development, sustainability-led growth and creating a highly skilled workforce.

Without a country-level vision the risk is that (ad hoc?) ‘policy levers’ assembled to deliver economic growth end up shaping the type of country you have.

It’s much better to know what type of country you want to be and build your economy around that.

Before Government starts to assemble their ‘policy levers’ to deliver KPMG’s economic strategy I would suggest checking off a couple of important steps.

Firstly: establish a vision of what we want the Isle of Man become. Given the views of our neighbours in Ireland, Scotland and Wales I’d suggest aiming for being a modern, 21st Century democracy isn’t a bad start. 

Secondly, identify 3-4 key pillars to achieve this vision across all areas of society, including health, economy, culture, environment, etc. And then build a policy programme to deliver it all drawing on best practice and ideas from aligned and aspirational countries – not just the UK.

It may sound like an extra layer of work, but between the Island Plan, the new Economic Strategy, NetZero strategy, for example, I’m confident the core components of this there already. We just need a clear national strategic vision to help align them all and guide implementation to enable us to become the country we want to be in the future.

Dr Simon Collister
Co-founder, Reayrtys
Reayrtys is a new initiative that will bring together people and ideas to set out a more powerful and prosperous vision for the Isle of Man centred around constitutional reform.