Treasury Department member Ralph Peake says the government should do more to create a level playing field for local businesses, as he talks to PAUL SPELLER in the latest of his in-depth interviews with the island’s 24 MHKs. Mr Peake also says that serious consideration has to be given to privatisation of certain parts of the health service.
HE is the inbetweener, but Douglas North representative Douglas Ralph Peake is happy with his position in the House of Keys.
With the exception of Speaker Juan Watterson and Chris Robertshaw - who removed himself from the shop window - Ralph Peake is the only MHK whose experience dates back to before September 2016 who does not have a seat at the Council of Ministers table.
Mr Peake was elected in 2015, following the by-election caused by Bill Henderson’s elevation to Legislative Council.
With 12 new MHKs in last year’s election and the two other members with a similar amount of parliamentary experience to him - Ray Harmer and Geoffrey Boot - receiving the call to join Howard Quayle’s cabinet, does he feel slighted in any way?
The simple answer is no. He points out that he had no prior local authority experience, as opposed to the other two. Plus, with a position in Treasury, he’s at the epicentre of government activity.
’I do really enjoy my role at the Treasury. I was at two departments before, one was Health and Social Care, the other was Environment, Food and Agriculture, and I also enjoyed both those roles.’
He says he hopes to use his business experience to good effect and reveals an optimism that the new administration will be better equipped to work towards ’shared goals’. Under the previous regime, he felt that ’a lot could be improved’.
In his election manifesto, Mr Peake called for an ’honest’ discussion about funding of the NHS and warned that the required ’step change’ necessitated more than ’playing with the budgets’.
Does he advocate some services currently available on the NHS moving into the private sector?
’I know it has been looked at in the past,’ he says. ’I think we are at the point where we need to look at it again.’
Such views - which do not necessarily go further than the Department of Health and Social Care, which has suspended referrals on certain ’minor’ surgical procedures while it reviews ’clinical thresholds’ - will undoubtedly still cause alarm bells to ring in some quarters.
He does make a point of praising the staff at the hospital and in the health service in general.
’When I was a member for health, I saw some great people moving to the island, with great ideas and the will to turn fortunes around.’
The debate on health services is there to be had, but it remains to be seen whether Mr Peake’s view is shared by the majority.
The former rally driver is at ease as we discuss a range of matters over the course of an hour and he is clearly relishing his new career in Tynwald.
Although he may not have come to the Keys through the local authority route, it is clear he has long been interested in Manx politics - he even recalls the caricature that used to accompany a weekly column, penned by his interviewer a good two decades ago.
Mr Peake has recently completed the sale of his Luminaires business to his former manager, to give himself the time required to devote to the job of MHK. He delayed making that decision until after the 2016 election, because he not unreasonably felt that a five-year term was long enough to justify such a move.
There is a feeling in some sections of the Manx business community, from where he has come, that they have not been on a level playing field with competitors coming in from the UK.
It is a view that Mr Peake has sympathy with.
’It is down to an attitude - or culture, sometimes - of government, as of old, that anything that comes from the UK is better.’
He says he is pleased the Treasury is looking at the government’s procurement policy and says more can be done to support local industries and trades.
That does not mean protectionism, he insists, but there needs to be an awareness of the value to the economy of supporting local businesses.
’The last thing we want is for business to rip people off, I am not supporting that, but there has to be a realisation of the bigger picture.’
He admits to concern at the apparent ease with which some off-island businesses can come in and set up, in competition with established Manx firms.
I mention the massive car dealership complex being built on the outskirts of Douglas by Jersey firm Jacksons. He comments: ’The concern is what number of jobs will that create? Will it just drive jobs from the locally-owned businesses? Will it reduce the number of people in the motor trade?’
The government itself needs to do more to ensure it uses the services of established Isle of Man businesses whenever possible, he says, rather than going off-island.
A starting point would be proper analysis of where the government is putting its money at the moment and how much of it comes back into the island’s coffers.
The point of a policy designed to support local business is, he says, to ensure it is for the overall benefit of the Manx economy.
’It is not to encourage a lazy or lethargic attitude, it is about growing the economy and it is about putting in extra support so the economy is stronger.
’Strong, local, independent business is the best way to grow the economy.’
The father-of-three, who grew up in Laxey, shares the opinion of many that the current House of Keys and the government is better placed now to ensure progress for the Isle of Man. The antipathy of old between MHKs - and, in some cases, ministers - is not present.
Also, there appears to be less of an eye on how a tough decision might impact on members at the polls, although it is fair to say that shoulders tend to be looked over a little more, towards the end of a term of office.
’You could certainly see, in the last administration, an unwillingness to perhaps make decisions for fear of what the outcome might be,’ he says. ’We haven’t got that now, so we can get through the business without looking towards the next election.
’I came in around about 15 months before the election and, to me, 15 months is quite a long time in business, you can get quite a lot done, whereas some people said "nothing will get done now" - and that was borne out.’
Mr Peake is clearly driven, in more ways than one.
His rally career - he was the Dunlop Rover Metro GTi Race and Rally champion 1991 and Best Manx finisher in Manx International Rally 1989 - has helped to inform his attitude toward both business and politics, in particular the importance of focus.
’You have got to be focused on something and you have got to put the effort in to get it to happen.’