Isle of Man Examiner letters, June 3, 2014

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Well done to these youngsters

I would just like to congratulate the young for once!

I was one of the staff helping at the Union Mills Football Club annual dinner party with full carvery at the club last Saturday night.

The young ladies and gents were polite and well mannered– loud, but having such fun too!

And all looked so smart too, it was an absolute pleasure to serve them. Well done to the young ladies and gents – and keep the good work up!

Mrs J Saywell, Colby.

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Thank you for coming to our aid

On behalf of my friend and myself, we would like through the medium of your newspaper to offer sincere and grateful thanks to the two delightful ladies who stopped and offered help and first aid last Friday, May 16, at the cliff top picnic site at Keristel. True angels of mercy, nurses at Noble’s, we wish them both well in the Parish Walk next month.

Mrs K Quine, Address supplied.

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Bluebells display is destroyed

Nature took a whole year to produce its beautiful annual display of bluebells along the Dhoon sliproad in Maughold.

Then along came some insensitive person with a tractor who razed them to the ground, in full flower, within the space of half an hour. This act has denied our TT visitors, as well as countless residents, of much pleasure. Insects, too, no doubt. Why?

Local residents trim their own exits as necessary. The rest posed no threat to traffic, trams or ditches, although the massacred remains do now lie in the ditches which can’t be a good thing.

A drift of daffodils, which had not yet fully died down, also fell victim to the trimmer, so will any of it recover enough to flower next year?

It would appear that because local farmers have taken such good care of the hedges in the absence of any help from the authorities due to ‘cost cutting’ the man felt he should fill his time on the unnecessary destruction described, yet he ignored the fast growing brambles, nettles and ‘donkey rhubarb’ bordering the narrow and rough pavement between Glen Mona sliproad and the Dhoon sliproad, which does cause obstruction to pedestrians, especially during TT, and the forthcoming Parish Walk.

Where is the sense and sensitivity in all this? Surely the trimmer was not commissioned to commit such unnecessary and costly destruction. He would be better employed at hedge trimming next time, if such money is available, to save busy farmers the job.

A. Moor, Glen Mona.

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We will not close our green lanes

I wanted to write in response to a letter published in the Examiner on May 27 from Mr Wright regarding the island’s green lanes.

Mr Wright originally sent the letter to me, prior to its publication, on May 6 and a response was sent to him personally on May 8.

The new Green Lane Management Strategy has been established with input from and consultation with a wide range of user groups of the island’s green lanes. Some of the findings are already being implemented.

Taking into account damage that has been caused by severe weather conditions over the last few years, an ‘adopt a track’ scheme is being introduced with some user groups extremely keen to join up to in order to voluntarily assist the Department of Infrastructure with ongoing, routine maintenance.

I would very much like to stress that contrary to the suggestion in the opening paragraph of Mr Wright’s letter, the department has no intention of closing all tracks or making them one way. The proposal is to make two tracks one-way (Breeze Hill and Old Douglas Road). A decision is pending on closing two cul-de-sac type tracks which were identified as they do not link up with other public highways.

The subject of our treasured green lanes is an emotive one and the new management strategy will continue to evolve whilst always keeping in mind the tremendous value these tracks have for all users.

Laurence Skelly MHK, Minister for Infrastructure.

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Cartel looking after themselves

It is truly extraordinary to see a cartel of four pubs in Peel – The Creek, Filbeys, Peveril and Marine Hotel – join together to object to a license application by the Boatyard in Peel.

These self-interested pubs, who are just trying to stop customers from having a choice, mistakenly claim that ‘any demand’ is ‘already satisfied’. If that was true, then these anti-competitive pubs would not need to form a cartel to oppose new choices for customers.

Instead of attacking the rights of consumers to choose to drink elsewhere, these four pubs should be ashamed of their actions, and should focus on serving their customers – not on attacking the freedom of Peel residents and visitors.

The licensing court should immediately reject their selfish and poorly-considered objection, and empower consumers to choose where to get a drink – preferably not at this cartel of four anti-competitive pubs.

Michael Josem, Millennium Court, Douglas.

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Cosmetic or a real change?

The recent article in your paper on the possibility of limited term contracts and performance reporting measures for senior public servants raises disturbing issues about the current control of senior management in the public sector on the Isle of Man. It begs the question whether what is proposed is a cosmetic exercise or a real cultural change.

The Chief Minister, Allan Bell, is quoted by you as saying in Tynwald, when asked about whether he was in favour of performance targets for senior public sector managers, that he had ‘no problem with that as long as key performance targets are relevant to what we want to achieve’.

Is Mr Bell saying that senior managers do not at the moment have measurable performance goals? If they don’t, why have Ministers and the Civil Service Commission allowed this situation to exist? If it is true then it almost defies belief.

Setting measurable goals does not require fixed term contracts. It requires doing, not talking!

Peter Karran is reported by you as saying that he wants to see the introduction of five-year fixed contracts and more accountability for chief officers of government departments. He says chief executives are not being held to account.

He goes on to say (a self-evident truth) that good staff need to be retained while those who are not performing need to be got rid of. How a five-year contract achieves this better than making the existing arrangements work is a puzzle that perhaps only Mr Karran can explain.

Quite simply, if what is alleged is correct then the Civil Service Commission is not doing its job and is wasting taxpayer monies.

Essentially Mr Karran is accusing the CSC of not biting the bullet on poor senior management performance.

It is hard to believe that the CSC does not have a policy of evaluating the performance of senior managers!

This is easy to find out – if Mr Karran is correct about under-performing senior managers then, if the CSC is doing its job, these managers will be undergoing documented performance improvement programmes prior to final decisions being made about their future.

Identifying and acting on under-performance is clearly not a matter that is resolved by changing employment contracts.

It requires effective management of performance and a CSC and Ministerial culture that has the the courage and fortitude to deal with this. Surely this is a ball in Mr Bell’s and Mr Robertshaw’s court.

Mr Bell and others also need to ask themselves whether moving to a fixed term contract will miraculously make it easier to recruit top quality senior managers? That is again not a contractual issue.

It is a combination of the ability to attract good quality applicants and having properly devised selection processes involving much more than job interviews.

Fixed-term contracts could at first sound like a ‘strong and tough’ response to managerial problems.

However, an objective analysis suggests that there is apparently a more fundamental problem in the culture of the Civil Service Commission.

If Mr Karran is correct, a culture of poor business practice has been allowed to exist at senior public sector managemet levels.

It seems to have had tacit acceptance of our politicians, to the severe detriment of taxpayers.

The real need is for actions to start by making what is there, and paid for, work effectively, not more ‘colour and movement’ from politicians shuffling deck-chairs.

These actions require staff at all levels to have measurable goals, for their performance to be monitored and for under-performance and non-delivery to be managed – if necessary through termination.

Getting the Civil Service Commission staff to do this is the challenge. It will deliver much more for taxpayers than spending yet more money rewriting contracts!

Paul Kerruish-Kelly, Bowling Green Road, Castletown.

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A shambles in planning dept

Your readers may recall several letters from me to your newspaper in 2013 concerning the unlawfulness of the planning committee, the last of which was in December 2013, entitled ‘Planning committee shambles’.

In that letter I stated that a planning committee didn’t currently exist to determine planning applications submitted on or after August 1, 2013, and that decisions made by the planning committee on such applications had, therefore, in my opinion, been unlawful.

The accuracy of my statement was confirmed in Tynwald by Mr Chris Thomas, MHK, on May 20, 2014, when, in relation to his Motion that a select committee be appointed to investigate aspects of the authority and operations of the planning committee and planning administration, he stated that at a meeting held on April 2, 2013, the acting Attorney General had agreed with my opinion that as the planning committee wasn’t appointed under David Cretney MHK’s vires for its appointment dated August 20, 2013, until December 5, 2013, its meetings before that date at which it considered planning applications submitted on or after August 1, 2013, were unlawful and that the decisions made by the planning committee at such meetings on such applications were unlawful also; but valid unless challenged in court.

Chris Thomas also pointed out in his speech, for the reasons which he explained, that –

1. The majority of delegations of functions from 2010 to 2013 which were listed in an analysis of such delegations prepared by me and which had been circulated to Members of Tynwald, were legally defective, unlawful or both.

2. The vires for the appointment of the Planning Committee made by way of a Delegation of Functions dated the 20th August 2013 by David Cretney, MHK, was legally defective and ambiguous.

3. Two delegation of functions made by the new Minister for the DoI, Laurence Skelly, MHK, in his then capacity as the chairman of the planning committee were unlawful.

4. Nine determinations of planning applications made by the director of planning and building control (Michael Gallagher), from August 1, 2013, to December 5, 2013, were unlawful.

5. Two hundred and thirty-four determinations made by senior planning officers from August 1, 2013, to December 5, 2013, were unlawful.

6. 138 determinations made by Ms Jennifer Chance, development control manager, from August 1, 2013, to December 5, 2013, were unlawful.

7. The Acting Attorney General had agreed at the meeting referred to above, as argued by me, that new standing orders introduced by David Cretney from August 1, 2013, which introduced the ‘Right to Speak’ at planning committee meetings did not (as advised by David Cretney in a letter to Members of Tynwald), provide a discretion to the planning committee as to whether or not to introduce the standing order referred to, and he had agreed with me that the discretion was in fact provided to members of the public who could decide for themselves whether or not they wished to exercise their right under the standing orders to address the planning committee.

8. The Acting Attorney General had agreed with me also that because the planning committee failed to introduce the ‘Right to Speak’ until December 18, 2013, its meetings before that date when it considered planning applications submitted on or after August 1, 2013, were unlawful, as were decisions made by the planning committee at such meetings.

9. At a subsequent meeting, the DoI indicated that it would take on board arguments advanced by me that the current planning decision notices did not conform to the law and agreed to consider changes to the format.

It is true that the Minister for Infrastructure tried in the debate to defend the unlawful decisions referred to by stating that decisions of the planning committee or by its officers are deemed of valid legal effect and so lawful unless successfully challenged in court.

He went on to say that it is clear that question as to whether it has been acting lawfully has raised differences of opinion.

Your readers can be assured, however, that I have a legal opinion which states that because the planning committee wasn’t appointed under David Cretney’s delegation of functions dated August 20, 2013, until December 5, 2013, it didn’t exist in law before that date and, therefore, decisions taken by it before December 5, 2013, on planning applications submitted on or after August 1, 2013, are ultra vires, unlawful and invalid.

Any of your readers who feel that they may have been disenfranchised by unlawful and invalid decisions made by the planning committee may wish to take advice with a view to seeking redress.

The full text of Chris Thomas’s speech can be found in the Hansard record of proceedings.

Unfortunately, Chris Thomas’s motion did not receive sufficient support from Members and was defeated, which means that the persons responsible for the shambles in planning administration which he identified and which was described by him as ‘appalling’, will not now have to account for their failures.

Trevor Cowin, Poortown Road, Peel.

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