Chief Minister admits U-turns over charges do not look good

Tynwald buildings, Douglas

Tynwald buildings, Douglas

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The climbdown over parking and bus fare charges does not give a good impression of a government that is supposed to be working together, the Chief Minister admits.

A series of U-turns on controversial new charges were announced last week by Infrastructure Minister Phil Gawne MHK.

The planned 50p fare to be charged on school buses is to be halved to 25p.

Proposals to restrict free bus passes to pensioners, by raising the age of eligibility from 60 to the state pension age, are now to be phased in but in order to pay for this, pensioners will be charged half fare at peak times.

And two-hour disc zone parking on Douglas promenades is to be retained –following an outcry from retailers worried the plan to cut free parking to one hour would hit trade.

Mr Bell said: ‘It’s probably doesn’t give the best impression of government or government thinking – I fully accept that. One of my ambitions is to improve connectivity across government, to encourage an end to silo thinking and get government working more closely together. I’ve only been partially successful in achieving that.

‘But Mr Gawne has an exceptionally difficult job to do with the challenge to find £5m of savings. His department has identified several million pounds of savings so far. Transport issues are one part.

‘Mr Gawne made the announcement. Council of Minister were aware of this and went along with him at the time. Clearly there has been public reaction to some of these proposals and Mr Gawne has taken those comments on board, particularly the concerns of retailers on parking. The government is regularly criticised for not listening.’

Mr Bell added: ‘Communication in government has got to sharpen up.’

The Chief Minister stressed that the charges were the result of the island’s changed financial circumstances in the wake of the VAT bombshell.

‘Things change, We have not got the money we had and we’ve got to cut our cloth accordingly,’ he said.

But Mr Bell said he was hopeful that there would not be many more increases in charges for public services.

He said: ‘I hope we are close to the point where we don’t have to put up charges. There is only so much pressure you can put on the community without it have a contrary effect.

‘We are close to rebalancing the budget and with a fair wind we will rebalance a year early. I hope we won’t have to simply fall back on putting up charges all the time as the cumulative effect will have a detrimental impact on some sections of our community.’

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