Michael MHK Alfred Cannan has rejected a call from two senior government Ministers for him to step down as chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.
Policy and Reform Minister Chris Robertshaw and Treasury Minister Eddie Teare claimed the backbench MHK had compromised his position by criticising the spending of over £750,000 on consultants to review the National Insurance Fund and welfare policy – an issue that is currently being investigated by the PAC.
Mr Teare said: ‘I feel he is conflicted now and he should do the honourable thing and step down.
‘You can’t have strong personal opinions on an issue and then sit on a committee that’s investigating it.’
Mr Cannan said he had no intention of resigning, adding he was perfectly entitled to express his personal opinions on matters of government policy.
‘I do not believe I have compromised my position,’ he told the Examiner.
Last week, Mr Cannan accused the Council of Ministers of pursuing ‘the politics of panic’ and ‘failing to prioritise policies’ after it announced all options need to considered to prevent the National Insurance Fund – which pays for state retirement pensions, the Manx pension supplement and other social security benefits – from collapsing by 2050.
He said this provided further evidence of a government ‘that has moved from the politics of plenty to the politics of panic’.
Priorities should have been to tackle expensive and inappropriate public sector pension schemes and an expensive legislature, he said.
The UK government actuary will report again next year on the sustainability of the National Insurance Fund, relating to the five-year period to March 2012.
‘Quite why the Council of Ministers has seen fit to authorise expenditure of over three quarters of a million pounds on consultants in this respect when we are already receiving these very expensive actuarial reports remains to be seen,’ he said.
But then in a press briefing, Ministers Robertshaw and Teare hit back at his comments.
Mr Teare said the UK government actuary reported on a very narrow issue – the sustainability of the National Insurance Fund – while consultants were brought in to look at the wider issue of social security and benefits.
He said: ‘What we have found through the latter piece of work is there have been considerable differences in claims experience over the last decade between the Isle of Man and the UK.
‘If we’d had a similar claims experience we’d have been spending on benefits – excluding pensions – over £14m a year less.
‘So if you put the money that’s been committed to this research in perspective, if we can close this gap with the UK, we could get that money within four weeks. Surely that’s good value.’
Speaking about public sector pension schemes, Mr Robertshaw said: ‘For the last two and a half years Mr Cannan was chairman of the Civil Service Commission and vice-chairman of the Public Sector Pensions Authority.
‘He was in the perfect position to bring forward reviews and assessments of where we should be going forward.
‘There was silence, we got nothing. Then within weeks of stepping down he accuses us of doing nothing.’
But Mr Cannan said: ‘The Council of Ministers knows full well the extent of the work that I undertook and they know full well my views that firmer action is required to provide stability and fairness in this respect.
‘These actions and my support for further reforms are well documented and indeed in January this year I gave unerring support to the Tynwald motion calling on the Government to bring forward proposals for change through a formal working group.
‘It is grossly inaccurate therefore for Minister Robertshaw to claim that he is responsible for initiating this review and indeed I note that he has failed on numerous occasions to contribute to this vital debate.’