No blank cheque for Manx Radio in Tynwald vote

The Manx Radio building, Douglas Head

The Manx Radio building, Douglas Head

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Tynwald rejected a call for Treasury to bankroll Manx Radio to the guaranteed tune of at least £850,000 a year.

Following a three-hour debate, members accepted most – but not all – recommendations of a select committee report which endorses Manx Radio as the way forward for public service broadcasting in the island.

But a crucial recommendation that the station be guaranteed government subvention of at least £850,000 a year was not accepted as tabled.

Instead, members voted for an amendment by Peter Karran (Lib Van, Onchan) which stated the broadcaster should get £850,000 for 2014/15 but any future subvention should be subject to periodic reviews based on a report to Tynwald and with Tynwald consent.

Chief Minister Allan Bell said: ‘I am not prepared in any circumstances to give Manx Radio a blank cheque and guarantee the funding in the future.’

He said there could be no ring-fencing of finances in any particular arm of government expenditure. ‘In the present financial climate we are struggling with that would be quite unacceptable,’ he told the court.

Treasury Minister Eddie Teare said: ‘It would be unwise for the subvention to be guaranteed into the future in this way. No other government-funded organisation has this commitment.’

He said Manx Radio received public funds of £1.1m a year including the subvention, transmission, pension and accommodation costs. In addition, capital expenditure of £250,000 a year had been approved by Tynwald for a substantial programme of refurbishment at Broadcasting House.

Manx Radio’s government subvention had risen from £245,459 in 2002-03 to £984,175 in 2008-09 but has been cut year on year in the last three years to a current figure of £850,000 – compared with a figure of £1,114,168 if an inflationary formula agreed by Tynwald in 2007 had been adhered to. Bosses insist the station cannot endure further cuts to the subvention without reducing its service.

This is the 12th report into Manx Radio, which marks its 50th birthday this year.

The committee’s report concludes that the management structure should be reduced by at least one.

In Tynwald Mr Bell said he ‘abhorred the arrogance of senior management’ for ‘abusing their position to lobby over the heads of government’.

Mr Karran said the chief executive was costing the taxpayer £130,000 a year in employment costs and meanwhile the resources of the newsroom were ‘wilfully inadequate’.

The select committee’s chairman Richard Ronan (Castletown) said pulling the plug on Manx Radio was always an option and the BBC would provide a radio station instead. But we had chosen Manx Radio and that was a much better choice, he said.

He urged members to accept all the recommendations, saying the report wasn’t designed to be ‘cherry picked’.

‘This is a report that needs to be taken together,’ he insisted, suggesting the recommendations were ‘like 12 balls in a game of Kerplunk’.

But that wasn’t to be the case.

One of the recommendations rejected called on Treasury to review the options for relocating Manx Radio from Douglas Head.

Given that £800,000 has been spent on refurbishing Broadcasting House, the committee said it did not favour relocation in the short term, but suggested this should be given consideration as the current location is on a prime development site.

Mr Teare noted a move to Hills Meadow had been looked at previously but this would have cost £2.7m which was not considered value for money.

A recommendation that the Communications Commission should no longer be chaired by a politician was voted down as was a recommendation that consideration should be given to paying off Radio Manx Ltd’s overdraft.

Mr Teare said the latter was a cashflow issue that was a matter for the station’s finance team. To pay off the overdraft would constitute ‘moral hazard’, he suggested. Committee member Zac Hall (Onchan) claimed: ‘Manx Radio is not properly independent and not properly accountable. Treasury needs to get its tentacles out of the boardroom once and for all.’ Home Affairs Minister Juan Watterson said Mr Hall could ‘make the Sermon on the Mount sound like a declaration of war’.

David Cretney (Douglas South) said: ‘I’m a fan of Manx Radio –always have been, always will be.’ He suggested members were presenting themselves as experts in radio ‘and I don’t think we are’.

Tynwald unanimously approved the substantive motion.

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