Rob Callister MHK's column: One of the most difficult periods for many years for the MUA

Tuesday 15th February 2022 10:26 am
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Rob Callister

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Having shared my own political journey on social media over the past five years, it does seem strange to be given an opportunity to write an article for the Isle of Man Examiner this week.

It is an enormous privilege to serve the people of this island, especially my own constituents in Onchan that have continually put their trust and faith in me since 2012.

The role of an MHK shouldn’t be seen as anything less than an absolute privilege despite the challenges, pressure, social media and the headlines on occasion.

If you truly embrace the role as all elected members should, then it will certainly test you to your limits, and occasionally even push you beyond them.

As for the current administration, there is a sense of urgency in respect of the challenges facing this newly elected House of Keys over the next five years.

We need to restore economic confidence post-Covid, introduce a living wage, address major housing and working population concerns, reduce hospital waiting times and review serious mental health issues, especially around the rate of suicides on the island in 2021, along with investing in our children’s education and life long learning opportunities for all - that is before we even consider the environment, our ageing population, local constituent issues and the role undertaken by various charities across our island that have been so invaluable during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Focusing on some of my own political responsibilities, as the new chairman of the Manx Utilities Authority (MUA) I join the board during one of its most difficult periods for many years, but I am fortunate to have a very professional board, executive and team around me.

Since early in 2021 we have all seen the news headlines around the wholesale price of natural gas, which has increased from a stable price of around 50p per therm over the last 10 years to more than 400p per therm in December 2021.

To put this into context, the MUA purchase almost 40 million therms of natural gas for electricity generation annually, and forward purchase contracts (hedging) in 2021 have certainly given an element of protection for domestic and business customers over the past 12 months.

However, the wholesale price of natural gas in 2022 and possibly even 2023 is set to remain extremely high, within an industry that has already seen more than seven UK energy providers go bust and several more teetering on the brink.

Many are warning of higher energy bills over the next year and unfortunately our island will not escape the UK and European energy crisis.

This will be in addition to those inflationary pressure that will squeeze household budgets over the next couple of years - the Manx government need to monitor the situation very closely.

As for the island’s tourism sector, it has been an enormous privilege to work in this particular area of the Manx economy. Prior to March 2020 we were welcoming over 300,000 visitors to our island, along with a further 63,000 cruise passengers annually and a visitor spend of £120 million.

The Isle of Man Visit Agency also launched a long term strategic plan to increase the island’s visitor numbers to more than 500,000 over the next 10 years.

The Manx government has done everything possible to ensure that the island’s tourism sector has survived over the past couple of years, and as we head into the start of the 2022 tourism season we now need to ensure that our tourism and hospitality sectors can now truly revive and thrive over the next couple of years. 

Like so many other supporters of our flagship events, I am looking forward to seeing the first machine leaving the Grandstand and heading down Bray Hill towards the Quarter Bridge just after 13.30 on Sunday, May 29, to mark the start of TT 2022. 

In closing, I would like to thank the army of volunteers that continue to support not just the TT, the Southern 100 and MGP events, but so many other tourism, sporting, heritage and hospitality events throughout the year that make a massive contribution to this sector.

I look forward to working not only with our volunteers but with everyone involved to ensure that we have a successful 2022 tourism season and we start to get our economy back on track, in order to create a brighter future for the island once moreâ¦.

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