The Isle of Man lifted all remaining Covid-19 restrictions on April 1 and, as the political member responsible for tourism and motorsport on the island, it has been fantastic to see our tourism sector take those first steps of recovery, in order to start rebuilding confidence in a sector that has been pretty much closed down for over two years.
With a successful TT 2022 and other key tourism events behind us, and with Tynwald endorsing an ambitious tourism strategy in May to attract 500,000 visitors over the next 10 years, we now need to deliver the agreed seven-point action programme for a sustainable tourism sector for the future, especially around improving those important air and sea links to and from the island.
As a Member of the House of Keys my biggest concern at the moment is not tourism but the cost of living crisis that continues to bite, and unfortunately household budgets look set to be stretched even further over this forthcoming autumn and winter period as we continue to grapple with the worst cost of living crisis that we have seen for many years.
In the UK inflation was 9.1% in May 2022, the highest since the 1990s, and here on the Isle of Man our own inflation reached 8.1% in May, again the highest figure for many years.
Some of the major drivers of the inflationary increases continue to be energy costs, and with a major disruption to the global supply of natural gas and the war in Ukraine continuing, the price of natural gas this winter looks set to remain at over 250p per therm, which is still four or five times the price Manx Utilities were paying back in March 2021.
In the UK they introduced an energy price cap in 2019 in order to maximise the amount that energy suppliers are permitted to charge per KWh, and as the chairman of the Manx Utilities Authority I can assure our electricity customers that the team has worked tirelessly to continue to stay below the Ofgem cap despite extreme financial pressure over the past 12 months.
Manx Utilities’ financial statements for the period ending 2021/22 will show how difficult this trading year has been for the MUA, and that is one of the reasons I will continue to campaign for all energy utility companies on the island to publish their financial statements online annually.
Energy, fuel and interest rates all look set to increase further over the next 12 months, and unfortunately we can also expect to see significant price increases in everyday food supplies, and possibly even a shortage of certain household items due to the ongoing war in Ukraine – it really could be a very difficult winter for our island.
At a time when our focus should be on housing, education, climate change and addressing serious concerns involving our health service – I do wonder if this administration will be judged more on how this government addresses and responds to this particular cost of living crisis, especially at a time when we know inflation continues to outstrip wages, pensions and benefit increases.
With the Manx Parliament about to go into recess for the summer period, I sincerely hope that the Treasury Minister, Alex Allinson MHK and his team will be ready to announce a range of options and support packages early in the autumn, in order to help some of the most vulnerable in our society this coming winter period.