The Isle of Man Government has recently published a document titled “Securing Added Value & Efficiencies (SAVE) Programme – Progress Report June 2018”. Amongst the many detailed proposals to implement economies across all Government Departments, there is a suggestion to close the Laxey/Ramsey section of the Manx Electric Railway.
The document can be read in full HERE.
Isle of Man Newspapers have run the story in this weeks Examiner.
"Controversial proposals for government to save money received a less than effusive welcome in Tynwald – with some MHKs claiming they were a cut too far.
After a debate lasting almost three and a half hours, members voted unanimously to receive Treasury Minister Alfred Cannan’s update on the SAVE programme – but with an amendment that they ‘did not necessarily endorse any specific proposals’.
He was branded ‘Alfred Scissorhands’ by one critic in the Keys.
Earlier, Mr Cannan stressed the need for government to save money as it was facing a ‘very serious and very real’ challenge, adding ‘the clock, frankly, is ticking’.
He said ‘responsible, prudent and sustainable’ management of public finances is ‘absolutely essential’, given the fiscal risks and changing local and global uncertainties –and the fact we’ll need to find an extra £45m when the public sector pensions reserve runs out.
The SAVE (Secure Added Value and Efficiencies) programme was announced in the 2017 Budget with the initial aim of getting the public to suggest ways of identifying savings of £25m by 2021-22.
That target was subsequently reduced to £15m by 2022-23.
Mr Cannan’s update to Tynwald confirmed that just eight ideas out of 1,300 suggested were taken forward for business case development.
His report outlines savings of more than £6m to be achieved through the creation of a Public Defender Scheme, the consolidation of higher education services and the implementation of an integrated transport strategy.
But MHKs raised concerns about the impact on public services given, for example, the plan to cut the government subsidy for public transport by £333,000 a year.
Garff MHK Daphne Caine said it ‘smacked of a mini budget by the backdoor’.
She said: ‘In terms of public transport, the Treasury Minister is taking on the mantle of his predecessor as Alfred Scissorhands.
‘Savings must be found at any cost. So the sacrifice thrown into the public sector pension black hole can be community buses, drivers’ salaries, and pensioner discounts.’
Mrs Caine suspected Treasury would like to save £6m by closing all the heritage railways – and called for a CoMin policy statement in support of retaining the transport network as dismantling it would be ‘shortsighted and wrong’.
A review carried out by consultants for the SAVE initiative found the heritage railways cost £4.87m to operate but only bring in £1.66m of revenue and so require a £3.41m taxpayer-funded subvention.
However, they bring in £4.5m of spend to the Manx economy each year.
The consultants ruled out an option of truncating the Steam Railway at Castletown.
But a similar proposal to close the MER between Laxey and Ramsey, saving £708,000, is not ruled out completely, with the report saying detailed work is needed to understand what the impact on demand might be.
A separate consultant’s review which looked at Bus Vannin found salary costs are high compared to other bus operators. It identified cost savings in crew schedules, staff terms and conditions and by prioritising routes.
Treasury member Bill Shimmins (Middle), who had led the SAVE project, said he suspected that the general public would be very frustrated there is not more change.
Calling for a review of the strategy and management of the heritage railways and Bus Vannin, he said: ‘It is a lovely train set we have. It had an enormous emotional pull. Is it a sacred cow?
‘What is clear from the report is there is limited accountability and this must raise alarm bells for financial sustainability. We want to ensure they are run well and with rigour.’
He said fares on the heritage railways need to increase to reduce the drain on the taxpayer.
And he called for a review of ‘arcane and restrictive’ employment practices, describing some of staff terms and condition in Bus Vannin as having ‘so many archaic customs they feel like British Leyland in the 1970s’.
David Ashford pointed out it was a progress report not the final report and there were a lot of important ideas that need to be progressed.
He urged members ‘not to throw the baby out with the bath water’ by simply cherry picking and voting down ideas that he said will have real value as they progress.
Education Minister Graham Cregeen MHK said he was concerned some members didn’t like making tough decisions.
He said. ‘Some of us have been taking tough decisions in the past. We ended up with a bus strike when we redid terms and conditions. It’s not easy, it’s not pleasant but, guess what,we don’t have the money to continue everything as it was.’
Unite union boss Eric Holmes has already warned further changes to drivers’ terms and conditions could lead to a return to industrial action.
And the Isle of Man Law Society has criticised plans for a Public Defender Scheme, estimated to save £1m, which would see a full-time criminal defence team replace private lawyers, primarily in summary court cases.
Jane Poole-Wilson MLC, a trained lawyer herself, questioned the savings that could be achieved and the scheme’s impact on public justice.
But Mr Cannan insisted the SAVE programme was not ‘cuts for cuts’ sake’. ‘This is looking to embrace opportunities for change and absolutely reform,’ he said.
‘Of course you can hear the squealing and shouting going on before anything has actually happened. But of course that’s going to happen, that people are going to get worried they are not going to get their £2.3m in legal aid.’
The Manx Electric Railway Society would be pleased to hear your views, contact us at:[email protected]