Isle of Man Chamber of Commerce | Government must focus on growth & reform | September 2021

As the dust settles on the General Election, one thing is already crystal clear from the Chamber of Commerce’s point of view. The new Government, says the Island’s biggest business network, should act quickly to address the most urgent priorities expressed by its members who employ approximately half of the private sector workforce on the Island.

Date: Thursday 23 September 2021


Kristan McDonald, President, Isle of Man Chamber of Commerce.

That’s the main message from Kristan McDonald who is now Chamber President, after his predecessor Caren Pegg stepped down last week at the end of her two year term in office. In the months before the General Election, Chamber encouraged voters and prospective MHKs to focus on the business and economic issues which are most important to its members. To encourage informed debate during the election campaign, Chamber gathered information from businesses which employ around 20,000 people in all sectors of the Island’s economy. The results were published in a ‘Business Manifesto’ which included five main points:

• A need for a more joined-up, smaller and less bureaucratic Government
• A Strategic Skills Plan aligned to the needs of the local economy
• Root and branch reform of public sector finances
• Increased Government collaboration with the private sector, and earlier meaningful consultation on business, legal and economic issues

Now the election is over, says Kristan, Chamber is encouraging the new Government to place those issues at the top of its agenda – and learn lessons from how the Island responded to the pandemic. “Government, Chamber, and the wider private sector have seen much greater collaboration over the past few years,” he said, “and we saw during the pandemic how powerful we can be when we work together on common problems. We want to build on that foundation and hope to see the new Government sharing the business community’s commitment to supporting public and private sector collaboration. Our members feel this is an important factor in sustaining a strong economy which, of course, is in everyone’s interests because it underpins the quality of life that we enjoy. Government policy needs to enable, support and – where necessary – incentivise business to create an environment in which it can flourish. Government economic policy must help the private sector to do what it does best – that’s finding opportunities to create jobs, expanding, innovating and building for the future.”

The challenges facing the new Government, he believes, are greater than at any other time in living memory. “The last few years have seen changes few of us would have thought possible in such a short space of time. New vocabulary has been introduced into our daily lives, we’ve changed our behaviours and working practices, technology has taken us to places and changed our lives in ways that would seem alien to someone even 20 years ago. But this has also created new opportunities.”

He is calling for ‘brave, authentic leaders’ to step up to the plate in politics and in business. “For the Island to continue to be a successful international business centre we need leaders with the ability to innovate and find new ideas in order to maintain economic growth. The Island is totally reliant on pounds flowing into our economy from other countries. Only through selling to the rest of the world can our economy grow. And as these pounds arrive, we need to spend them locally and keep them here, supporting our domestic economy. As it grows, so does our quality of life here, and the attractiveness of our Island for immigration or visitors. We need to work on developing sectors and businesses that bring cash to our shores through inward investment into our companies, through export of knowledge and expertise, through the export of physical goods around the globe, plus tourism and the visitor economy.”

Moving on to the challenges posed by climate change, he said: “I believe that the Island has the ingenuity, creativity and inventiveness to find methods to transition to carbon neutral in an appropriate timeframe, and in a manner that is not just cost effective for our businesses, but that can actually save us money whilst benefitting the planet at the same time.”

In addition to pandemic and climate change, the new Government also needs to address factors that Chamber members have identified as being barriers to business growth for many years. “Prior to the pandemic we had a list of issues that aren’t going away; like growing the economically active population, inter-generational fairness of pensions and debt, over-regulation of certain sectors stifling innovation and growth, skills shortages and changing work patterns, decimation of the high streets, developing and retaining our local talent. The list goes on. These are still all largely unaddressed and are no less pressing than they were 20 months ago.”

When the new Government sets out its economic strategy, he says, there must be a commitment to diversification. “Our primary industries of finance and eGaming serve us well and will hopefully continue to do so, but both of those are subject to forces beyond our control and we’re at the mercy of changes in global regulation. It’s too early to predict the impact of the global tax changes that are coming, so like any good stock market portfolio, our economy needs to be balanced. Our greatest potential export is our knowledge – with the growing trend of remote working and digital nomads, our residents can be working for companies in almost any industry based almost anywhere. Or, in another trend, building their own businesses from our very own green shores and selling their abilities globally. While these are all problems, within every problem is the opportunity for us to learn and effect change. The easiest thing in most situations is just to carry on and do nothing, but it’s now time for change.”

In the months ahead Chamber will continue lobbying to make sure that MHKs and Ministers are fully aware of members’ concerns, and those of the wider business community. As part of that strategy Chamber will be giving a briefing to Tynwald on November 9th.

In addition to Kristan McDonald moving up from his previous role as Vice-President, several other changes were announced at Chamber’s AGM last week. Claire Watterson, formerly Chair of the Think Tank group, is now Chamber’s Vice-President. Barry Lawson has moved up from Vice-Chair to Chair of Think Tank.

Chamber’s ‘Think Tank’ group provides a path for business people to join and make a positive, long-term contribution to the organisation – and Kristan and Claire’s progression shows that it is working. Think Tank was formed in 2020 and evolved out of Chamber’s FUEL (Future Emerging Leaders) sub-committee which was created by Micky Swindale during her term of office as Chamber President (2015 to 2017). It was via the FUEL sub-committee that Kristan first became involved with Chamber – and as President he wants to see more opportunities created that support and encourage young people who have the potential to become the next generation of business leaders. He said: “We have to invest in our young people so they can be the leaders of tomorrow.”