Continuing the series of end of term assessments of Allan Bell’s Council of Ministers, we today turn our attention to John Shimmin, the man at the helm of the Department of Economic Development.
Prior to the Bell-Karran head to head to provide the Isle of Man with its new chief minister, some thought John Shimmin was a contender. The former teacher had been before.
Instead, however, he was rewarded for not standing in the way of Mr Bell by being given one of the big-hitting departments, the one previously headed by the new chief minister; although Dinger gave the distinct impression when Tony Brown gave him that job that he was less than impressed when he realised the purse strings were staying with the Treasury.
The DED was the jewel in Tony Brown’s reform of government crown. It has many powers. But with those powers come responsibility.
One of the responsibilities is tourism and, specifically, motorbike racing.
The department didn’t exactly endear itself with its proposed changes to the Manx Grand Prix. Perhaps this was because the first most people heard about the plans; including many involved in the organisation of the MGP, was when they picked up a copy of the Motorcycle News to find it tucked away in an article there.
Given that much responsibility for marketing the Isle of Man lies with the DED, this was not an auspicious bit of PR.
But in terms of bad publicity, the minister showed himself head and shoulders above most when it came to the big debate in Tynwald about whether members should be expected to contribute to their pensions (shock, horror).
The member for Douglas West drew on all his powers of indignation to criticise those politicians who touted such ‘populist’ ideas as MHKs could maybe contribute more than 5 per cent from their earnings (most of them earn at least in the region of £50k).
Some MHKs had young families to support, he revealed, presumably unaware that, outside the precincts of Tynwald, were many people who had been contributing to their pension schemes for a good number of years. Some of them, perhaps, could even be on a lower salary.
He may have a little more time on his hands, of course, with the £49m investment in Pinewood Studios which will see a team from CinemaNX move to the studios in Shepperton.
While we are told this will not impact on staffing at Isle of Man Film, in Shimmin’s DED, it’s hard to see how the scheme, which has had a less than enthusiastic welcome, will not see a reduced role for the department bigwigs when it comes to moving and shaking with Hollywood types.
Fortunately, the space industry is growing and appears to be treated with less suspicion, both on and off the island.
We also saw the launch of the slogan ‘Isle of Man. Where You Can’.
This was a generous slogan for a marketing campaign from the DED, as it provides plenty of opportunity for critics to have fun. (EG, Isle of Man. Where You Can buy a diesel loco while trying to close a library.)
If it weren’t for the PR gaffes, you could say Shimmin had done a good job of lurking in the wings, waiting in hope for Allan Bell to foul up and then offer himself as the sensible alternative.
But he needs to show a little more nous and show that, in political terms, he is not DED from the neck up.
GNU rating: 7. He hasn’t really stepped out of line apart from his rather silly comments in the pensions debate, but Allan Bell would be quite happy that he was able to tut indulgently at that.
Shortly after this article was posted, the Department of Economic Development revealed its provisional plan for next year’s Manx Grand Prix.
Rather than proposals which met an angry response from those concerned about the future of the road races, run on the same course as the TT races that take place earlier in the year, what was finally agreed appears to be somewhere between a compromise and a climbdown on behalf of the DED.
The crucial thing is the rather dumb idea of trying to re-brand all of what is a popular event as a poor relation of the TT has been ditched, thankfully, although the department saves face by including a ‘Classic TT’ section within the Manx Grand Prix festival. But there will still remain modern bike events.
If the department had listened to a few more people in the first place, I suspect that it could have avoided what has been a rather embarrassing episode.
Here’s a link to a report on the new look MGP by Manx Radio:
And here’s the official government announcement.
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If you liked this article, you may also like this piece on Chris Robertshaw
And this one on Peter Karran