The island’s new Business Department Minister Dr Alex Allinson told Working Week about a healthier risk appetite, making more use of local experience and delivering a vibrant economy.
It comes as a surprise now, but what is striking is how much he also talks about what is, essentially, fairness and, to borrow a Boris Johnson phrase, ‘leveling up’. These aren’t just empty words, however, and they shouldn’t be. Many people on the island understand that the gap between rich and poor has widened in recent decades – and that this is not conducive to a thriving economy.
This is not an easy problem to solve, but it is clearly at the heart of Dr Allinson’s thinking.
He says, “We have had people who are doing very well, and rightly so, but also maybe more people who have not felt that they have benefited from the economic growth. One of the things, if we are to bring our community together again after the last 18 months of the pandemic where we have all been separated, is to make sure that we deal with this issue of equality, that we have an economy that deals with people. people too, that everyone gets involved but really benefits from it.
“And that’s because they see, both in their salary but also in their lifestyle, the advantages of living on the Isle of Man. So they can really appreciate the beautiful scenery and landscapes and the safety that we have on the Isle of Man.
“But if you have to have three jobs to pay the rent, you don’t have the chance to do it.
“One of my roles before coming here was to sit on a committee that looked at zero hour contracts on the Isle of Man and how it worked and I’m committed to reforming our labor laws here.”
His focus on people, providing them with a good deal, good working conditions and affordable housing, is actually not that far removed from what many of our big companies say they are already doing now: s’ take care of staff and their physical and mental well-being and develop attractive packages to recruit and retain the skills they need.
Dr Allinson certainly agrees with that. He says: “What we really want to achieve is a highly skilled and knowledge-based economy that pays people well and where people have good working conditions, so that we can not only retain the people we need, but also attract people from all over the world to come and work here.
With his medical history, many people would have expected Dr Allinson to be appointed Minister of Health, but he says: “I applied to join the Department of Business because of the sheer scale of things going on. are happening here. What I love about this department is that it delivers. It develops strategies and policies and provides services to the Isle of Man and the community at large.
“I saw the potential of Enterprise in terms of creativity and the ability to work with companies but also employees here.
“And now it’s a really interesting time because we have the Island Plan, which is particularly focused on making the Isle of Man a vibrant, sustainable and safe place for people to come to work and live.
“In addition, the economic strategy is being developed, based on the work of KPMG, and I believe that the DfE is in a position to achieve it. Because one aspect of the Economic Plan will almost certainly be [not just] to strengthen the businesses that are currently on the island but also to further diversify the economy. This has been one of the real advantages of the previous administration, the fact that we have a well established manufacturing base as well as the financial base, as well as the video game.
He goes on to say that the KPMG report looked not only at some of the large companies and their contribution to GDP, but also the sectors that employed the most people on the Isle of Man, such as the retail sector.
He says: “These are relatively small in terms of GDP, but employ a large number of people. So we have to make sure, as part of an overall economic plan, that we don’t forget about companies that actually employ people. They’re the ones that keep people having food on the table at the end of the week and we have to feed them as well, rather than just going with one of the top-flight companies.
“So it’s about getting that right balance, across the economic landscape. “
Make greater use of local talents and experience
Dr Allinson also wants to make more use of local talents and experience.
He said: “The Chamber of Commerce is a very important stakeholder and now the agency model that has been put in place is bringing some of the people from the companies already established here to strategic thinking and asking them to help us find the solutions. to some of the problems they face.
‘[In the past], whenever there was a problem and we needed an independent review, we would send someone from London or Manchester to tell us how to do things better when in fact there is a tremendous amount of people on the island who can give those answers. ‘
“One of the immediate tasks given to us is to sort the airlines, because connectivity for the Isle of Man has always been important.
“With the collapse of Flybe and then the pandemic, the aviation industry is currently undergoing radical change, which is the perfect opportunity for us to re-examine the strategic routes we need to secure,” said Dr Allinson.
He confirmed that an immediate priority is to re-establish a Dublin link and also to examine the links to Manchester and London.
He says: “We have to make sure that we have this connectivity for the benefit of the Isle of Man and not necessarily for the benefit of the airlines involved.”
He adds that while the department was grateful to Micogaming for its support of the London City link: “At these important times the government needs to step up and do things that no one else can do.
“What the government can do is build these connections, maintain these connections and enable both the residents of the Isle of Man to travel, as well as the visitor economy and the business sector.
“I see this not as a cost but as an investment in our future.”
Dr Allinson insists he does not view the global corporate tax proposal as a threat to the island.
He says: ‘It might affect some of the biggest companies in the Isle of Man, but what it would create would be a level playing field in all jurisdictions so there wouldn’t necessarily be a advantages of changing the location of your base.
“I think sometimes the Isle of Man has been happy enough to stay under the radar on a whole range of things, sometimes for good reasons. What I would like to see over the next five years is a bit healthier risk appetite going forward, to promote some of the fantastic work that is happening on the Isle of Man. And also to promote some of the products that we export to the world. ‘
I ask Dr Allinson what he would like to have accomplished after five years in the Department for Enterprise.
He said, “I think what I would really like is, number one, to make sure that everyone’s voice is heard. That we’ve tapped into all the great ideas that already exist, and made it even easier. , and gave people a space to aspire to do better.
“I think there is currently a real concern about poverty on the Isle of Man, so if we can grow the economy, and grow the economy in a way that offers well qualified jobs. paid to anyone who wants it, that would be a real accomplishment.
“I would like to see in five years that poverty was no longer the problem it is today: no longer the threat, because we had secure labor laws, because we had a sustainable wage level, and so people could advance in their careers and access additional training and pedagogical skills if they needed it. ‘
When I ask Dr Allinson what he likes to do to relax, the immediate response is a tongue-in-cheek “Hmmm.”
After a few moments of considering this seemingly slightly alien concept, he says, “I guess one of the issues with a lot of people on the cutting edge of what’s happened in the last 18 months is that we forgot. how to relax I think we have a role to play in relearning that.
“I have an extremely supportive family who told me that I had to relax and take a step back from what happened.
“For me, relaxing is focusing on the simpler things in life and spending time with my friends and family, spending time at Ramsey and enjoying the countryside that we have. Seeing everyone in Teams doesn’t replace being able to walk a beach with someone you love.
“One aspect of the economic plan will almost certainly be to strengthen the businesses that are currently on the island and also to further diversify the economy.”
Here are some of the new areas the DfE has been working on:
l InsurTech, or insurance technology, innovation is accelerating globally. After a detailed feasibility and planning phase, the Isle of Man is now working alongside some key industry players to support the development of the island’s InsurTech ecosystem.
l In 2021, the Isle of Man government introduced a flexible and comprehensive regulatory framework to allow commercial operators to cultivate, manufacture, distribute and export cannabis products under license from the island. It is estimated that this new sector could create around 250 new jobs and generate £ 3million in annual profits in the years to come.
l The Internet of Things describes a network of physical objectsâ ?? “Things” that are integrated with sensors, software and other technologies for the transfer of data without the need for human interaction. A simple example would be home lighting which you can control from an app on your smartphone when you are away.
One of the new initiatives being explored by the Department for Enterprise agency, Digital Isle of Man, is the development of ‘Trial Isle’, which will position the Isle of Man as a destination for innovation, particularly in the ‘Internet of things and green technologies. the spaces.
l Digital Isle of Man also engages the esports industry to capitalize on the opportunities that this emerging sector presents. They are working to create legislation and regulations; team up with key entities to help write the rules, determine how those rules are actively enforced and who should be authorized accordingly.
l CleanTech, which includes clean, environmental and sustainable, or green energy products and services, is another area with potential for the island. Improving our ability to produce renewable energy, provide energy storage facilities, improve heating and energy efficiency of buildings and introduce low carbon vehicles are just some of the opportunities this sector offers in near future.
I would like to see in five years that poverty is no longer the problem it is today