Isle of Man chief minister defends island's lobbying arrangements

The Chief Minister of the Isle of Man Government has backed the islands' retained public affairs agency, after a poll suggesting residents would like to see a greater focus on lobbying.

Isle of Man: residents want greater lobbying focus
Isle of Man: residents want greater lobbying focus

A survey of 1,050 Manx residents explored the strength of local politician and civil servant relationships with those at the top of UK Government. Just six per cent classed these relationships as ‘strong’ and 46 per cent of residents thought them ‘weak’.

The research found that 60 per cent of residents were in favour of employing ‘a well-connected, professional lobbying firm to put forward the island’s perspective to UK politicians and senior civil servants’.

The telephone poll was conducted by HPI Research on behalf of Professor Hugh Davidson, with the aim of giving Manx people a say in island politics.

Davidson said: ‘Many residents just don’t feel that government ministers here are really connected at the top level of Westminster and Whitehall. Our voice isn’t being heard and, therefore, there is a case for having a specialist lobbying firm to help make our voice heard.’

Yet the Isle of Man Government handed a big-money public affairs and corporate PR account to Lansons in 2008.

Chief Minister Tony Brown backed Lansons’ work, telling PRWeek: ‘Lansons acts as valuable public affairs adviser to the Isle of Man Government. It has made an important contribution to raising awareness and understanding about the Isle of Man in Westminster.

‘Part of its work has involved surveying the opinions of political and city audiences on the Isle of Man’s engagement with Westminster, among other issues. It is pleasing that this work clearly demonstrates the Isle of Man Government, with the help of Lansons, has made significant progress in this area.’
 
Lansons chief executive Tony Langham said: ‘We are pleased that there is general support for the Government working with a lobbying agency.’

But the news comes as the Isle of Man reviews its PR and public affairs arrangements. The island has invited expressions of interest from consultancies. A Treasury spokesman said the island held a regular review of its PR and public affairs services every three years in line with procurment guidelines and insisted the review was not linked to the recent poll.

Meanwhile, Insight Public Affairs director James Tyrell said there were a number of lobbying challenges for the Isle of Man: ‘The Isle of Man needs to focus its lobbying on the fact that it is a strong enterprise economy and it needs to show what it can bring to the UK economy.

‘As we head for another potential global downturn, it could make sense for the Isle of Man to look to work more closely under the auspices of the UK, particular with UK Trade & Investment to amplify the size of its "shop window", in certain areas such as financial services and technology. However, the closure of UK tax avoidance loopholes have made the isle of Man less attractive for offshore investors than it once was.’

Dougal Paver, senior partner at Liverpool-based Paver Smith, said the island needed to convince new MPs about the island's tax regime.

He said: ‘The civil service knows all about the island and has been well-briefed in the past on its overall tax policy and economic strategy. The issue here is not the mandarins but the new intake of politicians, the majority of whom we can expect to know relatively little about the island.

‘Some may have lingering suspicions that the island's tax regime is a threat to the treasury, so the key will be demonstrating that's not so. The island's economic development strategy targets global businesses already on the lookout for a tax efficient regime backed up by a stable society - and on those counts Britain wouldn't be on the shortlist. If anything, then, the Isle of Man is an asset to these shores as the more it grows, the more it will suck in British goods.

‘These are simple messages to get over via a planned lobby campaign targeting the relevant select committees, ministers and parliamentary interest groups. They've done it before and they'll do it again.’

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