The Isle of Man - a personal
Last updated 11th June 2014. Frank Vipond.
Nine marks out of ten - compared to other low-tax jurisdictions in particular. Democracy via an ancient parliament is deeply embedded in Manx society. Sure there will be cliques, vested interests and means of influence in the same way as any other small place. But power is quite nicely balanced and no-one can hide dodgy deals for too long. This appreciation of equality/debate via democracy is really important - the major reason why it is quite an egalitarian and tolerant society.
The Island is quite small (about 30 miles by 10) and not very densely populated. Traffic jams are not a big deal by standards elsewhere. Parking in Douglas is not too bad - but you pay a reasonable price for the privilege. The local bus network is excellent, but shuts down late in the evening. Taxis are moderately expensive, but a good option given the size of the place.
You have to live in the Isle of Man for 500 years before you can call yourself Manx. True Manx people are pretty tolerant of incomers. There is no nationalism movement to speak of. However you are well-advised not to steam-roller local opinion. Keep a low profile and keep your voice down. Being too flash (and rude to boot) can get you lots of quiet obstruction from local people who matter. There is a slow undercurrent of true Manx life in the countryside that is courteous in an old-fashioned way.
This covers anything broadly 'outdoors'. Access to the countryside itself is very good e.g. there is a comprehensive network of public footpaths. Nature conservation and green public amenities (e.g. the Manx national glens) are excellent. You might not appreciate this much in bad weather, but rights of access year-round are important in principle. Horse-riding facilities are good. Hunting is not really developed e.g. there are no foxes in the Isle of Man and there is no real 'hunt culture'. Fresh-water fishing on local reservoirs is good. Sea-fishing not so - there are precious few fish left in the Irish sea. Other ocean activities (canoeing, scuba-diving etc.) are well catered for, although the sea is too cold year-round for much swimming. Sea pollution is not good, but air quality is excellent.
Officially a low-tax center. Corporate tax is zero (banks 10%), personal tax maximum 18% plus capped at a certain payment level. There are no capital-gains type taxes. This needs to be seen in perspective. Not that many years ago, taxes were in the 5-10% bracket.
'Off-shore' is not always what it seems to be. For example, some financial institutions are branches of UK parent companies, rather than incorporated in the Isle of Man or other off-shore jurisdiction. For these, computerised records are not held on the Island so privacy from UK/EU authorities is debatable. The Island also has a VAT agreement with the UK government. With the line between Income Tax and Customs&Excise increasingly blurred, there must also be concerns about privacy there.
For the seriously wealthy, there is the full range of appropriate vehicles - trusts, private companies etc. Local tax and government officials are very approachable. The financial services sector is strong and there are many service providers at all cost levels. On balance though, personal tax is not that simple an issue and still quite a bit more complicated than corporate tax. For those facing prohibitive tax rates (30% plus), the Isle of Man is still 'low-tax', but other jurisdictions will always be competitive. Shop around.
For a small Island, sport is well-catered for. The National Sports Centre is outstanding for a place this size. 4 all-weather pitches are well-utilised for a wide range of sports. There are lots of active clubs in all sports. Golf is reasonable - 5 courses of differing types, although not cheap for casual rounds.
Ranks as a 'very low-crime' place if you are looking at that as part of quality of life. There are no truly no-go areas. Until 10 years ago hard drugs were virtually unknown. However that is changing - mostly driven by drug-dealers from the North-West of the UK. In my view the government really underestimates the long-term damage being caused here.
Littering is an unfortunate problem - kids in particular just don't seem to get it. Other casual vandalism is relatively minor. Given that it is an Island, some other crime is not a big deal. Professional car theft, for example, is rare seeing there is only one way (the ferries) to get a stolen car off the Island.
All in all, people care. A drug dealer trying to open up a new area is likely to get accosted by offended locals. As a last recourse the authorities can eject people from the Island and local magistrates are quick to issue orders banning people from returning for several years. If crime increases, this will be due to lack of focus by the government or simply because they can not crack down as hard as local people might like (the Island is signatory to all of the major human rights conventions via the UK government).
Local schools are not bad. Particularly bad teachers simply don't have many schools to move on to. There is reasonable technical education (trade-focused) beyond that, but advanced education is quite limited. The Isle of Man College offers a few degree-level courses in conjunction with some universities in the North-West of the UK. This is not to the standard of the top level UK universities e.g. Russell Group. Professional qualifications are off-Island e.g. membership of professional finance institutes is not locally administered.
There are three levels of political representation. National (the Manx government), town councils and parish councils. Town/parish councils have power over relatively small items. Budget spending is concentrated in national government. With economic prosperity over last 10 years, some long-overdue public works have been undertaken e.g. for waste disposal. The government has to provide the full gamut of services of any country. In that respect for a small Island it is quite efficient. However the government sector is now quite fat relative to income-producing (in particular finance) sectors and there must be doubt about value-for-money and ability to right-size in bad economic times. Given very low levels of unemployment during recent boom times, the skill base in government is lower than it might be e.g. there have been many years of taking people without advanced education into government service because more educated people were not available.
This covers 'going out' for entertainment etc. There are quite a few reasonable restaurants, but not many good ones. Local produce is good enough, but there is no Manx cuisine to speak of. Hotels are reasonable but are often refurbished from older buildings. There is a down-market legacy from the 'cheap and cheerful' heydays of mass tourism from the 1920s (before everyone started going on cheap flights to the Mediterranean). In that respect the Island is much like other faded resorts in the North of England. All try to go up market, but that is an ongoing chicken-and-egg situation. Local nightclubs are fairly tatty and youth-targeted. One distinctive local theatre is well-supported. Cinemas are average. Realistically if you want sophisticated entertainment/culture, you should plan on going off-Island every now and then.
A number of major UK retail chains have branches in the Isle of Man. Choice is reasonable, but not spectacular. Again, you should plan on going off-Island for high value and wide choice. Some items like food can be marginally more expensive than in the UK because it all has to be imported on the ferries.
There is a lot of old Victorian terraced housing in town centers. Not too bad when refurbished, although parking and generations of damp can be a problem. There are fairly severe restrictions on new build in the countryside and on large conversions e.g. farmhouse to residential. A fairly small number of developers concentrate on larger developments. New housing estates have been built in last 15-20 years around towns. The authorities have a mixed track record here. Some developments are downright ugly - in particular when it comes to housing stock that will still look good in 50 years time. Affordable housing for low-income people is probably better than most of the UK.
Consistent economic growth over the last 15 years means that house prices are slightly above the UK national average. The very top end of the market (£1M+) is international-comparative and prices are reasonable. Below that in my view there is a lot of poor value-for-money and house prices need to come down at least 25% to be realistic. The Isle of Man is not that special and some house prices are way out of line long-term. The planners are trying to ensure that old housing stock is reused, but modernisation is only viable to a limited degree.
Balmy climate this is not. Temperatures above 30°C are rare. It very seldom gets really cold. Perhaps a week or two a year when temperatures are below freezing and the Island may get some snow. Long summer days can sometimes be absolutely gorgeous. But the winter months (November through February) can be pretty miserable: short days, driving rain, and lots of gales.
Flights: The Island is too small to attract true budget airlines like EasyJet (flying to the Island from Liverpool only) and Ryanair. The government has alternated between policies of a 'national airline' and 'open skies'. However done, one airline has always ended up controlling 80%+ of airline traffic. The connections to hub airports in UK are not bad in terms of frequency, but expect to pay dearly particularly for last-minute flights.
Ferries: A monopoly and not particularly cheap on average. Sailings last 3-4 hours. Like flights, ferries have been subject to 'off Island' considerations i.e. if the operator may have other interests.
The Isle of Man is a captive audience if you run an effective monopoly. The government has neither the power nor the will to negotiate hard on off-Island transport costs. No-one is to blame really. Just a fact of life here.
There is still a high quality of life here - although if you want sophisticated lifestyle elements you have to go off-Island. The weather is not extreme, but is hardly comparable to exotic tax havens.
The Island has had a very good run over the last 15 years. Prior to that it was quite simply a bit of a dump. Low unemployment has led to a lot of people getting opportunities that they would not have got elsewhere. The Island has become quite complacent. The economy is still quite shallow and people do not realise quite how quickly things could change for the worse.
The government has at times been a bit naive in negotiations on large issues e.g. have agreed to proposals in the name of development without realising quite how the other party might turn the situation further to their advantage at the expense of the people living on the Island.
I think there will be increasing stress on the status of the Isle of Man as a low-tax location. In particular, privacy will be increasingly threatened in insidious ways. The Island is too small (and always subject to a close relationship with the UK) to stand up much for itself. The best mitigating factor is a very strong democracy - stormcloads ahead are likely to be spotted. At best over the next 10 years, I expect the Island to 'flatten out' in economic terms. This means that personal investment here will be low-return (albeit still not high-risk). Things will be flat and quiet rather than exciting and high-opportunity.
It *is* a beautiful place in it's own way. Living here depends upon the factors that are important for you in your own quality of life. You can only expect so much depth in what is after all a small Island with a population of less than 100,000 people.
Well done if you read this far. If you have an interest in the Isle of Man and disagree with what I say, by all means drop me an email (to frank<at>frankvipond.com). I don't promise to do anything about it, but will try to reciprocate all the courtesy and reasonableness I have encountered in the Isle of Man for the 20 years I have lived here.
- Manx Forums. The best online forums for people living in, or interested in, the Isle of Man. If you want to get a real feel for life on the Island, this is the place to look (or post).
- Isle of Man Portal. A fairly comprehensive site associated with Duke Marketing, but forums/classifieds inactive.
- Isle of Man Guide. Reasonable coverage, but definitely not neutral. Reads like a tourist office brochure. Has links to other sites that are not specific to Isle of Man.
- Wikipedia article on Isle of Man. Fairly good coverage as you would expect from Wikipedia.
- Isle of Man Government. A pretty good portal. A lot of information, although some of it is well-hidden.
- Isle of Man Today. Run by the parent company of Isle of Man Newspapers, so a lot of content from local newspaper company (a virtual monopoly). A good example of a newspaper company putting itself 'on the Internet' and not quite getting it.
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