Another fascinating year in the life of NABO

Mike Rodd’s 2020-21 Annual Report to the AGM

This has been a particularly interesting year and especially a real joy to be working with so many new members of your Council, even if the bulk of meetings have had to be via the internet. It has also been encouraging to see a small increase in membership – largely, I am sure, because of the issues we have been tackling, which have a direct impact on most boaters.

What has been the most worrying development, however, has been the seemingly growing feeling that both CRT and the EA are actively ignoring the views of their prime customers, us boaters. Yes, at times we have publicly opposed some of their actions and/or proposals, but we have consistently said that we aim to fill the role of – and indeed must always remain – their ‘critical friends’. And with both of their agreements regarding government funding coming up soon, they need more friends than ever right now – and especially the boaters, who care more than anyone else about the waterways!

A key issue with CRT has been the introduction of changes to the Terms and Conditions related to our private boater licences. We were, to say the least, horrified by some of these proposals and immediately said so, supported by external expert advice, as did many other organisations. In the end, some of our objections were accepted, but there are still some issues that need addressing.

We were also very disturbed by the slipshod way in which these and many other CRT documents were produced; their readability was appalling! CRT’s initial public release of the ‘final’ T&Cs was worryingly farcical, for example, having an editorial error in almost every sentence! Some action was taken by CRT to improve this, but we are still deeply concerned by their almost total disregard for the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) in terms of meeting the legal requirements for the collection and processing of personal information from individuals. Again, we are still unhappy with their response to our input and we have now sought higher-level support by officially bringing the matter to the attention of the Information Commissioner.

To our disappointment, the EA has proved to be as intransigent as CRT and we joined with six other boater representative organisations on the Thames to present a united front. As with CRT, the EA appears determined to ignore the input from its prime customers – the boaters. A major issue has been its proposals for changes to the licensing of private boats, with the EA claiming that it was trying to simplify and unify these across their various waterways (and, of course, increase their income in the process!) The timing of a consultation on these proposals, comprising over 100 separate points, was abysmal, coming right in the middle of the popular cruising months – and in violation of its own recommendations about the timing of such discussions! We tried to urge our members to submit responses, but most simply gave up. However, it is interesting to note that many of the EA’s proposals will bring them into line with CRT’s Terms and Conditions – it’s very clear what is going on there!

In addition to CRT and EA, of course, we continue to represent the views of our members on most issues that might affect them, which often involves us in lengthy submissions to government and other statutory bodies. One issue of importance is CRT’s apparent keenness to sell off many of the assets that (in theory) they own as part of their present government contract. Many of these are of major historic interest and NABO has been very active in bringing such cases to the attention of local authorities and other interested bodies.

We were naturally aware of the issues related to the non-availability of Calor gas and – given that the company has an effective monopoly over the gas supply to most boats – we have raised the matter with the Competition and Markets Authority (the competition regulator).

We remain active in NINF, the National Inland Navigation Forum, led by its General Secretary, the indefatigable Michael Stimpson, which brings together representatives of most inland waterways organisations on a regular basis. A particularly useful activity this year has been a shared legal enquiry into the proposed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, HL Bill 40 of 2021–22. The concern was whether this bill would apply to boats as ‘vehicles’. The reassuring legal advice was that it would not.

Another aspect of our work that is much appreciated by many members, is that undertaken by Ken Hylins. He has developed a deep understanding of the requirements of boaters who have personal problems and the need to ensure that they are treated – by CRT and others – with respect, dignity and, when necessary, within the Equalities Act. This is, regrettably, not always the case and his advocacy is much valued. Ken’s excellent report in this issue of NABO News illustrates this work and shows NABO to be proactively supporting boaters, as a great counter-argument to those who claim that all we do is criticise CRT.

We are, of course, closely following the decisions and the (often ignorant) statements about the need to move away from fossil fuels. Yes, we understand the important issues but, given that the majority of boats use diesel or petrol, not only for propulsion but even more so for on-boat and boater heating, the insistence (for example, by the Mayor of London) that all boats must switch to being electrically powered is a real bit of ignorant nonsense. Our line is simply that the only short-term answer is to shift to HVO (Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil), which is a completely renewable diesel alternative, based on vegetable oils, grease waste, or residues from the food industry, etc. This is now available from many sources on the canals but at a seriously higher price when compared to our usual red diesel. This issue needs to be urgently addressed.

On the BSS front, we continue to play an active role in the management and technical contents of the scheme and we are most supportive of the recent changes as they affect private boats. We are also presently actively supporting the suggestion that smoke alarms be required on all boats (most of us have them anyway!) Also, given the massive increase in the on-board use of higher-voltage electricity and the fact that the BSS presently covers only some of the safety implications of this, we are supporting a proposal that the IET produces guidelines for electrical installations on inland waterways boats (the Institution of Engineering and Technology, previously the IEE when I was a director, is responsible for our electrical wiring regulations).

So, another fascinating year in the life of NABO and what a pleasure it has been to lead our very active and supportive Council. I would especially like to thank Mark Tizard for his many years of service to NABO, especially over the past few years, when he has served as both Vice Chairman and General Secretary. His monthly articles in Towpath Talk have also been absolutely first class and have brought NABO to the attention of a far wider audience. Sadly, he has sold his amazing boat and decided to become a landlubber! Mark, we will seriously miss you!