Hard times ahead?

Chair, Mike Rodd is concerned by what he sees in his crystal ball.

In these strange times that we’re living in, our thoughts and prayers are with those tragically affected by Covid-19 and we feel for those who have lost a family member, friend or colleague, or whose livelihood or mental health has been seriously affected.

Nevertheless, even on a smaller scale, I am sure that you are all, like me, totally frustrated by the unfortunate delays in being able to get back on our boats – made worse for those of us who boat in Wales, where the Assembly seems to be continually slightly out of phase with the situation in England. I am looking forward to be able to go and check that our boat is still floating!

However, as I said in the last NABO News, going forward, our economy will look very different from the past, with our government(s) facing many horrendous difficulties in recovering from these months of deep financial wreckage caused by the pandemic. Sadly, I am very fearful that our canals and rivers will be well down all the governments’ agendas in their handling of these massive financial difficulties. And so, for CRT and the EA, bidding for at least some essential government funding, the situation could not be bleaker. No matter how important we might feel our waterways to be, as vital parts of our history and a core component of our tourist industry, they appear insignificant when looking at the ever increasing national debt and the desperate need for job creation, especially for those just entering the jobs market. CRT’s situation is also going to be made worse, given its huge loss of income from its very significant property portfolio. Yes, of course we will have to get solidly behind these bids, but we will also have to accept that this situation is going to affect all of us. 

Without any doubt, we can expect to see substantial increases in the cost of every aspect of boating – and I fear that both CRT and EA will clearly look to us for increased income from all they do, from basic licence charges, through to the provision of services. I also can’t see how marinas and other providers will be able to operate without, again, substantial increases in mooring fees, service charges, etc – especially as they will also in turn be under pressure from CRT and EA to pay more, wherever that can be justified.

I can also see that all the navigational authorities will again look very carefully at how, for example, they charge for use of their moorings. In doing so, they will look to optimise their income by asking why, for example, (allegedly?) continuously cruising in London is still seen to be almost the cheapest way of living in one of the world’s most expensive cities. The more than 6,000 boats based in London, most of which don’t have a residential mooring, will undoubtedly be a target, even if new legislation is required. NABO’s role will once again be crucial in these looming debates, and hence our budget for next year has a substantial allocation for legal guidance!

As we have mentioned in the past, NABO has been concerned about the somewhat chaotic situation on the Thames, where the many organisations with an interest in this high-profile and important waterway simply don’t seem to be able to agree on how best to work with the navigational authority, the EA. The River Thames Alliance was created several years ago to address this situation by bringing together over 150 of the interested parties, and was initially supported by most local authorities and by the EA itself. Despite the best of intentions, however, its very broad objectives seemed to make it an impossible organisation to manage, to the point where the withdrawal of several large players eventually meant that it had to be wound up. 

However, five organisations representing boaters on the non-tidal Thames have now agreed to join forces to encourage greater engagement and co-operation with the EA. They are: the Association of Thames Yacht Clubs, the Dutch Barge Association, the Residential Boat Owners’ Association, the Thames Motor Boaters Association and NABO. We are all members of the Thames Navigation User Forum and specifically represent owners of recreational powered craft. There are over 8,000 such craft registered with EA Thames and, by way of registration and other charges, they collectively contribute almost £4 million in revenue income to the annual budget for the maintenance and upkeep of the river. This is by far the largest contribution from any source other than public funding. Joint action is already in hand to address the current issues regarding continued restrictions to navigation, particularly where they affect powered craft.

The NABO Council has continued to meet regularly via teleconferences, and the meetings have proved to be very productive and well-attended. At the last meeting, it was evident that we have met our budget target for the past year and we should also be able to cope with next year – but we do need to work hard to keep our membership numbers up (our only source of income) and also look towards engaging more members – both on Council and as regional representatives to both CRT and EA. The latter role is vital but also highly rewarding, especially as the CRT folk are learning (as we are!) more and more how to work across the internet and phone lines, and not have so many physical meetings!

So, once again, despite these strange times for all of us, I wish you everything of the best and – for those unlucky ones who are not living aboard – I hope we all see our boats soon!

Mike Rodd