After too many years as your Chair, and with an excellent Council team in place, I felt this was the time not to stand for re-election as your chair, although – if approved – I am happy to continue as a Council member, especially given the situation with EA and my role on the Boat Safety Scheme’s Technical Committee. The latter is especially relevant, given its work on the rapidly changing situation regarding the rapid increase in the introduction of AC on boats, as well as all the dangers related to the introduction of lithium batteries.
Without any shadow of doubt, it has been a great privilege to be NABO’s chair, not only because of the challenging issues that we have had to face, but also because of the wonderful folk who have been, and still are, members of the Council – who really do all the work, especially my Vice Chair, Anne Husar! We’ve never yet had to deal an issue where no-one has offered to take responsibility.
As we highlighted in the last edition of Nabo News, a major part of our Council’s work is currently dedicated to supporting the vital and ongoing “Fund Britain’s Waterways” campaign.
At NABO’s instigation, and with over 70 organisations now on board, this initiative is being led by a small steering group with membership from NABO, IWA, AWCC, British Marine and the RYA, under the chairmanship of the well-known Les Etheridge, National Chair of the Inland Waterways Association. The group meets every few weeks, and is actively planning an ambitious programme of events for the next six months or so. In this work, the support of the IWA is proving vital, as they have generously committed some of their paid staff to the programme, enabling us to undertake a far wider range of activities, reaching out much more widely, than would otherwise have been feasible. Whilst IWA are generously picking up their own staffing costs, contributions to FBW finances have already been made by the Royal Yachting Association, the Association of Waterways Cruising Clubs, NABO, and the Inland Waterways Association.
What a time to be involved with NABO! Your Council has always been very careful only to take on activities that will have a direct impact on our boaters – who, of course, are the very reason we exist. But when we DO take on a new mission, it needs to be something where – as a professionally led body – we can make a real difference. Seldom have there been so many issues requiring our attention as now. Fortunately we have the benefit of an enthusiastic and highly motivated Council.
As I highlighted in my last Chair’s report, your Council quite correctly made the decision that there is currently no point in continually nagging CRT about the things that we feel they are not doing well. On the contrary, with a government that is clearly determined to reduce the funding for the waterways, the best thing we can do is to accept that there is now no alternative to CRT, and that reverting to the good?/bad? days of the British Waterways Board being part of government is just not feasible. Therefore, the best thing we can do right now is to bring as much pressure as we can on government to ensure, at the very least, adequate funding of all the waterways. (CRT still, at the time of writing, isn’t yet officially aware of its situation, but the EA and Scottish waterways have already had massive cuts.)
In the Chair March 2023
By the time you read this, we hope that there might just be some clarity about the future funding of both CRT and the Waterways part of the EA – I say “we hope” as it has all been so delayed, and the opinion being expressed in both organisations is that they expect a very miserable outcome. At the same time, the very basis of CRT is under review, and its precise role as a charity with (of course) charitable status is being questioned. In truth, this latter query comes as no surprise to many of us who are involved with running other charities, where we are aware that a charity must be transparent in how it operates, and certainly cannot be under the control of government – or, indeed, another charitable organisation. Many of us found it hard to see how CRT could operate as a charity if it remained under the ultimate control of government. Of relevance, by going into the Companies House website, one finds that CRT’s official Company Type: is “Private Limited Company by guarantee without share capital, use of 'Limited' exemption”. Clearly this all needs to be urgently sorted out – either CRT is a charity, or it isn’t!
Of course, the whole model introduced by David Cameron at the time when CRT was created was to move organisations such British Waterways out of government funding, with the objective that ultimately the CRT as a charity would be able to raise sufficient money from other sources. The assumption was that after 15 years CRT would have become self-funding, after which it would be acceptable for it to receive no further direct government subsidy. On this basis, therefore, CRT should at that point indeed require no further support from government coffers, providing a rationale for announcing any cessation of funding following the current review!
I must start by welcoming our new NABO News Editor, John Sadler, who has bravely stepped forward to take over from Peter Fellows, who is leaving the waterways and decamping to live in Ireland! And what a hard act he will be to follow – each year, Peter has somehow managed to develop NABO News to the point where it is now widely recognised as one of the premium journals related to our waterways. Each edition is full of insightful commentaries on the state of the waterways, and provides technical content of interest to all. I know also how much it is both welcomed (and often feared) by the respective waterways’ operators! I often count the days between its publication, and the first reactions from the latter organisations…
I need also to follow up on our AGM, and say how pleased I was to see new people offering themselves for election to our Council. Indeed, it is the first time since I became your chair, that we have a full complement, and what a pleasure this is, to see so much support forthcoming. We are, however, still lacking a General Secretary – so please give that some thought. The duties are not arduous but are essential: it is largely a case of acting as the “postmaster” for all incoming information – some of which just needs binning, but a substantial amount needs to be flagged for the attention of the appropriate councillor or regional representative. We try to have each council member play a distinctive role, and so they need to receive and deal with all relevant material – some of which it is vital for us to react to, especially where it might have an impact on the waterways. We do need always to be seen as a willing “consultant” – for example, by local authorities, as a vital component of any consultation on proposals that might impact on the waterways under their control.