Mark Tizard and Mike Rodd prepared a review of 2019.

Thank you for coming. Stella Ridgway, our Chair, unfortunately can’t be with us as she continues to recover from her kidney transplant. Stella is standing down from our Council and, on behalf of NABO, we would like to thank her for her service. She will be missed both by her NABO colleagues and also as a boater’s representative on CRT’s Council. During the year, our Vice-Chair Paul Howland passed away unexpectedly; his wise words are greatly missed.

Last year has been a challenging one for NABO: your Council has been spread thinly, seeking to establish contact and relationships with the new CRT Regional Directors, and the first meetings have taken place. On top of this, the latest major reorganisation has seen many experienced managers leave the Trust. During the last couple of years, with constant management changes, it is perhaps not surprising that communications with CRT have been sporadic. They certainly have not been proactive in wanting to engage with us. Your Council has recently taken steps to set up regular quarterly meetings with the Head of Customer Services and Head of Boating. In addition, we continue to be represented on the Navigation Advisory Group and the Boat Safety Scheme committees. The new CRT organisational management structure continues to bed in and we have concerns that in some areas core engineering and management experience have been lost.

The summer Toddbrook reservoir near-disaster at Whaley Bridge continues to absorb senior management time and it as yet unclear what the financial implications of this will be for future maintenance activities; recent costs have been met from reserves.

Last year, Stella commented in her annual review that boaters are still not being included in decisions being taken, resulting in some of them feeling even more disenfranchised. CRT’s executive team wants and needs boaters and their organisations to get onside with the ‘wellbeing’ agenda to encourage the Government to continue the grant. I am afraid that this year the alienation of boaters has been rather more successful and it will take a great deal of work to make this right. 

Unfortunately, your Council believes that little has changed over the last year to change this view. This year’s CRT annual report made difficult reading: boaters’ satisfaction down 10 per cent; visitor numbers down; accidents and incidents up; unplanned stoppages up; employee engagement down etc etc. Only the number of volunteer hours is increasing.

We believe that it is in our members’ interests that CRT succeeds in negotiating a renewed grant. To this end, we have suggested that CRT be more communicative by proactively engaging with us and informing boaters of more of the good work that goes on behind the scenes. For example, the expansion of the customer services help-desk hours to a seven day operation is a big step forward.

The elections for the boaters’ representative on CRT Council will take place early next year. Stella has done an excellent job during her tenure and your Council is pleased to announce that our Treasurer, Helen Hutt, has decided to stand and we would urge members to vote for her.

Lastly, your Council needs your help: we need eyes and ears on the cut to keep us well-informed. We would urge you to help us protect the lifestyle we all love. If you could spare a couple of hours every so often, please contact us.

Mike Rodd adds:

The next few years will be very challenging for NABO with both CRT and the EA working to ensure that in five or six years from now they are both adequately funded, and in the case of CRT, have their contact to run the canals continued. As Stella has said many times, and Mark highlighted in NABO's Towpath Talk column, one of the keys to supporting both organisations in their bids has to be for us boaters to feel that the two organisations acknowledge that we have an important role to play, and they should stop ignoring us. In the case of EA, over the past few months I have been happy to represent NABO at a series of EA workshops and meetings, where it has been clear that their new management see us and the other representative groups as really key to their future. CRT is starting, via Jon Horsfall, to accept this too, but we wait to see if his good words bring a change right across the organisation.

We also have to accept that there will be major pressure on the boating community to respond to the increasing environmental challenges. Yes, there is a lot of ill-informed nonsense being promulgated by politicians, who show that they have zero understanding of scientific facts, but in our present world, when most environmental activists also ignore real science and rush to make emotional claims, the reality is that we are easy targets and we will be pressurised to become (allegedly) more environmentally friendly. This is nonsense of course, as most boaters are already very aware of the need to protect their environment but, as we have already seen in the Netherlands, restrictions on what we use to propel and heat our boats will be imposed on us – regardless of the cost or real need. We thus need NABO to be in a position to provide advice to our members and vigorously participate in the various planning activities.

And finally, in a world now driven by access to free information, we have to find ways to extend our relevance to the broad boating community. An exciting few years ahead – it is so sad that Stella is unable to continue her excellent work representing and leading us, but I am pleased to be able to continue to play an active part in our important work. Thank you, Stella, for all you have done for us and we wish you well in your shore-based life.