NABO Chairman’s report from the AGM

The 22nd Annual General Meeting was held on 16th November 2013.

The guest speakers were Adam Comerford and Emily Crisp from the CRT Hydrology section. They gave an excellent presentation and then ran working sessions on their current thinking on water management. We all thoroughly valued their attendance and found the presentation both informative and enlightening. It was so reassuring to hear how CRT is approaching this issue.

Richard Parry CRT CEO also attended and met members and our excellent hosts at the Wolverhampton Boat Club.

Council elections took place and these will be the subject of a separate announcement.

The Chairman delivered his annual report, and it can be read below.

Good morning.

I will start with the core internal issues that we face in running the Association. Last year we faced a substantial deficit. Your Council had already taken action to reduce costs, and seek alternative income such as advertising in NABO News. We can see that this has had the desired effect. However our cost of producing the NABO news and operational costs exceeded the membership subscription, and it was decided to increase this for the first time in many years. This took place in April this year. Your Council was all too aware that we ran the risk of a major loss of membership. This has not proved to be the case, and although our numbers are down slightly, I do have to express my appreciation to all those loyal members who have stuck with us in these challenging times.

In 2013, NABO representatives have attended a range of consultation meetings with  CRT and EA, BSS, and other user groups, both nationally and locally. This is the core work of the Association, monitoring what is going on, reading the papers, listening to the presentations and making considered comments both in writing and at meetings. There have been times when we have not been able to attend meetings, particularly regional events like user group meetings. I appeal to all members to contact their regional reps, and arrange to go to these meeting, so that we can understand the local issues, and steer the Association with the benefit of this knowledge. This is really important when CRT are undertaking local initiatives, which will have national implications.

Returning to the Association, I have to express all our appreciation to regional representatives and to Council for their continued time and efforts. We are still down in numbers on Council and this is a critical issue. We are fortunate to have had three new members this year, Jane, Mark and Mike and all three are contributing significantly to the ideas and work. Two of our long term Council members have decided not to stand this year, but we hope that we can retain them as regional representatives and for their expertise. Simon Robbins has been on Council for more than ten years, and has been a key person in all matters on moorings and the London scene. His recent contribution to the GLA enquiry into moorings was a master class in boater representation. As a result of his actions this year, CRT are now listing on the web the court judgments made. Previously these were not disclosed, and boaters were unable to view and understand what Courts were saying.

Richard has also been on Council for 10 years, and general secretary for 5. He and I have worked together in my period as Chairman and I cannot speak highly enough of his efforts and contribution. In the last couple of years he has been responsible for getting the advertising sponsorship that has done much to bridge the financial gap.

But our Council numbers are less again and it is not nearly enough. Last year I said that if we could not replenish Council with a flow of new faces to take on the work, then we faced a bleak future. Please do come to a meeting and see what it is all about and how you can contribute.

Our administration and accounts have been carried out by Melanie Darlington for many years. She has said that she wishes to stop next year and we have the task of building a new team to do this work. This will inevitably mean changes to the way we manage membership, with new people and systems to mobilise. I am still looking for volunteers for this work, hoping to build a team around a web based system so that the full workload does not fall on one person. Can you help with this? I would appeal to members to take responsibility for managing the subscriptions. Melanie spends a considerable time and effort managing wrong or late payments.

Our membership numbers are still dropping a little and my thanks go to all those who have recruited new members. Some churn of membership is a fact of life for all organisations. New members usually join us by the web site and PayPal, so we are not printing membership forms as in the past. We have some new flyers to hand out and if you would take a few, and recruit a few members, all to the good. We did not attend Crick again this year for the second year, partly because Council members were not available for the four days, and anyway we doubted the cost effectiveness of this. It is more than £1000 to attend, and we suspect that many of the recruits gained from these exercises do not stay long-term, perhaps only one year. With universal tight budgets a fact of life, there remains an issue over short-term gratification, which we do not offer, and we cannot compete with the blogs and professional waterways press. But we know that steady representative pressure over a long period can have an effect on navigation authorities, and this is our strength and success. The launch of the ACC is an interesting development, and we may loose some recruitment opportunity here, but overall this does not concern me. NABO is a broad church, and has always worked well alongside the smaller specialist organisations like RBOA , TBA and DBA. I wish them well.

NABO News remains our main communication with membership. Peter Fellows is our Editor and he has been in the hot seat for more than two years, and I wish to thank him for his magnificent contribution. Can we all please show our appreciation for Peter and his team for their fantastic work.

We have restarted using email as a means of communication. The web site facilities make this possible, and there have been 6 bulletins this year, to let you know what the officers are up to. This is the largest distribution we have ever made, but we still have over two hundred members for which we have no valid address. We still have to consider these members needs, so we are far from an electronic only communication system.

The website is functioning though we are at a time when we need to consider upgrades and changes particularly surrounding the administration system. The site feeds to Twitter and Facebook and we continue to experiment in these areas. It does get our name out there and all advice is to continue with this, particularly Twitter. Are there any Twitter experts out there to help. A little guidance here could make a big difference to membership.

As always it is important that we have a balanced view from members, so please do take the time to let us know what you are thinking. Your Council are active in seeking views, but we can always use more.

We are currently active with issues concerning the London, SE and K&A mooring strategies, the legal implications of these, Hire boat code update with BSS and boater safety issues, EA registration increases and service levels. These sorts of issues will impact on all boaters, whether hiring, owning, home moorings or continuous cruisers and we should not sit idly by whilst changes are made that do not suit us.

Specifically on CRT legal issues, Geoffrey and other Council members have been considering the legal implications since summer, CRT have set aside our responses on legality issues, citing 1962 enabling legislation without evidence based justification. Specifically sign posting no return rules and overstay charges despite our written comments and protestations. This will be the subject of campaigning in the coming year. My thanks to Geoffrey and Mark for leading this.

The first year of the CRT has brought opportunities. NABO was involved with candidates for CRT Council and at least two Partnership places, without success. I sit on NAG operations, and that has been a good forum, apolitical and focused very much on navigation and safety issues. I have been constantly concerned about conflict of interest in this, and will be more relaxed in this next year when I will no longer be NABO Chairman.

We have tried to maintain relationships with some of the new Trustees, and the Council boater representatives and many of these receive NABO News. We deliberately write pieces to send messages to the outside world as well as our members. The Partnership activity is very mixed and I ask all members to monitor what is going on in your areas, and let us know about the good and bad. Plans are now being published and annual meetings held. What is happening to your waterway? Of course these are not about navigation issues, but the wider picture of gathering support for the waterways in local environments.

We should not forget EA has its issues too. Firstly came the announcement that Navigation would be not be transferred to CRT in 2015. A disappointment to many, but not a surprise to me. There was no business case, and the cost to Government of funding the CRT risk was unsupportable. But the EA are still under big cost pressures directly from Central Government and boaters are being asked to subsidise Government though registration increases.

There is a nice contrast between CRT and EA over licence fees – CRT holding increases to  the Consumer Price Index, and EA in a cycle up to 2015 with 2% over – and little sympathy with the impact on private boaters. We all know that boating is a discretionary activity, and if we are to attract new boaters, to buy or hire there must be confidence that future costs are affordable.

As I said last year and the year before, we have not always been able to cover all the consultation meetings and there is always a need for more members to support this work and share the load. Please do volunteer. If nobody attends, we do not get the information and get out of touch, and we miss an opportunity of networking and applying pressure over a range of issues.

So in conclusion, there is much to be done in the coming year, both in consultation and for internal NABO business. We are needed, for other user groups are focused in a different way and we have that unique selling point. Your Council need help to carry this on and secure the future. I have very much enjoyed being your Chairman for the last five years and I thank you for your support and the opportunities the role has provided.

This concludes my report.

David Fletcher