NN Editorial December 2023

First they came for the continuous cruisers Editor John Sadler on the inequity of CRT’s current funding model

“Every movement that seeks to enslave a community needs a minority group to use as a scapegoat, which it can blame for its distress and use as a justification of its own dictatorial powers. ” Although in its original form the quote was about Soviet Russia, America and Nazi Germany, I can see an analogy to CRT creating a scapegoat of continuous cruisers, who are not to blame for the deterioration of the network. The use of dictatorial powers is not the way to improve the situation.

Defra has only done what it was always intended to do under changes initiated by (now) Lord David Cameron to eliminate Quangos. In my opinion all it has achieved is to create a new Quasi Autonomous Non-Governmental Organisation, just not government funded or accountable for its actions. I’m not CRT bashing but I am critical of the model it’s based on. NABO has always believed that the charity model, à la National Trust, was not suitable for the canal network. It’s not possible to fence it off and charge admission which is the first problem. The high maintenance costs require more income than the users contribute. It’s easier to generate funds for a specific defined project like a fish bypass or canoe portage point than it is to raise money for routine maintenance. Give money to make life better by water is not very convincing if you are struggling to feed your family and heat your home. Where do we go from here?

Whilst we may have criticisms of the way existing funds have been spent, CRT need more money to keep the canal network navigable. As the setup originally required Government input, so will rescuing the resultant demise. NABO is not capable of influencing Government, we are too small and would be ignored, especially with so much activity on the world stage and an economic crisis at home. Even the efforts of Fund Britain’s Waterways will hardly sway government policy. The great restoration work achieved by volunteer groups of the reconstruction of canals is also under threat. Some quite reasonable responses have been on the agendas of many of the boating organisations, but CRT believe at least in the legality of their position with no amendment. Increase the income from boaters. So the organisation that was set up to preserve the future of the canal network and its surrounding history looks more likely to oversee its demolition, whilst preserving its own existence.

In the short term Defra needs to help financially, which will require pressure from ministers to loosen the purse strings a little. In order to generate interest at government level we need tens of thousands of people to contact MPs then, especially in an election year, we might be able to generate some support where it really matters. All it takes for a despicable plan to succeed is for good men and women to do nothing. Write or email, talk to your friends get them to write, put a message in your Christmas card or make a New Years resolution. We need to take action to keep our canals open.

Best wishes for the forthcoming festive season, John Sadler.