Public Authorities and the Public

Public Authorities and the Public

Paul Monahan tries to analyse what’s wrong with CRT.

I have frequent contact with several public bodies, notably the local council, the EA (flood relief, not navigation) and of course CRT. If I believed in reincarnation, I would think that I must have done something dreadful in a past life! These three organisations are all different and may be compared to mythical characters of old; in the case of CRT, that of Narcissus – obsessed with its own image. However, they are alike in one important aspect; their arrogance.

This shows in the way in which they treat the public. Of course, all three have endless public consultations, but to what end? Anything that may be said at these is routinely ignored, because they believe the opinions of the public to be worthless. All three organisations share, in common with so many similar bodies, the belief that only highly-paid consultants or expensive computer models can produce any worthwhile information. The notion that any member of the public may have useful knowledge – and be prepared to give of it freely – is a concept which they cannot understand or accept. Public consultation is considered essential these days, but why? Clearly, just to tick the box labelled “Have you engaged with the public?” The results of any such consultation can be gauged by this statement, taken from a recent document, “We carefully considered all responses, although we have not made any changes to our proposals before making our recommendations.” I will not identify which organisation said this, as it would stand for any of them.

Before we can begin to understand CRT, we must first explore what it is for. When BW was responsible for the waterways, prior to 2012, the reason for its existence was clear; to maintain, as best it could, the waterway system for navigation. BW existed to support the canals. Now, the canals are there as a means to support CRT. It matters not to CRT senior management whether their ‘product’ is postage stamps, groceries, railway tickets or canals, provided that the entity ‘CRT’ continues to exist.

That view is evident from their obsession with ‘brand image’ and the proliferation of intrusive signs. If they believed in the quality of their product – the canal system – then the product might be allowed to speak for itself by generating increased customer satisfaction. It is worth commenting that brand awareness is not an end in itself; consider a dog dropping as an example – extremely high brand awareness, but exceedingly low customer satisfaction.

It is very regrettable that CRT has done so much to alienate those who should be its most committed and valued supporters – the boaters. The list of their failings is well known to most of us; maintenance failures, arbitrary restrictions and closures, waste of scarce resources on fanciful, half-baked and never-completed projects, the systematic purging of knowledgeable staff and their replacement with office-based non-jobs; the list goes on.

In this context, should CRT continue to exist as it is or, as our editor has proposed, should it become two separate organisations? One devoted to maintenance of the waterways and their allied structures and provided with proper long-term national funding as befits a national (and world-class) heritage asset, and the other concerned only with peripheral interests such as ‘wellbeing’?