Report on the CRT National Users Forum: Wednesday 25th February 2105

Held at The Bond in Birmingham, this 6-monthly meeting was well attended by representatives of 21 boating and canal-related organisations.

The meeting was started by Richard Parry’s review of 2014 and rather surprisingly (as many of our members have been reporting the opposite) reported that there had been a 2% increase in lock usage compared to the previous year. He mentioned that there were ~350M visits to the canals, with over 17M individual visits. Of importance was that the spend on the waterways was up 10% (to £93M) and that from April this year, the promised additional £10M from government was kicking in. He mentioned the revised private licence Terms and Conditions (which were effective from April this year) and acknowledged that they had attracted much comment! He emphasised that the intention was to make these more explicit and easier to interpret. (Not, it must be said, NABO’s view!) He also noted the new approach to the handling of those boats licensed as continuous cruisers (see more on this below). He also reported that as a result of the consultation on long term moorings, a high percentage of these would be offered on a fixed price basis and only those in areas of high demand would be auctioned.

He concluded his positive report by noting that the CRT Council elections would open on the 4th of September with elections in November.

Vince Moran gave an update on operations and asset management, noting that there had been an additional spend of £4.5M. Detailed plans for the coming year were being finalised and would soon be made public.

Stuart Mills, CRT’s property director, gave a most welcome overview of the management of CRT’s investment portfolio. This includes not only its property assets (part of which are the endowment portfolio inherited from DEFRA) but also non-property assets, which includes income from rights from pipelines, cables etc across CRT’s properties, surface water drainage, supply of excess water, and some innovative “green” energy ventures (for example, hydroelectric schemes). He noted that CRT’s capital growth in the past year had been CPI plus 1%. He pointed out that CRT was involved in a range of projects, in many cases with external partners. CRT’s overall performance was, as required by Defra, externally benchmarked and was indeed exceeding the IPD ratings for real estate performance.

Stuart’s presentation was followed by a discussion relating to how CRT approaches the preservation and protection of heritage assets, as it was felt by some delegates that CRT was not looking after some of these. Stuart pointed out that there had to be a balancing act between what they spent on this as opposed what they spend looking after the waterways themselves.

Ruth Ruderham then presented a report on fund raising and related issues. She noted an increase in the number of “friends”, community adoption schemes, and corporate partnerships. A series of impressive new projects had been sponsored, a particular highlight was the funding of the coast-to-coast canoe trail based on the Leeds and Liverpool canal. It was also most interesting to note the success CRT was having in obtaining funds for specific projects from various large funding bodies and charitable foundations. The Enterprise side of CRT was on track to secure over £11M, including several significant HLF grants.

Ian Rogers, the recently appointed Head of Customer Services, was then introduced and gave a short presentation. Only a few weeks into the job he was still very much in listening mode but already saw that a major issue was to ensure consistent customer service and better communications – in the latter area, too much appeared as aggressive. He generously acknowledged that his job had been very well shaped by the excellent work of Dean Davies while he had been in the role on an interim basis.

The relatively recently appointed Welfare Officer, Sean Williams, gave an overview of his work and several delegates (including NABO’s) congratulated him on the positive impact he was already having.

This latter presentation led inevitably to a discussion on the recently introduced change of approach to the handling of those boaters licenced under the continuous cruiser requirements. Nick Brown, of NBTA, gave a robust report on the 38 degree petition etc and warned that Sean’s work will be seriously impacted by the new requirements. Other delegates (including NABO, RBOA and AWCC) reported that the bulk of their members appeared to feel that the proposal had given a degree of clarity to the requirements. Most delegates felt that if boaters were not willing to meet the minimal requirements, then they clearly were in conflict with their licensing conditions. Nick said NBTA agreed with compliance but not as CRT had defined it! Richard Parry gave a robust defence of CRT’s action saying that CRT must ensure that all users adhere to their licencing requirements, and that if they have these wrong, then the courts will have to decide!  (Now isn’t that what NABO has consistently been saying!)

An interesting morning!!

Mike Rodd