Report on the National Users Forum : Wednesday 10th September 2104

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

The meeting was kicked off by Richard Parry giving an assessment of progress over the past 6 months, largely a reprise of his recent presentation to CRT’s Annual Meeting. The highlights were the encouraging additional £7million spend on the waterways, with £2million on customer services.  Richard also reported that all fund raising had been taken in-house and this was looking promising, with an additional 1,500 CRT “friends” recruited in the past 5 months. He noted that there were 61 community adoptions and over 400 volunteer lock keepers in place.

He concluded his buoyant presentation by noting that the Sharing Towpaths consultation would be reporting back soon to Council  and that Council would also, at their next meeting, be appointing some new trustees and considering some constitutional changes – watch this space!

Vince Moran gave an update on operations and asset management, highlighting completed work, some of which had to be undertaken due to the floods at the latter part of 2013, and also outlined present projects. Of particular interest was the internal reorganisation of CRT, with the waterways managers taking responsibility for customer relationships, including boaters and related communities. Also, all engineering work was being centralised and in future, all aspects of this will be handled in a unified fashion, with a much more joined-up approach.

Julie Sharman and Tamsin Phipps (K&A Partnership Chair) then gave a review of Partnership Plans for the next 3 years. It was made clear that CRT is committed to the principles underlying the Partnership but accepts that each will focus on what they feel is important and relevant to their waterways. In the discussions that followed, many attendees repeated that few understood the role of the Partnerships and stressed that, if indeed they were going to deal with major issues effecting on their waterways, it was important that Partnership members were familiar with the specific issues being considered.

Dean Davies, recently appointed as the Interim Head of Customer Services, then gave a positive presentation on “Enhancing Customer Service Delivery in CRT. This was an important part of the morning as it was obvious that Dean has a very clear vision of the need for CRT to improve all aspects of its performance in this area. This would include:

·        A review of the Customer Service standards and expectations.

·        Developing measures to assess its performance in this area.

·        Producing a nationally agreed framework  for the local provision of visitor moorings.

·        Improving visibility and effectiveness of enforcement.

·        Ensuring good working relationships with key Customer Groups.

 Finally, the highly professional Adam Comerford gave an update on CRT’s developing Water Resources Strategy, emphasising not only the need for this but the importance of getting full buy-in from all CRT users. This work will inform future policy and investment programme decisions. It is vital that his now available report (see CRT website) is studied by all boating and related organisations, and their feedback submitted.

Summary:A useful and informative morning but one cannot help feeling that with so many of the leaders of the major users of the waterways attending, that less PowerPoint slides and more discussion needs to be undertaken?

Mike Rodd