In the Chair March 2023
By the time you read this, we hope that there might just be some clarity about the future funding of both CRT and the Waterways part of the EA – I say “we hope” as it has all been so delayed, and the opinion being expressed in both organisations is that they expect a very miserable outcome. At the same time, the very basis of CRT is under review, and its precise role as a charity with (of course) charitable status is being questioned. In truth, this latter query comes as no surprise to many of us who are involved with running other charities, where we are aware that a charity must be transparent in how it operates, and certainly cannot be under the control of government – or, indeed, another charitable organisation. Many of us found it hard to see how CRT could operate as a charity if it remained under the ultimate control of government. Of relevance, by going into the Companies House website, one finds that CRT’s official Company Type: is “Private Limited Company by guarantee without share capital, use of ‘Limited’ exemption”. Clearly this all needs to be urgently sorted out – either CRT is a charity, or it isn’t!
Of course, the whole model introduced by David Cameron at the time when CRT was created was to move organisations such British Waterways out of government funding, with the objective that ultimately the CRT as a charity would be able to raise sufficient money from other sources. The assumption was that after 15 years CRT would have become self-funding, after which it would be acceptable for it to receive no further direct government subsidy. On this basis, therefore, CRT should at that point indeed require no further support from government coffers, providing a rationale for announcing any cessation of funding following the current review!
However, as we and other boating organisations said at the time, the entire model was fatally flawed. The whole concept that this bright and shiny new charity would somehow raise over £50 million per year to replace the government funding was a farce – in practice, the income actually generated the by CRT from external sources has been on average just over £1 million per year – not even 1/50th of that required. Additionally, any of us who run charities know only too well that we can indeed raise money for well-defined projects with clear people-focused objectives, but certainly not for routine “housekeeping” such as maintenance, fixing broken lock gates or dredging canals – regardless of how valuable these assets are in terms of their historic importance and/or their contributions to tourism.
There can be little doubt that, quite correctly, CRT is working on how to cope with such a potential reduction in funding. We see and hear this in many ways; Richard Parry, CRT’s Chief Executive Officer, has (again entirely correctly) been preparing us to face this situation, by warning that they will have to reduce their expenditure wherever possible. So we have already seen winter works being cut back and, of course, we boaters (as their softest of targets) have already seen a huge increase in our licence fees, with the present consultation very obviously aimed at seeing how much more they can squeeze out of us. Mr Parry has also stated that they will simply not be able to maintain all the present canals for which they are responsible, and this clearly implies that some canals will be neglected and left to go back to how they were when they were first restored. Probably the major, well-used canals (Grand Union? K&A?) will survive, whereas many smaller, less used ones, could well be allowed slowly to die.
So, what does this all mean for NABO and other boating/boater organisations? The IWA’s Chief Executive states “Our waterways benefit millions of people in the country, and it is essential that government continues to invest in them to ensure that these benefits can be maintained and increased. ” To address this, IWA have launched a campaign #ProtectOurWaterways, which – clearly – we must support. We urge all our members to get involved. See: email@example.com
Additionally, NABO has already embarked on an extensive campaign to contact all those MPs who have a waterway in their constituency. This has proved to be most interesting! Although we have received a fairly standard response from many of them (generated, we assume, by the Office of the Minister responsible), a few MPs have come back to us, clearly previously unaware of the situation. Indeed, many had not grasped the original concept of moving the canals away from Government management by the creation of CRT, and hence had no idea of how the canals (and, indeed, rivers) are managed. (As a past chair of the K&A Canal Trust, this doesn’t surprise me in the least, as many long-term boaters still call us – rather than CRT – when they have a problem with the canal!)
Clearly, we now need to launch a meaningful campaign, aimed at as many canal users as possible and get them in turn to put pressure on their MPs and any contacts they have with members of the House of Lords. Also, we need them to get them to ensure that their local waterways groups are fully aware of the emerging situation. The amazing numbers we now have signed up to our various social media channels give us a good idea of where to start. To this end, one of our new members, Steph Maton, has include an article in this edition – see page??), suggesting how we should start the campaign.
But above all, do talk to your MP, asap!!! We simply cannot let the loss of a relatively small amount of funding (given the overall budget to be announced as this NaboNews appears) to cause our amazing waterways to go back into the state they were in before we and our predecessors all got together to restore them. And remember, it was folks like us – and the organisations that we are part of – who did the original restorations, not some ill-informed government minister!!
Let me end by praising CRT (now there’s a change!) for all the extensive winter work they are busy completing on MY canal – the little Mon & Brec down in South Wales! On the other canal where I boatmaster a public trip boat for the K&A Canal Trust, we appreciate the dredging undertaken around Hungerford, although we were somewhat surprised that this relatively un-problematic section was prioritised, when we still have problems even getting our trip boat though very badly silted sections further upstream. As they say, however, “Every little helps!” We are also immensely grateful for the work being undertaken on the main K&A water supply system, based at our historic Crofton Pumping Station – so it’s really good to be able to end on a positive note.
I wish you all happy boating!