The end of IWAC?

In January, Defra confirmed that it is to proceed with the abolition of the much respected Inland Waterways Advisory Council (IWAC).

IWAC is a UK wide body that has provided advice to Government and other interested persons on matters considered appropriate and relevant to Britain’s inland waterways. IWAC is an independent, advisory non-departmental public body established by sections 110-110C of the Transport Act 1968. These sections were inserted by sections 74-77 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006. Section 73 of that Act provided that IWAC’s predecessor body, the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council (created under the original provisions of the Transport Act 1968 to give advice on the amenity and recreational use of canals and rivers managed by British Waterways), was to become IWAC, and did so from April 2007.

The overall powers do this were included in the recently enacted Public Bodies Act. The Waterways’ Minister recently announced the final piece of secondary legislation required to complete the abolition. Defra consulted last year on the matter and reported back in February 2012. NABO responded to the consultation on your behalf, and recommended to retain the Council. Overall, Defra said that a majority of respondents thought IWAC should be retained and of those, half thought that IWAC should be retained for a limited period – either for the next two years to allow the charity to establish itself, or until the Environment Agency navigations are brought into the charity (which, as the Government has already announced, is planned for 2015/16 subject to affordability and agreement of the Trustees).

Reasons given for retaining IWAC included the knowledge, expertise and experience of the members of IWAC and their high quality advice; and the importance of independent and objective advice to Government.  Some respondents considered that the CRT could not provide this as it is not its role and there could be a conflict of interest. Many respondents -both those in favour of keeping IWAC and those who thought it should be abolished – praised IWAC for their significant contribution in the past and considered it to be a well respected and appreciated body.

This is my summary of the Government’s response:

The Government noted the arguments put forward in favour of not abolishing IWAC and noted also the comparatively low level of interest in the consultation. However, it is of the view that the creation of CRT (still subject to Parliamentary consent) means that a statutory advisory body is no longer required to provide advice on policy. The proposed charity’s constitution and model of operation would take account of its need to seek views from representative stakeholders and other experts. The CRT has already announced its intention to establish a number of expert committees to advise the Trustees and Council on the operation of its waterways. The Government believes that the use of ad hoc advisory bodies more generally provides far greater flexibility to obtain specialist expertise to deal with particular problems over a defined period.

NABO Chairman, David Fletcher commented:

"IWAC is a victim of the perceived ‘cull of the quangos’. This has not had much success overall and IWAC is an easy target. We expected nothing less. Defra’s comment about the low level of interest in the consultation is a reminder of how important these matters are, and that we should always endeavour to respond, both as NABO and as individuals. It is surprising that a consultation outcome should be contrary to an overwhelming opinion of responses. One might ask, why bother to ask in the first place if they are not interested in the opinion? Never heard of this before…. now just wait a minute, something comes to mind!"

"It is a shame that a low-cost and respected body is set aside just at the time when CRT is setting up and is in need of continuity and guidance. NABO will assist CRT and DEFRA in anyway that it can. You would expect nothing less."

The DEFRA documents can be read here.

The IWAC website still exists and can be found here.