Category Archives: BW

AWCC responds to “Waterways for Everyone”

David Pearce, National Chairman of the AWCC, has written to DEFRA with the AWCC’s response to the draft “Waterways for Everyone” consultation published by DEFRA on 19th December 2009.  The text of the letter is shown below, and part one of the AWCC’s response is provided as a PDF document at the bottom of this post.

The consultation period closed on 26th March 2010.

WfE_response_pt1.pdf

Caroline Killeavy addresses the AWCC AGM

Caroline Killeavy, Head of Customer Relations at BW, was the after lunch speaker at the AWCC AGM held on Saturday 13th March at Stafford Boat Club.

Caroline started her talk by explaining that the job included the complaints process,  freedom of information requests, and management of the Engagement Team, which included angling as well as boating.

She started with the Third Sector proposal and said that it had created uncertainty on both sides – there was neither a right, nor a wrong way of implementing the proposals. There needed to be much discussion and evaluation of all the perceived risks. There would inevitably be much political lobbying. A final decision would be taken when more detail had been evolved. However, it was not yet a done deal, but when it was it had to be the “Right Deal”, it had to be a partnership with the key stakeholders. In the mean time there was the small matter of the General Election, but the time was now much better than it was a decade ago. The Third Sector proposal was in principle approved by the three major political parties, but could a good political deal be achieved with a new Government?

Caroline then moved on to the increase in visitors to BW’s waterways over the last five years; the statistics suggest that 13 million people visited the waterways last year – that is about a quarter of the population of this country.  This increase in visitor numbers has resulted indirectly in good media coverage, and had been of much benefit to the BW cause. In recent telephone surveys, 90% of those surveyed considered the waterways to be very important.

Caroline continued by saying that there was a need to change attitudes within BW and particularly to the involvement of the key stakeholders. She assured us that BW management was changing! She assured us that there was a new model for involving and educating young people and also an increased emphasis on working with local communities and the capturing of a full range of volunteer skills in local communities; engineering, mapping, media, finance, etc. She emphasised the volunteering website, http://www.do-it.org.uk/ . She realised that BW had to do a good packaging job in encouraging volunteers in suitable areas for volunteering.

Caroline was keen to promote adoption schemes and gave the example of a bank in Birmingham that encouraged all employees to be actively involved in the canal outside their windows in their lunch hour. BT were running a similar scheme and providing a co-ordinator for free for six months. She mentioned a North West youth volunteering activity where ‘intergenerational’ relationships were seen to work very well.

The Customer Service Team was also involved in up to date IT techniques with Twitter and Facebook accounts. She invited us to “tweet” the team! It is more approachable and informal, she said, and in particular it allows BW to engage with users of these new social media websites.

Finally, she made the point that major change within any organisation is always hard. There was willingness within BW, but still a fear for jobs. She then tackled the many questions from the floor in a frank and informal manner.

Questions covered the level of director’s bonuses, the many thousands of visitors who make no direct financial contributions, how to attract volunteers who are not boaters and how to get greater involvement of Local Authorities, particularly those who appear not to value their local waterways.

Caroline would not be drawn on the level of executive remuneration packages other than to say that there was a need to attract the right people. She said that non-executive Board Members remuneration was relatively slight. (The remuneration position of Trustee Board members is likely to be considerably different!)

The continuation of the Grant in Aid will still be necessary in recognition of those who do not pay directly for waterway maintenance. There would be renewed efforts with Local Authorities via the Regeneration Team. She did, however, remind us that it was the taxpayer who presently provided much of BW’s funding, so almost everyone makes some contribution towards the waterways facilities that are free for all to use.

A comment from the floor then identified the recent report in Waterways World that said the main problem with BW management was likely to be “letting go”. The method of selection of Trustees for the new charity was then queried, with the suggestion that the recent BWAF letter to Robin Evans did not go far enough *. The loss of jobs was then queried, as volunteer numbers increases. The problem of controlling volunteers was raised.

Caroline agreed that changing culture would not be easy, but there was a need to get away from the complacent image of the public sector approach. She did confirm that in the most recent reorganisation, no bank-side staff was lost. She accepted that there were possible difficulties as volunteer jobs approached those done by “professionals”, but said that it was always important to make the volunteer role in some way different to avoid the problem. Overall, volunteers had to be properly organised and controlled – they could not be allowed to do as they liked!

The matter of how to effectively inform the average boater was then raised and how to avoid the “glazed looks” when mentioning the Third Sector. The possibility of the new charity covering all waterways’ authorities was raised. Erica Martin then made an impassioned appeal for the new charity to include everyone, which was widely applauded, including by our speaker. Caroline concluded by emphasising that there was no right deal with the government, that they still had to pay through the Grant In Aid and that whilst a single Navigation Authority may be desirable and achievable at some time in the future, it was not on the cards at the moment.

The AWCC President, in wrapping up the AGM, then gave the speaker a sincere vote of thanks for her informal yet frank approach, with the wish that local user group meetings should take a leaf out of her book.

* Chairman’s note. The BWAF meeting on 22 Jan did go considerably further in discussion on the matter of Trustees, who they should be, whether they should be paid and how they should be appointed, etc. However, it was decided that there was a limit to how much of this should be set out in the letter from BWAF to Robin Evans. There will be further opportunities.

Webmasters note: Thanks to John Baggs, David Pearce and Erica Martin for their notes on the above presentation.

Setting a New Course

AWCC is a member of the British Waterways Advisory Forum, together with all other user groups, such as IWA and NABO, the British Marine Federation, fishing, cycling and rambling groups. We have written to the Chief Executive of British Waterways, concerning their “Third Sector” proposal, and he has accepted the comments in full.

[webmasters note: the paragraph headings have been added to this web version of the letter and did not form part of Nigel’s original letter to Robin Evans.]

Nigel Stevens’ Letter to Robin Evans:

The members of BWAF have asked me to write to you following our very helpful meeting with Simon Salem on 22 January. We were most grateful to him.

Who Should Own the UK’s Waterways?

We have always believed that the waterways, whilst formally owned by the state, belong really to the people who use them in so many ways. Therefore a Trust has always seemed to us the natural home for the waterways. We of course think they should be managed in a business-like way, but we have never believed the waterways as a whole to be a business, suitable for privatisation. We are therefore enormously cheered that the government has approved BW’s project to consider moving BW’s waterways into the third sector. We will give you every support as the studies proceed.

How Much Government Control Should There Be?

The third sector contains a remarkable spectrum of organisational types, ranging from bodies only nominally independent of government, such as the Valuation Office Agency, to those so independent of government as not even to be registered as charities, such as Greenpeace. We recognise that because BW’s waterways are controlled by government, and large payments are made by government every year, government might find it much easier to place a new BW at the only-slightly-independent end of the spectrum. We would emphasise that for us this would entirely miss the point. In our opinion, a body of this type would be unable to attract either volunteers or charitable gifts. The further the new body is towards the charity end of the spectrum, the more chance it will have of success. Many large charities have contractual links with government, whilst remaining demonstrably independent. For example, Scope receives half its income, some £50m a year, as fees for services to public bodies.

What is the Users Considered View?

We therefore believe that the new body should be a full-blown charity. Its trustees should be appointed by a method, which reflects the widest possible array of stakeholders. This would include government representatives, but they would not have control. We were encouraged by Simon’s outline of the potential arrangements, and offer to work with BW as these ideas change.

How Should the Board of a New Charity be Created?

The new body should have a shadow board appointed at the earliest possible stage.  We think that BW should drop talk of ‘turning itself into a charity’, but rather make clear that a new charity will be formed to take over the running of BW’s waterways.  This would emphasise the scale of the new beginning, and encourage the volunteers and donations to start flowing. This approach would be entirely consistent with the secure transfer of staff to the new organisation. We consider that it will be necessary, over time, for the new body’s pay, conditions and pension arrangements to fall into line with other major charities. Compass makes clear, and you yourself have said, that BW’s staff will need to embark on a major culture change. We think this will be greater and tougher than most BW staff yet understand. We would like to help with this. The early establishment of a shadow board and chief officers would greatly assist.

Financially Independent?

We do not believe that BW’s waterways could or should be made financially independent, because so much of the expenditure is to provide benefits to the public, for which they cannot individually be charged. Drainage, flood control, upkeep of towpaths, and maintenance of heritage are examples of this. We therefore support the project to establish stewardship scores by which BW’s performance in providing these public goods by contract with government could be measured. Logically, such contracts might be with several government departments rather than the present single one – for example, the provision of safer towpaths in deprived areas to encourage greater local use, or the maintenance of freight waterways. Such contracts must be of a rolling, long term nature, and the associated risks carefully considered.

The Cost of Maintenance?

It would be in the interest of the new body not to be seen as subsidising the hobby of wealthy boat-owners. It would therefore seem sensible to establish the cost of maintenance work, over and above that mentioned above, solely to provide for navigation. This could then reasonably be related to the income from boating, in contrast to present unreasonable assertions that boat owners contribute ‘only 20%’ of BW’s costs.

Who Pays in the Long Term?

Our greatest concern about these proposals is that they do not in themselves close the funding gap. We are nonetheless optimistic that they may provide the basis for reducing costs, raising income and taking a more long-term view. We believe it is essential that reliable funding for the foreseeable future be secured in order to produce efficiencies of operation and clearer deliverable strategies for the benefit of all users in the years ahead.

What About the Law?

We accept that it is highly unlikely that new legislation will be available. Accordingly, BW’s waterways will continue to belong to government. We presume that the British Waterways Board will continue to exist, its responsibility reduced to the oversight of a very long contract with the new body. This would answer our concern that government should retain the responsibility of maintainer of last resort, continuing the safeguards in the 1968 Act. Statutory duties and powers would remain, along with accountability to Parliament by government. We understand that government has expressed interest in some solution, which would absolve it of this responsibility. We absolutely reject any such arrangement on the grounds that our inland waterways and the right to navigation are a part of our national heritage that must be preserved for future generations.

BW Property?

It is of the essence of any arrangement that the estate be passed intact to the new body alongside the track, as part of the very long lease or other arrangement, which devolves responsibility from the British Waterways Board. The estate includes important parts of the waterways heritage. The new body would fail at birth without the income producing property endowment. The structure adopted should put the endowment beyond reach of government, and give reasonable borrowing powers to enable better long-term planning. The new body should be freed from the restrictions suffered by BW on the location or type of investment it may make, thus facilitating site assembly and long-term investment alongside waterways eventually to be restored. It should also be freed to choose whether or not to engage private-sector joint-venture partners for development schemes. We envisage that, over time, trustees might diversify their investments beyond waterside property.

What Will Be the Local Involvement?

The idea of establishing stakeholder advisory groups for each major waterway has merit. We welcome the intention to put down stronger roots in waterside communities, and will play a full part in fostering this. We consider that, as much of the benefit from the waterways is felt in local communities, it would be reasonable for more of the new body’s funding to come from local authorities. We greatly welcome the contribution of those local authorities, which already have contracts with BW, and will encourage others. We should like to see further work on the concept of a levy on local inhabitants, collected via the local council (but not a levy on the council itself), similar to the way fire and police services are funded. We also believe that riparian developers who benefit from the waterways should make payments under S106 or other agreements. We are disappointed that Waterways for Everyone contains no commitment on this matter.

We suggest that a group be formed so that our member organisations can work alongside BW staff to gain greater understanding of how large charities engage volunteers and raise funds. That group could also explore the potential to use our members to help form community-based support groups that comprise a broad range of users.

What Will a New BW Be Called?

We agree with Compass that a major branding exercise needs to be undertaken, building on the ‘Yours to Enjoy’ campaign. It is essential that more people be encouraged to share ‘ownership’ of BW’s waterways. The name of the new organisation will have to be market-tested, but we have no suggestions at this stage beyond the probable need to exclude the words ‘British’ and ‘waterways’!

We have long argued for more unified management of publicly-owned waterways. Therefore we strongly hope that the successor to BW will in due course provide a home, satisfactory to all, for the waterways presently managed by the Environment Agency and other navigation authorities.

We agree that the window of opportunity is very small, and offer every encouragement to make the most of this opportunity.

A United View From All British Waterways Advisory Forum Members

Both BWAF and its member organisations greatly look forward to working with you and your staff to develop these proposals. Member organisations will use their contacts and influence to the best possible effect. We wish you every success.

Yours sincerely,

NFS Stevens
Chairman, BWAF

IWAC Concerned about Outcome of Treasury Review

John Edmonds,Chair of IWAC, has written to the Rt Hon Yvette Cooper MP, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, expressing his concern about an adverse outcome of the Treasury Review being carried out by Gerry Grimstone which could result in a reduction to BWs income, and arguing that BW should allowed to retain the control of and income from, the property and investment portfolio. Full information and the text of his letter are available on the IWAC website here http://www.iwac.org.uk/news/#news61

John Edmonds spoke on this subject at the AWCC AGM held at Stafford Boat Club on 14th March 2009.

AWCC Responds to British Waterways’ Licensing Consultation

On 9th November, AWCC sent the following letter to British Waterways to represent the views of the Association on proposed changes in Boat Licencing policy.

Dear Simon,

BOAT LICENCE FEES

You will appreciate that all of the members of the BWAF Working Group spent many hours debating with BW and deliberating among themselves on the proposals now contained in this consultation.  You will understand that, whilst representing major user groups, my colleagues and I gave our advice as individuals, but with considerable personal experience and knowledge of the waterways and those who use them.

Like the other user groups, I have consulted widely among AWCC members and other boaters generally since the last WG meeting on 8 August and have established some consensus, but I find much difficulty in providing a unified result.  The following comments are an attempt to steer a useful path through what is perceived to be a mass of largely unrelated and somewhat inconsistent terms and conditions for BW licence charges that have grown over many years.

The existing T&Cs are also seen as perpetuating some unfairness to some classes of boater.  Hence, if there was one theme that came consistently from the majority of my members, it was that any revision should attempt a better balance of fairness for all boaters.  One long-term member of my own club put it succinctly by saying, “What is needed is justice and fairness for all!”

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