The Floater is back - with predictions for 2018

January 2018 - What will 2018 bring for boaters on the UK's waterways? We have been taking a look at the trends developing in Milton Keynes Towers and elsewhere and here is what we think you need to be looking out for this year.

The most blatant and obvious trend is Canal & River Trust's efforts to distance itself from running a navigation and dealing with the needs of boaters in order to portray itself as some sort of 'wellbeing' charity devoted to improving the lives of all other sections of the population.

There has already been a big and expensive report attempting to chart how C&RT's canals and rivers impact on the 'wellbeing' of the people who live nearby, with estimates of visitor numbers varying widely and growing exponentially as the Trust's directors attempt to prove to government they should continue to get lots of money.

Richard Parry and his merry band of trustees – increasingly divorced from waterways and boating – know that a Tory government will want to be able to claim it has forced any recipient of cash to produce 'better value for the taxpayer' and that goes a long way to explain the recent cull of directors and the amalgamation of waterways into fewer super regions.

It may put waterways managers ( or will they be regional directors? ) still further away from users, especially boaters, but it will be claimed to be be 'more efficient'.

More contractors

At the same time a Tory government smiles on private profit so we can expect to see a continuation of the trend of hiving more and more work off to private contractors – allowing them to make a profit out of a public asset – while diminishing C&RT's ability to do work in-house and shedding valuable skills.

Most of the engineering and maintenance work has already gone and The Floater suspects that data logging of boats and enforcement will be the next to be traded off to some sort of commercial parking firm, meaning boaters won't even be able to interact face-to-face with Trust employees anywhere on the bank.

However, it would not be surprising to see the whole moorings operation, including sales of permanent moorings, being contracted out.

Parry in retreat

In the meantime, Richard Parry, who used to pride himself on his public accessibility will continue his retreat behind a smokescreen of spin doctors, increasinly unwilling to answer for the way both the waterways and communications with boaters are being impacted by the switch to 'wellbeing'.

It would be great to think that something positive for boaters will result but it is difficult to see what that might be. Instead we will suffer increasing secrecy, a steady refusal to provide important information and a tendency to dissemble and even lie in order to claim legitimacy and support from boaters and their organisations.

Protector Report

Under the 2012 Grant Agreement between Defra and C&RT, the parties jointly appoint a Protector to monitor compliance with Schedule 8 of that agreement. In particular, the Protector ensures that 'Protected Assets' (i.e. Investment Assets and Protected Operational Assets) are properly used. The Protector's Report for 2016/17 has not been published some nine months after year end. Defra have been asked to provide a copy.

The prediction is that – when the Protector's Report is finally made public – it will comment both on C&RT's pension fund deficit and its massive borrowing during the year.

Waterway Partnerships

Few Waterway Partnership members or chairs will survive the reduction in the number of Waterway Regions from 10 to 6. However, Waterway Partnerships will be retained, even though they have failed almost competely in meeting their original objectives.

Section 77

It is a criminal offence under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 Section 77 to deliberately destroy, alter or conceal requested information to prevent it being released. Both individuals and authorities can be charged for breaching the Act in this manner.

Unless C&RT take almost immediate action, later this year, the Information Commissioner will decide if C&RT and/or one of its directors has breached Section 77 and if it is in the public interest to prosecute.

EA Merger

Defra will drag its heels regarding C&RT's bid to take over EA waterways. Despite the IWA's frantic lobbying, it will eventually kick the idea into touch again on cost grounds.

Defra will then refuse to publish C&RT's bid document, in the spirit of secrecy that has become a hallmark of both organisations.


C&RT will push ahead with plans to licence craft based on area rather than length. It will do so using the complex formula it added to the licence consultation after the initial two stages. As a result the licence review that C&RT claimed would simplify the system will result in a more complex and arguably less fair system – a result many would say was completerly predictable – that no boater wants.

Executive team

Having reduced executive headcount by two in 2017, a further executive will 'step down' in 2018.

And finally 'Friends'

Recruiting and keeping 'Friends' of a company like Canal & River Trust – even when it claims charitable status – was always going to be difficult and the various schemes used have been consistent only in failing to meet targets set.
The truth is that C&RT is failing and will continue to fail to engage the sympathy of the public when all that is on offer is a couple of free books and the opportunity to hand over some cash.

Membership schemes like the National Trust give members a say, as well as offering something for their cash that is not otherwise publicly available.

There is no sign of C&RT giving any sort of democratic role for friends – even that given to boaters is meaningless – and we predict the Trust will continue to miss targets and that the whole Friends scheme will carry on losing money, seen over the whole period of the Trust, as it costs more to recruit Friends than they produce in donations.

Photos: (1st) The shape of things to come - wellbeing will come before navigation, (2nd) It takes months and a Freedom of Information request before C&RT admits it has been misleading, (3rd) Richard Parry in retreat from contact with boaters, (4th) Julie Sharman now has direct responsibility for boating rather than Richard Parry, (5th) New IWA chair Ivor Caplan may well be disappointed over the C&RT bid to take on EA waters.

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