C&RT's Annual Report: Spin v facts

July 2017 - C&RT's launch of of its Annual Report on 24 July, some 12 weeks after its financial year end, is a drab affair. In previous years we have been treated to web pages filled with multicoloured charts and graphs. This year we have just a monochrome press release which attempts to deflect from the Trust's failures by concentrating on supposed successes over its first five years. Allan Richards unspins a small sample of the more fanciful claims by reference to C&RT's Annual Report, previous Annual Reports and published board papers.

C&RT's press release states - 'Since launching in 2012, the Canal & River Trust has made a valuable input to the waterways and communities it serves.' C&RT's 'successes' follow in the form of a list of bullet points. Here is the first 'success' -

Increased annual visitor numbers by 33 per cent to 396m ...

Leaving aside that C&RT appears to be confusing 'visits' and 'visitors' and that it has in the past claimed over 400m visits per year, the fact is that C&RT does not measure its performance on this basis but on 'average visitors per two week period'. Before continuing, it might be best explain why this rather peculiar measure is used.

For many years, C&RT and its predecessor, British Waterways, have published figures from a monthly rolling telephone survey, the Inland Waterways Visit Survey (or IWVS). The telephone survey asks a random sample of the population if they have visited a waterway in the previous two weeks (the reason for the time limit is that people tend to forget if a longer period is specified!). The answer is extrapolated to give a figure for the population as a whole. The 'whole population' figure for each of twelve consecutive months is totalled and then divided by twelve to give 'average visitors per two week period' for over a year.

C&RT's Key Performance Indicators (KPI's) for 2016/17 (and previous years) include 'average visitors per two week period'. Achievement against KPI target is reported to the board bi-monthly. The 2016/17 KPI target was set as 4.7m. This can be verified by reference to board papers and also page 5 of the annual report - see the right hand column in the line 'Regular visitor numbers to reach each fortnight (from our monthly surveys)'. That same line (see the snip of the page) shows that achievement against a 4.7m target was just 4.3m. It also shows that this 4.3m is less than the previous year's achievement – 4.4m...

So a fail against target and a fail against the previous year. Perhaps a comparison with British Waterways will show C&RT in a good light. Unfortunately not; suffice to say, if you examine BW's annual report for 2009/10 (page 8) you will find that BW has achieved 4.3m visitors as well.

But what about C&RT's claim of increasing visitor numbers by 33 per cent in its first five years, albeit not based on the KPI target set. If C&RT had read BW's 2009/10 Annual Report (page 7), it would have found the increase claimed was less than BW's over the same timeframe. From BW's Annual Report - ' ... since 2004 we have increased visitor numbers by 48 per cent.'

Turning to another of C&RT's claims in its Annual Report press release - Numbers of Friends have grown to 22,000 and donations are now £2.9m p.a.

This claim is both untrue in the first part and misleading in both parts. Page 5 of the Annual Report gives the truth of the matter showing that C&RT failed to reach its KPI target of 22,500, only achieving 20,600 (rather than the 22,000 claimed).

However, this is not the first time that friends figures have been artificially inflated. In the 2014/15 Annual report, chair Tony Hales claimed over 11,000 friends. The actual figure given elsewhere (including the following Annual Report) showed he had inflated the figure which was below 10,000 (9,754 is the actual figure according to board papers with the following annual report confirming that the figure was less than 10,000).

​Why is it that C&RT feel compelled to mislead by claiming 22,000 rather than telling the truth? And why do they still do it knowing that they have been caught out doing similar in the past?

One also has to ask why C&RT is setting itself such low targets. The Trust has consistently stated its ambition to recruit 100,000 Friends in its first ten years so why a target of 22,500 after five years? Why not 50,000? After all we are at the half way point of five years ...

Before leaving Friends numbers and turning to donations, it is worth pointing out that C&RT increased its number of Friends by 6,046 in 2015/16 but only by 4,800 in 2016/17. Bearing in mind that C&RT should be getting better at recruiting and retention, this does not bode well for the future.

Regarding donations, the Annual Report (Page 76) shows income from donations (and legacies) to be £2.9m. However, it also shows the expenditure on raising this income to be £3.7m. As with all previous years, C&RT made a loss on donations - this time £800,000. Cumulative losses for C&RT's first five years now stand at £5.0m as predicted by The Floater back in May (Will C&RT ever have100,000 Friends?).

C&RT's latest Annual Report (page 33) states 'The Trust is unusual in the charity sector as it generates around 60 per cent of its income from commercial sources with just over 1 per cent from donations.' Perhaps, it should be more to the point and say 'The Trust is unique in the charity sector being the only large charity that loses money every year attracting donors …'

To sum up (and for those whose eyes gloss over when presented with masses of figures) -

SPIN - Increased annual visitor numbers by 33 per cent to 396m ...

FACT - C&RT's claim is not based on its published KPI target figures.

FACT - C&RT failed to make target on visitor numbers last year.

FACT - Visitor numbers were actually down in 2016/17 compared to the year before.

FACT - C&RT visitor numbers in 2016/17 were the same as BW visitor numbers in 2009/10.

FACT - C&RT's claim of a 33 per cent increase in visitor numbers over five years is eclipsed by BW's 48 per cent over a similar timeframe.

SPIN - Numbers of Friends have grown to 22,000 and donations are now £2.9m p.a.

FACT - C&RT's 2016/17 Annual Report states Friends grew to 20,600 (rather than the 22,000 claimed)

FACT - This is not the first time that C&RT have made inflated claims regarding number of Friends

FACT - C&RT failed to meet its Friends target of 22,500

FACT - C&RT's ambition of 100,000 Friends over ten years equates to an increase in Friends of 10,000 per year. On this basis they should now have 50,000 Friends after five years rather than 20,600.

FACT - C&RT's ability to recruit and retain Friends fell by 20 per cent last year compared to 2015/16.

FACT - For the fifth year running C&RT lost money in attracting donors.

FACT - To date, C&RT has lost £5m attempting to attract donors.

FACT - In 2016/17 it spent £1.27 for each pound raised in donations.

Just two examples of how C&RT attempts to put a positive spin on its failures. C&RT sets KPI's which are monitored by its board on a bi-monthly basis. However, failure to meet its yearly targets is hidden away in a 100+ page Annual Report whilst a press release seeks to turn these failures into success stories.

UPDATE: By Allan Richards -

Just after publication this a.m., I was made aware that C&RT's Trustees were told at the Board Meeting in April this year that the KPI target for 'average visits per two week period' was 4.75m rather than the 4.7m given in the Annual Report (and my article). The achievement against target, 4.3m, remains unchanged.

Whilst this shows C&RT in a slightly worse position against target, I have not asked the Editor to change the article as every other document I have seen gives the lower figure.

Photos: Extracts from the CRT annual report.

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