Will C&RT now abandon flawed licence consultation?

September 2017 - Has C&RT mislead us regarding the number of boaters who attended stage 2 licence consultation workshops? Allan Richards investigates and finds discrepancies in the figures given the Trust and Involve, the charity who ran the workshops. He also takes a look at the delayed Involve report and asks why there are no stage 3 proposals yet.

C&RT got off to a bad start with its consultation when it was revealed that it was unable to substantiate its justification for the review (Lies, damned lies and C&RT excuses).

The justification read ‘The current licensing system has remained largely unchanged for more than two decades and is often cited by boat owners as being complex and out of date’. However, the Trust subsequently confirmed that that it held no information to justify its claim that boaters felt the licensing system was 'complex and out of date’.

Furthermore, when asked what the event was, two decades ago, that led to large change in its licensing system, it cited the British Waterways 1995 Act. However, the Act did not change the licensing system at all.

Perhaps the Trust should have abandoned the consultation at stage 1. However it decided to plough on, holding nine workshops each with 15 places. It claimed that over 900 boaters accepted invitations for these 135 places (i.e 9 workshops x 15 places). ​

However, attendees suggested early workshops were poorly attended. To test this claim a request was made under the Freedom of Information. This found that initial disappointing attendance led to more invitations being sent out.

However, C&RT's response on the number attending differs from that contained in Involves report. C&RT report higher numbers of attendees at four workshops inflating the total number of attendees from 81 to 95.

Involves report states that, whilst 81 attended workshops, a further 'one hundred and six people confirmed their attendance in attendance, but did not attend a workshop.'

No reason was given as to why significantly more than half the boaters who confirmed attendance failed to show up. Perhaps some realised that the current licensing system was not complex or out of date. Others may have been put off by C&RT's sudden announcement that it was changing its licensing in the middle of the consultation anyway to deal with private hiring.

Of Stage 3, C&RT says 'The final stage will be a consultation for all boat owners to give their views on the options developed during the two previous stages. We’ll be emailing an invitation to participate in the final stage to all our boat licence holders for whom we hold email addresses, and sending invites by post to the others. The proposals will be published on our website, as well as hard copies available on request from our offices.'

So where are the options that have been developed in stage 1 and 2? They are certainly not in the 44 page Involve report or in in the 32 pages of appendices. One would have thought that the executive summary would list, say, three to five options. Instead, the report gives no less than 15 main findings. Where options are mentioned in passing it would appear that, with the exception of charging by area rather than length, there was little appetite for change.

Even with charging by area (section 2.5 of the report), support for this option was not universal - 'a substantial proportion of participants argued for retention of the current system.' Perhaps this argument is surprising when you consider C&RT's response when asked for the actual number of widebeam attendees at each workshop.

'The information you have requested ... ... is not held by the Trust as we did not ask for the dimensions on boat width when inviting participants to show interest.'

Why not? Participants were asked in question 4 of the recruitment questionnaire 'Which of the following best describes you?' but no category was provided for widebeam owners. As it was known prior to stage 2 that a change from length to area was the only option liable to get any boater support, one has to ask if the omission to invite those directly affected was deliberate.

So where do we go from here? The consultation has been going for over six months and Involves report does not support C&RT's justification for the review. Will C&RT bite the bullet and admit that boaters see no need for change? Will they investigate why over half the 186 boaters that confirmed attendance did not participate in the workshops?

In short, will they abandon the consultation?

Photos: (1st) Poor attendance figures for the consultation, (2nd) Involve say 81 attended, (3rd) C&RT say 95 attended.

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