Monday, 26 October 2009

BW - Consultation or Con? A new example?

I hinted at this story in the pages of Narrowboatworld a few weeks back, (see also yesterdays' posting.) Here is the back-story to this item.

The more observant of you will have spotted a new link that I added in the last couple of weeks: Kennet and Avon Boating Community Website.

Well that site has come into being thanks mostly to my good friends at BW. (At this point I imagine anyone at BW who monitors this blog and has not found the site in among their standing Google searches, will be clicking about there!)

It turns out that BW have been out scoring own goals again and they have a tried and tested approach to this.

1. Try to impose something contentious or unpopular without being noticed* and without consulting the people most affected. (*If possible create a distraction somewhere else.)

2. Get caught trying to do said contentious or unpopular thing surreptitiously.

3. Thereby not only get it in the neck for the original decision but get everyone shouting ‘stitch up‘, thereby generating far more attention and animosity to your plans than would have otherwise arisen.

See what you make of this example.

Way back when I mentioned that BW were working up to a public consultation on national moorings policy. This in fact was my first posting here - funny how its come back to life again? The latest plan is supposedly that this will go ahead next month. As I reported previously, as a NABO Council member I get ‘privileged’ sight of the drafts and since my last post, we and other user groups have received a revised draft of the proposed consultation document. A lot of the more controversial things that were in the first draft had evaporated by the time we got the second draft.

Now, I was considering whether this meant that BW have dropped those more controversial ideas for good. Had they actually accepted and acted on the collective representations during the pre-consultation we user group folks had all in good faith been putting our time and energy to through WUSIG?

Or, as my more sceptical mind wondered, did the revised draft just mean BW have decided not to consult formally on these issues and were instead going to go ahead with them anyway in a more covert way out-with the public consultation? The answer to my fears promptly came winging its way across cyberspace.

It is no secret that there is a strong and long-established live aboard community at the western end of the Kennet and Avon Canal and that BW and others view that community as a whole as ‘a problem‘. Well BW’s decision as to how to target the problem was executed with their usual subtlety! Over the Summer they issued over a hundred and fifty formal written threats of legal action against boaters who they deem are not moving far enough to comply with their continuous cruising guidelines.

Not surprisingly this tactic got a few backs up and the blanket approach meant that more than a few boaters felt that the letters they received were unwarranted and indiscriminate. As one result I was invited to bring my NABO hat to a boaters’ meeting in Bath last month. Over fifty people turned up and the anger towards BW was quite clear. Own goal number one!

Well among other things it had by this point come to light that in tandem with their blanket threat of legal action, BW were simultaneously having meetings with local councillors from the Bathampton area about these ‘moorings problems‘. A few freedom of information enquiries by local boaters and it turns out that Simon Salem, the BW Director responsible for the forthcoming consultation on moorings policy, had sent the Head of Boating and other staff to meetings to discuss proposals for stricter time limits locally on visitor moorings. What’s wrong with doing that?

Well one thing I think is wrong about it is that at the same time as BW launched their two pronged ‘solution’ of threats of legal action and trying to further restrict access to visitors moorings in the Bathampton area, they were telling national user groups that these very tactics were supposedly still ones that were about to be subject to public consultation.

The reality turns out to be that BW were already out seeking local authority support for those same stricter moorings enforcement policies in advance of the national consultation. Two-faced or what?

I find it difficult to come to any view than that K+A boaters have caught a BW Director and his minions red-handed, actively implementing a tactic in advance of the very public consultation they claim is supposed to allow the public as whole a chance to comment on whether that tactic is appropriate? Such a fine example of ‘lets not wait for the consultation and just get on with it anyway‘, could only be generated by the oafs in charge at BW.

Even more curious the mooring strategy being discussed tentatively with local councillors it turns out is almost identical word for word to the so called ‘proposals’ in the latest draft of the proposed consultation.

In short it seems to me that BW have just been caught red handed trying to implement a proposal behind the backs of the whole boating community. Yet again they have made a farce of their so called openness and accountability policies and best of all this farce has been directed by the Director supposedly responsible for that consultation process.

This for me once more demonstrates in its full glory the contempt that the so called custodians of the lion’s share of the inland waterways have for both individual boating customers and their elected representatives. Is it any wonder we get a bit angry when they say one thing to our faces and are in fact doing something else behind our backs?

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