Friday, 3 September 2010

Boaters - An afterthought in BW's thinking?

To all of you who have been sitting round waiting for my latest musings my apologies! Please blame BW because my spare time has been pre-occupied with their latest musings on the future management of directly managed residential moorings.

What are their latest thoughts? Well that's the nub of it. BW have made it clear they don't want me to tell you!

This is of course a point I have made about BW's attitude to it's boating customers in the past: BW's preference seems to be to try to make changes to the terms and conditions of boating by whatever method that ensures boaters are the last people to hear about these changes.

What has been happening is that BW only grudgingly revealed their latest intentions over the future of Houseboat Certificates and directly managed residential moorings to me in the course of an Ombudsman complaint. It is only out of respect for the Ombudsman’s good offices that I am restraining the considerable urge to publish their correspondence with me and be damned!

I have in fact written to BW recently and proposed that actually they should go public with what they now have in mind and let all the boating customers that might be effected by what they are proposing have an opportunity to comment on the proposals in advance of the event. That suggestion has to date been studiously ignored! For the moment then you are going to have to be patient while the Ombudsman muses over how she wants to work through the situation.

However these events have found echoes in a couple of other things that have happened recently.
On Narrowboatworld’s Forum I posted a comment in response to Allan's latest critique of BW 's financial situation as reflected by the latest set of annual accounts. I had a go at one contributor's suggestion that boaters should not be critical of BW as things are not that bad and BW are OK financially.

One of my assertions is that boaters should have a lot more say in the running of BW. Even my critic will allow us to consider that boaters provide at least a sixth of BW's annual income. Per capita that puts us in the position of being a major funding sector for the waterways and worthy of a significant say, disproportional to our headcount.

That leads me on to something else. A neighbour passed me a copy of the IWA's Autumn newsletter. In that Robin Evens (BW CEO) gives his 'Viewpoint' on the future of the waterways.

In the article Robin says "Overall, BW is torn in too many directions, by too many different interest groups, with too little funding and too little long term support".

I have to commend Robin for finally coming to that realisation and saying it publically. To me this is significant progress with BW thinking following their disastrous performances at the EFRA Select Committee a few years ago when Robin and Chairman, Tony Hales painted a picture in whitewash of financial loveliness and even proposed self-sufficiency as an achievable goal.

I'm not sure if this means that BW are listening to their critics or whether they have just finally noticed what to some of us has for many years has been obvious.

However what then put the dampers on this is that Robin’s article waxes on about the future of the waterways without making any comment about the position or contribution of boaters.

I can't see the words customer, boater or navigation anywhere in the two page spread.

This brings me back to another thing Robins says:

At the heart of the new charity must be a new and invigorating working relationship between its paid employees and its' supported and funders.

Well Robin, your biggest supporters and your biggest funders as a single sector are boaters. Without us you not only loose your direct fees but all the financial support we give to the waterways businesses, marina's, chandlers and all the other services we use where you are also receive income from those service providers. People who are also boaters is suggest you will find from a disproportionally high proportion of those who give volunteer time to BW and many of main waterways user groups and charities beyond boating.

You will understand that people like me think that your proposition for a new and invigorating working relationship is no more than pure spin when in reality I only get told what you are thinking about us when we pursue the issue through an Ombudsman complaint.

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