Monday, 26 December 2011

British Waterways ends the year as it started

It's that Boxing Day vibe. Not too much rushing about and a bit of reflection. Looking back through these pages I see that I started 2011 with a personal dig at BW Chairman Tony Hales. A year later on I stand by those words, because I see no change of attitude, especially when I look at British Waterways' track record through the year.

In that post I commented on the huge frustration I felt as a NABO Council member over BW's prevarication over responding to our legal complaint, the core of which was concern about some of the seemingly draconian and potentially unlawful proposals BW was attempting to impose on boaters through their unilateral and un-consulted changes to Licence conditions during 2008. Where are we at a year later?

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Is the Canal and Rivers Trust going to mortgage the waterways?

My recent post alluding to the point of view that in fact the waterways are about to be privatised was somewhat tongue in cheek. However like most jokes, there is an element of worrying truth in there somewhere.

One of the key points that is being touted in favour of the proposed transition of British Waterways to the Canals and River Trust is that the new body will have more scope to raise funds. However everyone seems to be conveniently overlooking a potentially very sinister change in BW's powers that hides behind that proposed liberalisation of BW's financial powers. In Hansard's written replies last week Richard Benyon, the Waterways Minister, said

22 Nov 2011 : Column 304W
The transfer of British Waterways to the charitable sector creates new opportunities for growing income from private and commercial sources, making efficiencies and forming supportive partnerships. The charity will also be able to borrow against its assets and so expand income in the longer term.


Given the current managments' mixed record on making successful investments, do we really trust these people with the power to mortgage the waterways in order to make more speculative investments?

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

How much do boat owners contribute to British Waterways' property income?

I don't know the answer to this question though I have wondered from some time. When I had my NABO hat on in the last few days the question of how much boaters already contribute financially to the waterways was in my mind. So now I have asked.

What I do notice is that when asked questions about how much boaters contribute financially to BW, the figures referred to are usually based only on the direct income that boaters contribute to BW as per the Annual Report and accounts.
  • Boat licence income - 17.4M
  • BW moorings - 6.3 M
  • BWML total income - 6.6M
(Source Page 31 in BW 2010/11 Accounts)

So direct income from boaters last year was £30.3 million or 17.2% of BW's gross income. These are direct payments from boaters but what about the indirect payments that boaters make to those waterside businesses that in turn BW get a cut from?

It will be interesting to see the numbers and understand better how much of BW's commercial income from property is in fact derived indirectly from boaters pockets.

(Old rant about where my mooring fees do and don't go) 

Addendum - 22 January 2012 - As anyone who has used the link to my FOI on this will see, BW has answered and say that an additional £4.7M of their annual income comes from businesses whose primary customers are boaters. Add this to the the figures above and we have confirmation that Boaters provide at least 20% of BW's annual income worth around £35 million pa at last year's rates.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

More Boaters voice concerns about the Canal and River Trust

Life has been a bit hectic (but all positive) hence nothing new here for a few days. Like a lot of other boaters I have an ongoing feeling that CRT is a done deal and that what boaters have to say on the subject is not getting the airtime it should do, not least when one considers the financial contributions we make to the waterways. I am still left feeling that I am being asked to feed the hand that bites me and that we boaters continue to be seen by some in BW as a problem rather than an ally.

One thing that reassured me that I am not completely out on a limb in my thinking  was the appearance of the Boaters' Manifesto.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Feeding the hand that bites you

A slight rant today but I feel the need to say this. I was reminded of the above epithet which, I think I saw from someone else on-line on the same issue, when I saw this morning, the 'Biking for Bonuses' article from Narrowboatworld's Alan Richards in which he has highlighted an example of what is for myself and many a fundamental problem with the New Waterways Charity. I don't know and haven't met BW's new head of Fundraising and whether she or someone else is the originator of the idea that hard pressed staff members should pay an entry fee and give up annual leave to take part in a fundraising event for the NWC, I also don't know.

However I take the same sort of view as Alan, that who ever is responsible for this is on a another planet. Alan says it all in his article. By simply not standing firm and not paying the directors bonuses as previously agreed the BW Remuneration Committee has put a huge obstacle to any fundraising.

Monday, 31 October 2011

British Waterways bans people with Children or who work from Continuously Cruising?

Now I have seen a few pretty weird things from BW over the years but I have to say this tops the list: Just noticed what on the face of it seem to be a rather sinister statement on their Waterscape website:
continuously cruising
You will not usually be issued with a licence unless you have a permanent mooring. However, if you have no ties (such as jobs or children at school), you can opt to cruise canals continuously, never staying at the same place for more than a fortnight. British Waterways has a special set of guidelines for such boaters.

The message seem to be, if you are a Continuous Cruiser don't let BW know if you work or have children: they might revoke your Licence?

Credit when due

In response to my complaint last week BW have corrected their licencing pages on the issue of eligiblity to apply for a Houseboat Certificate.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

British Waterways is still misleading residential mooring customers

Despite my successful complaint and the Ombudsman's involvement, British Waterways it seems still persists in deceiving Residential Boaters. Their web page as of today says:

If the boat is a houseboat (see General Licence Conditions - Definitions 1.4) which is not used for navigation, and ...
If you use the boat for navigation, you should purchase a Standard Boat Licence.


As I have pointed out you are allowed to cruise just on a Houseboat licence and moving your boat should not exclude you from enjoying the additional protection you should be entitled through by having a Houseboat Certificate.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

British Waterways prefer to forego income rather than lose face?

Another boater and I were laughing about this earlier this week and a good joke is always worth sharing: BW's residential moorings at Engineer's Wharf.

Anyone who knows London Canals will know that the moorings in question are sited near Yeading on the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal. Like many good jokes however the underlying truth is less comfortable and again goes to question the honesty or lack thereof with which the BW system of Moorings auctions is implemented.

Message for Anton

Just to say hi to Anton who posted a personal boating question as a comment last week. I won't answer that through the blog but you can contact me through NABO if you still want to discuss that.

Friday, 7 October 2011

New Name for Britain’s New Waterways Charity

Away from the official launch, waterways campaigners were celebrating their new name for the proposed waterways charity which will replace British Waterways and planned to come into being next April Fool’s day. After many months consulting it has been confirmed that the new waterways charity will be known as Canals and Rivers Are Privatised (CRAP).

A spokesman commented that “we consulted widely on the correct name to adopt and after speaking to many stakeholders and other waterways users we feel we have found a solution that will work going forward.” The chairman of the transition trustees is reported as confirming his view that, “The new name represents what our waterways mean to so many people.”

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Waiting for the train that never comes

Going through old paperwork today I discovered that next week will be the ninth anniversary of my first serious questioning of British Waterways about terms and conditions for their residential mooring customers. As of today the question is still open. Along the way:

  • Several Ombudsman Complaints in my favour.
  • A Government Public Consultation
  • A Select Committee
  • BW unilaterally abandoning the Working Group supposed to address these issues
  • Files full of correspondence and broken promises from BW starting with the Chairman Tony Hales
  • Government Departments ducking the question and passing the buck between themselves
Still British Waterways seem unwilling to provide me with and other residential customers with the full written terms and conditions that a previous Ombudsman said I was entitled to.

I wonder if BW can string it out another year and make double figures?

Saturday, 1 October 2011

London Mushrooms

You would not know that there is a local User Group meeting in London next week from the British Waterways website if you look today. I noticed this point while looking into something in advance of the meeting. So much to involvement and openness if one of the supposed few public lines of accountability into BW is not being publicly advertised. Given that BW may shortly correct this omission I have taken a copy...* As you can see: no mention that I can find that there is an upcoming meeting.

For those who might be interested the meeting is due to be held on Weds 05 October at the Pirate Club in Camden at 7 pm.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

British Waterways can't manage the proverbial in a brewery?

Not my words this time, though it has to be said that the same thought has passed through my mind:  David Bruce, The President of the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust has reportedly launched a swingeing attack on British Waterways Management according to another waterways blogger, KAcanaltimes.

Well done Mr Bruce. If British Waterways are true to form, BW's King-of Spin, Simon Salem will be sitting outside Mr Bruce's house right now and/or on the phone to Mr Bruce trying to gain entry to attempt to calm the waters and persuade Mr Bruce of the error of his ways. Looking at Mr Bruce's CV I doubt it will do any good.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Got the hump with British Waterways?

How effectively (or not) BW spends money has always been a bone of contention with me. My main complaints recently have been about BW Directors remuneration despite their many high level failures and the failing state of BW's finances. However week in, week out, there is lots of small scale stuff which I don't report on here. Anyone with a Goggle search or the like will see them coming up in their results especially in regional and local press items.

Given that it's clearly full steam ahead with the New Waterways Charity (NWC),  it's important that local consultation issues on the day to day running of the waterways aren't overlooked and here's one that popped up today: Speed bumps that don't work have apparently been installed on London towpaths (at whatever expense). Lots of small recumbent white elephants?

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Raw deal for British Waterways mooring customers

Most of you will realise that the I take some interest in the issue of Moorings. I'm quite unashamed about giving BW a hard time when they don't perform, especially when like me you are paying a premium rate for what I say is too often a poor service.

I always have a close read of the Waterways Ombudsman's annual report so was pleased this year to see that Ms Bainbridge has again highlighted two areas of longstanding concern to me. Lack of independent scrutiny of the charges we pay and more worryingly what I characterise as BW's persistent unwillingness to be clear about we mooring customers get for out money.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Still Here, quietly fuming away!

Hello everyone. Still here if a little silent on the blog. Lots going on as ever but where to start? Probably the latest BW Consultation Con?

The BW River Lee Consultation results = how to re-invent the wheel c/o BW: Having been assured by BW that Roving Moorings permits were off the table they are now back on.

BW also seem to be doing the old emotional blackmail thing on the side.The implication of their responses to the consultation seems to indicate that that they will only improve facilities in the area if everyone agrees to accept Roving Moorings permits?

For me this is a major step backwards because it goes back to the underlying prejudice that it is people without home moorings = Continuous Cruisers, who 'should' be the ones targeted by introducing charges for mooring in ways which are presently entirely free and lawful. Is the converse true?

If as BW propose improved facilities will only be funded by anyone who takes out a roving moorings permits, does that mean that those with moorings will not be allowed to use the facilities so provided, as they have not paid for them?

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Pest Control updates

Two more recent takes on BW Directors' salaries from Narrowboatworld and UNITE.

Ironically the Mark Benstead also got given an OBE for services to the waterways.
(Other buXXers efforts?)

Monday, 1 August 2011

What it will cost us to eradicate the parasites

Like many others I am picking over the latest British Waterways annual report. One thing I have spotted is a new section in the Directors Remuneration Report (pp 48 ff) setting out the notice periods that the current Directors are entitled to. The short answer is that if BW or its successor want to get rid of a director they potentially get a years salary!

I would like to think that this is writing on the wall for some BW Directors?!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Lesson for a New Golden Age?

Like many I was impressed and informed by the BBC's recent documentary, the Golden Age of Canals.

Two things struck me in the documentary:
  • The primacy of restoring and maintaining the navigation.
  • The fact that all this happened by direct action from canal enthusiasts and the pioneer leisure boaters, despite a routinely obstructive and hostile navigation authority.
These themes are two things I spend so much of my life trying to pursue, so it's good to have a positive reality check and realise that I and many others are not far out of line with the prioirties of the original pioneers, when we harp on about the much smaller battles we seem to have to fight these days.

Pleased to hear Tom Chaplin's comment on one of the pioneers. "... he was told he wasn't meant to and he just did it."

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Compare and Contrast

BW have just offered a post for recruitment - a waterways operative on the K+A. The salary offered, £13-18k pa. If anyone doesn't know, the waterways operatives are the people on the front line maintaining and managing the waterways day-to-day.

Robin Evans' (Chief Executive) received a package in 2009/10 of £233k (and was sitting on a pension pot just shy of £1.4 million pounds).

This suggests that you could, if you sack Robin, replace him with around 15 additional operatives on the front line.

How would you like to see the money spent? I know what I think.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

At least some people in BW take maintenance seriously

I frequently have a go at BW over maintenance so it's nice to report something positive. Site meeting last week where defective lights were pointed out: All checked and repaired within a week. Thanks are due to BW's London's Laura Raine. As ever the front line staff are doing well in spite of the idiots they have to work for!

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Poor omen for BW's volunteering aspirations

A beautiful juxtaposition has come to light - we have two volunteering events organised on the same day in West London next weekend. British Waterways invited me through a direct mailing list to take part in a locally organised Towpath Tidy at Kensal Green next weekend, 18th June. I offered my services copying the e-mail to my contact at Thames 21 one who already organise similar event across London Waterways. The response from Thames 21 was "What’s the, Kensal Green event?"

It turns out BW has seemingly not spoken to Thames 21 to seek their support in engaging existing Canalkeeper volunteers like me.

Even better if BW had checked the date with Thames21 in advance they might have realised as I now do that there is already a pre-organised clean up event at Hanwell Locks (see June 18th entry) organised by Thames 21 on the same day. This doesn't fill me full of confidence about BW's proposals to seek more input from volunteers when they can't coordinate with existing resources?

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Why I don't feel like a valued customer

The current DEFRA consultation on the future structure of BW closes at the ended of the month and I have been reviewing lots of my file records over the past few days both in connection with that and my more more personal ongoing 'discussions' with BW and others about the better management of the Houseboat Certificate Scheme. I also started a thread on a waterways forum to see if I could get some views on one aspect of the ongoing question of how BW proposes better managing visitor moorings.

The common thread in all this is the reflection that these and many other boating related issues have been debated yet remain unresolved over many years. Maybe I'm just getting too bitter and twisted but it strikes me that in a variety of ways, this amounts to solid evidence of BW's continuing failure to achieve what we are supposed in management speak to call "positive outcomes".

Thursday, 9 June 2011

The continuing joke of BW moorings maintenance

In December the Ombudsman made a ruling against BW in connection with one of my neighbours' wider complaint about maintenance on our mooring. 6 months later one of the repairs she recomended  be undertaken has still not been carried out!

A notional prize* will be awarded for anyone who can guess what this sign is supposed to say or do?

It seem BW's moorings service has declined so far that they can't even afford to carry out Ombudsman recommendations?

(* PS - the answer to the 'competition' is now available here.)

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Welcome to the parish of Smoke on the Water

Simon Satan spokesman for the Smoke on the Water Parish Council in the county of Glossitover was interviewed on local radio in the last week about the Parish Councillors' radical new approach to parking management.

"We have decided we don't like the look of some of the people who park in our village and so we have resolved to make the whole village out with yellow lines.

A little bit of Thames boating

The relative silence for a few weeks can in part be excused by what we in NABO Council call "always a valid excuse for not...": I've been away boating! Just been with my friend crewing his Dutch Barge from Goring on the Thames back to London. It's good to remember that despite all the blustering here, getting out on the waterways in a boat is ultimately what makes sense of it all.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Can't see the elephant for the smoke and mirrors?

I have long described the absence of a realistic and transparent financial picture of BW's affairs as being an elephant in the room that BW have been doing their best to deny with 'smoke and mirrors'. Allan Richards hit the mark for me in his article revealing that in response to his FOI request DEFRA apparently don't have current figures about the maintenance costs of the waterways.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Social Cleansing continues?

Nice to see a bit of the mainstream media again picking up on some of the current issues: Guardian Article, 27 April.

The Guardian of course picked up on this a few weeks ago. In the item on the River Lea and Olympics. Despite a subsequent 'correction' and a letter from the much misunderstood Sally Ash of BW the cat is out of the bag: "Some people will have to suffer".

Temporary Visitors Moorings for the Olympics are now for sale at various locations on London's canals via BW's Waterscape site.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

River Lee and Olympics

Just a quick hello to highlight the London Boaters' website:

A particulalrly useful section here is the Documents section, which shows in some detail the way BW go about arguing these things.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Secret war a secret no longer

I claimed last year that I thought BW was continuing its long standing tacit policy to price out residential boaters through a process of exclusion and gentrification. In a remarakable statement reported in the Guardian, BW's Head of Boating Sally Ash confirms this in the starkest terms:

"... we have to control the number of boats, which have increased by 40% over the last four years on the Lea. The only way we can do this is through price, and some people will have to suffer."

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Snouts in the trough while frontline staff face more redundancies

The ridiculous and unjustifiable salaries of some of BW's Directors have again been highlighted this week and well done Narrowboatworld for running with this. More front line redundancies are in the pipeline while BW's directors continue to be paid vast sums of our money for sitting on top of an organisation which on their own reckoning is running at a £30 million a year shortfall. It's heartening to see that other boaters and canal enthusiasts are waking up to this one, even if most of the National User groups remain too cowed and fearful to speak out too strongly on this elephant in the room.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

The Continuous Cruising myth

That Continuous Cruisers are the main culprits when it comes to overstaying on visitors moorings is a myth that BW continue to perpetuate in order to justify differential charges and other targeting of Continuous Cruisers.

Many Boaters in the boating forums rail about Continuous Cruisers in this way too. I was therefore very relieved when a glimmer of reality pierced through the prejudice and outright bigotry one too often reads in such forums when one contributor bothered asking the question, "what's the evidence"?

The answer is, NONE!

Beyond that, when challenged, the evidence BW have supplied to date, seems to prove that very point!

Friday, 14 January 2011

Several potential new members of the doubters club?

Good to see someone in politics is not wholly convinced by all the spin. Nice to know one's not the only one with concerns on this front!

I can hear them muttering in Watford right now: "Who do they think they are suggesting that British Waterways and it's successor needs independent scrutiny?" 

Sunday, 9 January 2011

What a hypocite!

Happy New Year to everyone. I was sitting here thinking about saying hello again after a silent period and wondering what there was to say at the moment when Victor's latest column in Narrowboatworld hit my buttons.

Due to work commitments I couldn't get to the BW AGM this year and it may have been a good thing having just read the report of Tony Hales' comments:

To the knockers who can only find ill to say or blog, I say you not only diminish the achievements of my colleagues, but you also diminish the achievements of so many dedicated partners, including so many passionate campaigners and contributors from the boating world. 

All I can say is , if you really said this, you are at best completely ignorant of what your directors are doing Mr Hales!  At worst you are a bare faced hypocrite.