Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Winds of change at Canal and River Trust?

For many of us the most significant change happening on the waterways at the moment is the retirement of Sally Ash, CRT's Head of Boating and so I read the Kennet and Avon Boaters (KANDA) 'retrospective' on Sally's recent activities at BW and CRT with a mixture of amusement and sadness. I have to say that KANDA's article strongly resonates with my experience of and frustration with many aspects of boating politics over the last decade.

Where I would differ or perhaps add to the KANDA critique is to observe that it is too easy to blame one individual for the history of events. One must not forget that we are talking about the relationship of boaters with the whole organisation that was BW and now is CRT. While Sally has been the lightning rod for much dissatisfaction about boating management and policy, (and undoubtedly directly contributed to many of the problems), don't forget, she was not alone.

Her post was only in the third tier (or the fourth tier if you include the Boards/Trustees) and one must not forget that those more senior than Sally have sat back and as I would characterise it, left her to run amok, if not actually encouraged her to do so. With this in mind two recent items have particularly caught my attention.

First the announcement that CRT are creating a new Head of Customer Service. However the more significant bit of this announcement for me is that this new post will report directly to CEO Richard Parry. Simon Salem, who I have long held to be the puppet master and the architect of many of BW 's past divide and rule tactics against boaters is to be removed from that particular chain of command. That makes me for one very happy.

Simon was the person most in a position to moderate some of Sally's more extreme moments but has consistently sat back and let her get on with it, if not actively encouraged her.  In this he has failed not only boaters but I say has failed in his line management duties towards his subordinate and the organisation as a whole. The consistent scapegoat-ing of continuous cruisers as the source of all trouble when it comes to mooring issues is in my view a particularly insidious tactic that Simon and the whole senior management of BW (and to some extent the CRT trustees) have persistently endorsed. Whoever the true author was, Simon has played a very active hand in promoting that agenda to other directors and the BW Board and more recently to CRT Trustees and to the world at large.

Unfortunately the whole premise on which BW and CRT have based much of their policy towards moorings and general boating is based on a lie and it is significant to me that by far the most read postings on this blog (as of today) are three of my critiques on these issues. In 2009 I countered a then lie that CC'rs are a disproportionate cost to the waterways; in 2011 I wrote a piece deconstructing the myth that CC'rs are the main culprit when it come to overstaying (my 'most read' article) and in 2013 I highlighted the ongoing lack of evidence based policy making in this area.

So to the second bit of 'news' that caught my eye this week; a practical effect of all this was reflected in the initial findings of NABO's recent survey of boaters, as reported on the front page of Towpath Talk. I was particularly pleased by this: Having stood back from NABO Council this year I had no involvement in this survey other than submitting my personal thoughts as a NABO member. It is therefore particularly striking to see that others also think that the the constant tinkering with licence terms and conditions and other mooring 'rules' that we have seen over the last decade (largely on the back of the 'lie' I refer to above), has been counter-productive and alienating with many boaters. (See also 'Revealing responses' down the page here.)

I have on a number of occasions made the point that boaters should be CRT's biggest ally and friend, but that this key relationship is presently often not just sour, but mutually hostile, as characterised by me in the phrase 'feeding the hand that bites you'.

The winds of change in the title of this posting do however finally seem to be afoot, and simply looking at some of the criticisms I made in that 'hand that bites you' article, a number of those have it seems been moved on. The more obscene speculating activities in  the property portfolio have it seems been moderated. Executive bonuses and salaries have been trimmed. Despite feeling like drawing teeth, repairs are slowly being done on my mooring and we creep towards seeing comprehensive written term and conditions for mooring customers, (it has to be said, more so now that these things are no longer in Sally and Simon's portfolio).

One hopes that some new brooms dealing with this part of CRT's business will sweep cleaner?

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