Issue date: 17th October 2011
IWA Conference Update
IWA has been at the Labour and Conservative conferences. IWA had organised its own private meetings with shadow and serving ministers, MPs and councilors about the waterways, and our agenda for the Canal and River Trust (previously referred to as the New Waterway Charity).
IWA is keen to see the C&RT progress, and has publically supported this move, but still retains a concern that it should not come at the detriment of the sustainability of the waterways especially for navigation matters.
IWA met with the waterways minister Richard Benyon MP for over half an hour without his officials (the real benefit of a conference meeting) and had a very detailed discussion about C&RT finance, considering the true cost of maintenance and what was needed. We fully aired our concerns about trying to do it ‘on the cheap ‘ ie without indexing, or sufficient start up money. We also drew the Minister’s attention to concerns IWA has over ongoing pension liabilities and made suggestions that these could in part at least be retained by government in respect of those who had left service. We also looked in detail at dredging as a funding and practical issue. As a keen fly fisherman and riparian owner of a substantial part of the Kennet & Avon Canal, the Minister was fully aware of the problems of siltation and how boat movements can churn up sediment, and contaminate pristine stretches of the river, but fully understands this isn’t due to the boats per se, but to the lack of dredging being undertaken. IWA discussed the true costs involved and how BW was seriously falling behind on this important task. We also considered how it seemed incongruous that the new charity should be responsible for motor vehicle damage incurred to their bridges, and that this may be an issue to pass on to another government department. He undertook along with the other matters to go away and look at them with his officials, and also his own Secretary of State.
We also discussed the proposals to integrate the EA. We had previously spoken to him about our ideas, following our extensive lobbying. We were pleased to learn that IWA had won the argument. He indicated that he fully endorsed and supported our arguments (which at the time went against all other organizations views and advice). Now however, most accept IWA’s position that the EA is right for integration as part of one national body in the C&RT.
We offered our continuing support for this process and offered our help. We also suggested that whilst Defra, EA and BW were all under his purview he might like to look at un-red-taping operations and looking at a working task group to consider what makes doing certain operations on the waterways, especially dredging, so expensive and to find ways of un hindering them to sensibly reduce costs; ie if river dredging is specifically exempted from EA regulation why not rural canal dredging, etc. He seemed very keen on the suggestion.
The Minister was happy to write himself an aide memoire of a full page of notes concerning our views and concerns.
What IWA will try to ensure is that BW does not get its new status at any cost, ie that it doesn't play down the actual cost of what it needs to government in return for more autonomy and freedom from government.
IWA has also started to have meetings with the new trustees individually, as part of the boating alliance team, and as part of the British Waterways Advisory Forum. We are targeting funding as our number one priority, and will be following up our meetings with the Minister and shadow Minister personally by a series of specific targeted briefings and then ‘man-marking’ key C&RT trustees as they start the funding settlement negotiation proper.
How Can Members and Branches Help?
We have prepared a simple and effective briefing note for local MPs to your area informing them of the key issues and requesting that they support this issue when it comes up for debate in the House. www.waterways.org.uk/pdf/mp_briefing_2011
Please consder writing to your riparian MPs and explain how much the waterways mean to you, and that this important issue is progressing in the House, and ask that they write to the Minister in support of the suggestions that IWA makes in the briefing regarding, in particular, indexation of the funding and the retention of pension liabilities as these are the most impactful and least likely to be resisted by Treasury.
What Else Will IWA be Doing ?
IWA acts as secretary to the All Party Parliamentary Waterways Group, and as such we will be working with the chair to recall the group and invite the Minister to an inquisitorial discussion on the C&RT and his views and proposals following the release of the new charity consultation response.
We know the matter is being closely looked at in Government as we have been asked by Defra for copies of the Group's report to append to an official report being compiled in the Department.
We will also be working closely with the shadow Minister for waterways and friendly MPs to ask a suite of questions intended to mark out the key issues of concern in the house and gently keep the funding issue firmly in the Minister’s and officials’ view.