IWA Campaigns to Fill £40m Funding Gap in Government Response to the NWC Consultation

Issue date: 21st September 2011

The Government has published its response to the consultation on the proposals to move British Waterways in England and Wales from being a public corporation to a New Waterways Charity (NWC). 

More than 350 responses were received on the consultation from individuals and organisations, including a detailed submission from IWA. 

On funding, much has been said by IWA leading up to and during the consultation, and the All Party Parliamentary Waterways Group has also supported IWA concerns over insufficient funding. There are several references in the response by Defra to the government funding contract being negotiated with the trustees in the autumn of 2011. This can only be regarded as implicit acceptance by Government that IWA’s assertions over inadequate funding have been fully or partly justified.

On efficiencies, the most common suggestions in the consultation were to review remuneration of senior staff, make more effective use of volunteers, prioritise preventative maintenance, and minimise rebranding costs.

Defra indicates that over the coming months the Transition Trustees will be preparing NWC’s first three year business plan, which will include any proposals to develop new income streams and further efficiencies.

On charitable income, Defra admits that BW's original charitable income projections, although based on market research conducted during the recession, remain hypothetical and the Impact Assessment recognises this by assuming, in its central case, that only 75% of these projections are realised. It also adopts an even more pessimistic 50% achievement in its sensitivity analysis. The key conclusion in the Impact Assessment, is that, in social cost-benefit terms, the charity will always bring a better outcome, other things being equal, than retention of the network in the public sector.

Defra maintains that the valuation of greater use of volunteers in the Impact Assessment is not intended to imply direct substitution of paid staff. Volunteers will enable the charity to do more and it is this ‘added value’ which has been captured here.

On the final agreement for funding however, Defra indicates that  ‘A revised and final version of the Impact Assessment will be published later in the autumn, following the negotiations between Government and the Transition Trustees on the government funding contract’.

IWA is continuing to lobby NWC's transition trustees and all the political parties to support the argument for more funding and is suggesting ways that this could be achieved. To this end it has published a Political Briefing note for use at the forthcoming party conferences and has arranged meetings with various key senior politicians including the Waterways Minister. IWA will also ensure that the transition trustees are properly briefed on other issues of concern that they are charged with pursuing in the run up to launch of the NWC.

Other issues within the consultation response were the familiar demands by many waterways users, including a guarantee that canal towpaths would continue to be open to the public – not quite that they would become rights of way (currently the majority of BW-onwed towpaths are only available for public use at BW's discretion as permissive footpaths.)  A major and overriding concern of IWA’s that the scope of the charity was not firmly grounded in maintaining ‘connected navigation’ has had effect.  Defra in its the response recognised the concern and stated that more prominence to the use of the network for navigation was needed, and has revised the draft charitable purposes accordingly. These have been referred back to the NWC transition trustees to consider. IWA has already brought this matter up with the NWC transition trustees and will be monitoring this matter closely.

A clear majority of replies favoured the IWA’s proposal of a merger of EA navigations into the new charity, and Defra has re-affirmed of its intentions for this to happen, in 2015, although again caveated heavily with the statement “subject to affordability and the agreement of the NWC Trustees at that time”. A review of NWC performance in 2014 will advise government on the prospects. IWA will keep a close watch on progress having made and won the argument for this union.

The original consultation proposed a series of region-sized ‘Local Partnerships’, and while the proposal is likely to go ahead, IWA had been critical that their name belied their large size and that there should be more ‘localism’ in the partnerships.   Defra has agreed, and is renaming them ‘Waterways Partnerships’, with an instruction that they should develop ‘localism strategies’ that allow a greater involvement from local communities. 

The current plan is for 13 partnerships.  Eleven would be based on waterway management boundaries, one for museums and one ‘All-Wales Partnership’ (as requested by IWA). But the proposal should not prevent the partnerships from evolving into the future.

The NWC Council organisation and structure was also confirmed.  Initially this is envisaged to consist of 35 members. Five of which will be boaters, and others taken from various other interests – including two from boating businesses and one from employees of the charity. All of these positions will be directly elected (except one boater nomination) - again meeting an IWA request for direct representation rather than nominations. NWC trustees and Government now accept IWA’s position of the need to move to fuller direct elections of Council and indicate that they will progress to 50% of the Council being directly elected over time, particularly those representing identifiable waterway user groups.

The name of the charity is still not decided. The word ‘waterways’  is well understood by enthusiasts, but consideration also needs to be given to words more familiar to  the wider public such as ‘canal’ and ‘river’ if the name is to have the widest possible appeal.

It is expected that the Welsh name for the charity will not be a direct translation of the English one to ensure that it resonates properly to Welsh speakers.

The results of the consultation can be downloaded on www.defra.gov.uk/consult/files/110912-waterways-summary-responses.pdf

Defra also launched another six-week consultation about the proposed ‘Transfer Order’.  This will run until 24th October, and sets out the legal framework for transfer of the waterways and associated powers and responsibilities from BW to the new charity. IWA will be closely studying this consultation and will be responding in due course.