IWA Meeting with Defra: Friday 12 November 2010

Issue date: 29 November 2010

IWA met with Defra officials on Friday 12 November to discuss a range of issues. IWA was represented by Paul Roper, Jo Gilbertson and David Padfield and Defra by Penny Bramwell and Pam Griffin.

This note records key issues emerging in discussion.

The Waterways Charity

  • Officials were in discussion with Ministers about possible models for the charity.
  • Defra envisaged a period of transition for BW which would span the period of one year before the charity comes into being on 1 April and one year after. During that period Defra would be closely involved in developing and monitoring the charity. Defra Ministers were clear that they wanted the charity to be a success. Should unexpected and unforeseeable difficulties arise, the Government would develop a range of options to secure the future of the network.
  • Defra envisaged that the charity might adopt membership at some time in the future. Membership should provide scope for broad user representation.
  • The charity would have the benefit of a long term contract from central government. The Minister would be making announcements at the AINA conference on Monday 15th November [Richard Benyon announced that the contract would be 10-15 years. He also said that the charity would have the benefit of all of the BW property portfolio]. The finance to be provided under this contract would need to be recognised as appropriate by the prospective charity trustees.
  • State Aid was an issue that would need to be resolved with the EU [Richard Benyon referred to this at the AINA conference but didn’t regard it as an overriding obstacle to the proposals].
  • Defra would be issuing a wide ranging consultation early in 2011. It would be followed in due course by a consultation on the order to be made under the Public Bodies Act 2011.

Funding

  • The full implications for Defra of the recent spending review would be realised in December, including the implications for Grant-in-Aid for BW and the EA. It would cover the period 2011/12 to 2014/15; so after 1 April 2012 the finance for BW would represent the early years of the long term contract for the BW successor charity.
  • On funding for BW, Defra’s formal public position is as stated in Richard Benyon’s written PQ answer to Andrea Leadsom MP on 11 November when he said that “the reduction in BW’s grant will not be any greater because BW is becoming a charity than it would otherwise have been…”.    

The Environment Agency

  • Defra speculated that the settlement for EA would mean that it would have to take tough decisions for the navigation services it would be able to provide after 31 March 2011 reflecting affordability with reduced budgets.
  • Whether the EA navigations might transfer to the charity remained under discussion in Government. There were complex issues and it was difficult to speculate on what decision might be made by Ministers. 
  • IWA volunteered that if the issues were such that it would make more sense to slip the fast track timetable for the charity from 1 April 2012 to a later date, it would prefer that if some extra time to work through the issues delivered a charity that incorporated the EA navigations. 
  • IWA also took the opportunity to advise Defra that TUG(n), which vehemently objects to the Thames being transferred to the charity, is nowhere near as representative of Thames users and organisations as it purports