IWA Political Update

Issue date: 2 September 2010

Government ‘Mutualisation’/‘Civil Society’ Proposals

During 2009 BW proposed that it be moved into the so called third sector, probably becoming a charitable trust, partly for the purpose of generating additional income to meet the likely increasing shortfall in government grant in aid, and also to sharpen the focus of this new body on the waterways without the distraction of wider policy initiatives that BW have had to consider.

IWA cautiously supported these proposals and helped the development of them. However, IWA also produced a revised version of long held vision of an Inland Waterways Conservancy (IWC) embracing as much of the inland waterway system as possible. With apparent all party support the previous government endorsed the BW proposals. The new coalition government is also supportive of the third sector idea now renamed “civil society”, and is giving consideration to the inclusion of EA navigations in the new body. The Waterways Minister has emphasised that this would be a completely new body rather than a rebranded BW.

IWA key campaign points:

•    IWA is supportive of BW’s proposals to move into the third sector;
•    IWA is enthusiastic about including EA navigations as a first step towards the creation of he   IWC;
•    IWA welcomes Ministerial assurance that this would be a completely new body, and not just a rebranded (and expanded) BW;
•    IWA is aware of some user resistance over the inclusion of the Thames, but does not share a view that incorporation into a third sector body necessarily leads to a lowering of the good navigation standards on that river.

Other Waterways

In our Inland Waterway Conservancy vision document it was recognised that there would have to be a phased approach. Currently, the government is only considering BW and EA waterways, as these are the only two organisations where it funds navigation (although Defra officials did give passing consideration to the Middle Level Navigations). If this new combined BW/EA body is created it would represent the biggest change in waterways management since nationalisation of much of the system in 1948. Inclusion of other waterways can be considered later, but this is likely to be on a voluntary basis. IWA hopes that those already run by charitable trusts will see the benefit in merging to create an even bigger trust. At an appropriate time IWA should consider putting forward the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation for inclusion within the new body.

IWA key campaign points:

•    A new body comprising BW and EA navigations would be the most positive step in waterway management rationalisation since nationalisation in1948;
•    Once the new body has settled down, IWA hopes that other waterways can be persuaded to join;
•    At an appropriate time, IWA would encourage the Chelmer & Blackwater (the one waterway managed by IWA) to opt into the IWC.

Governance

Suitable responsive and consultative governance arrangements are crucially important. BW has considered this at a number of workshops to which IWA have been invited and these are continuing. Although wide ranging primary legislation to set up the new body would be beneficial, this seems unlikely owing to pressure on parliamentary time. The government is likely to retain ownership of the waterways and lease them to the new body using the 1962 and 1968 Transport Acts as the legislative framework.

IWA has submitted to Defra its own proposals for governance . In essence, a main board is envisaged to set policy together with a much broader based national interest stakeholder council. Below this top structure there would be a number of regional offices that would manage the local water partnerships, which would;

(a) bid for central funding,
(b) co-ordinate local fundraising and volunteer effort and
(c) make decisions about local priorities. BW plans to trial the new arrangements on the Kennet &         Avon Canal. Work on governance is continuing.

IWA key campaign points:

•    A suitably responsive and consultative governance model is essential for the IWC to work;
•    IWA is closely involved with the workshops to establish governance and has submitted its own proposals to Defra;
•    Stakeholders need to be closely involved in the management;
•    Close stakeholder involvement to coordinate fundraising together with volunteer effort and the setting local priorities will be needed along each regional waterway corridor;
•    BW and EA waterways are likely to continue to be owned by government and leased to the new body so as to avoid the need for new primary legislation.

Funding

Future likely funding challenges were a significant rationale that caused BW to propose third sector status, which would allow charitable funds and subscriptions to be raised whilst enjoying tax advantages and benefiting from volunteer effort much more effectively. Defra and the Minister have accepted that continuing government financial support will be essential for the future of the waterways, with the aim that Exchequer support reduces. The Minister has also stated that he understands that the income from the BW property portfolio is an essential dowry to enable the third sector body to be successful (although he may still have to convince the Treasury and his statement only commits to “a large proportion” of BW property being committed to that dowry).

Unfortunately, the public sector fiscal climate is now even more challenging with Defra having to find 25-40% cuts over four years (i.e. by 2014). Ensuring a suitable priority for waterways funding within this situation will be difficult as it cannot be expected to be a very high priority within the Defra budget. The cuts on both BW and EA grant in aid have already begun and the full extent of these will not be known until the outcome of the comprehensive spending review in the Autumn.

IWA key campaign points:

•     IWA accepts that all government departments are now under extreme financial pressure and that Defra has to find a 25-40% saving by 2014. Cuts in BW and EA grant in aid have already started but the full impact will not be known until the Autumn;
•    This makes third sector status even more important allowing the new body to access charitable funds and subscriptions whilst enjoying tax advantages and seeking to exploit volunteer effort more effectively.
•    Including EA waters, and eventually others, may realise some saving from an economy of scale whilst also improving the branding of the new body, but the main benefit will be more seamless administration and consistent approach to management, regulation and charges.
•    IWA believes that ALL of the BW property portfolio should be charity locked so that its income goes to the third sector body.

IWA Campaigning

IWA has been very active in campaigning for the IWC, suitable governance arrangements and also adequate funding. Since the change in government IWA has lobbied senior Defra civil servants and Ministers together with other key influential stakeholders as well as supporting numerous consultations and working groups.

 An IWA parliamentary reception in June enabled engagement with new supportive MPs of all parties. This is already paying dividends with IWA initiated parliamentary questions being raised by MPs and an adjournment debate on the future of the waterways secured at which the Minister made a number of very helpful comments. IWA’s approach has been one of cooperation rather than confrontation, so that much of what IWA is doing is not necessarily evident to members. This approach seems to have raised the credibility of IWA in government circles, as indicated by the appointment of Clive Henderson as BWAF Chairman and an ‘Observer’ to the BW board.

The financial climate is very different from that pertaining when the SOW and more recently SOS campaigns were launched. Then, Defra and the waterways appeared to be singled out. Now there are deep cuts across most government departments with widespread redundancies, pay freezes and pension reductions in the public sector and potentially significant cuts in public services.

Clearly this is a challenging time to secure public support for waterways and we have to be more subtle in our approach, continue with cooperation and avoid direct public criticism of what the government is doing. IWA will keep this policy under review, and in particular revisit it after the CSR outcome is known. A key question at that time will be whether the waterway funding has been disproportionately reduced.

IWA key campaign points:

•    IWA is campaigning hard for the future management arrangements for the waterways together with suitable funding;
•    Much of this campaigning has to go on behind the scenes with civil servants and Ministers, and the emphasis is now one of cooperation rather than confrontation;
•    This approach has raised the credibility of IWA in official circles as indicated by the appointment of Clive Henderson as BWAF Chairman and also as an observer to the BW Board;
•    IWA does not believe that Clive’s appointments represent a conflict of interest, but will keep this under review.

Waterway Closures

With a very difficult financial climate some may be concerned over the impact this might have on keeping waterways open. There can be no guarantees, but there is no need for any scaremongering at this stage. The proposed new governance arrangements would mean that IWA and appropriate waterway societies would have a key role in setting local priorities and making any future difficult decisions.

IWA key campaign points:

•    Under new governance arrangements IWA and local waterway societies would have a role in setting local priorities and making some difficult decisions;
•    IWA will fight suggestions of permanent closures of any waterways;
•    IWA will strive to ensure that any unforeseen temporary closures are rectified as soon as reasonably practicable.

Abolition of IWAC

As widely foreseen, the new government has set about a major cull of non-departmental public bodies (quangos) across all aspects of public service. One casualty of this is the Inland Waterways Advisory Council (IWAC). Since its relaunch in 2007, IWAC has conducted useful research and produced some very helpful reports to support the case for the waterways.
Whilst its abolition is a matter of regret, there is no point in challenging a main plank of government policy. Consideration should be given as to how essential supporting research can still be conducted when necessary. This could be commissioned by Defra or by the new waterway body. Alternatively this could be an opportunity for IWA to commission focussed research to support campaigning, subject to adequate funding becoming available.

IWA key campaign points:

•    The various IWAC reports made a valuable contribution to the waterways cause, but IWA understands that a cull of quangos is a key tenet of government policy;
•    Alternative means of conducting essential research may have to found and there could be a role for IWA in this.