IWA Key Issues- Political Assessment

Issue date: 1 June 2010

It is unlikely that given the current state of Parliament and the pressing priorities for government, that anything immediate will be forthcoming relating to the waterways, however, we are closely monitoring the situation.

The last Labour budget included a pledge to mutualise BW as a charity, with a view that the non operational property portfolio might be transferred in a charity locked arrangement.

Clearly the new coalition Government is not bound by the last budget or the pledges, nor by anything in Waterways for Everyone. IWA is currently awaiting details of the comments made to Defra from the consultation on this document, and what is planned for the next stages.

We know however, that the coalition has agreed to hold an emergency budget shortly and to shed £6bn from the current budget. It is therefore inevitable that the new Government will face pressure to fill this £6bn additional hole from somewhere and that the £500m of assets on paper that are provided by BW property is a possible target of renewed interest from the Treasury. Additionally, we can only speculate that grant in aid will also be a target of the expected additional budget cuts in public spending promised as part of the plan to tackle the UK’s fiscal deficit.

So, the next couple of months are therefore critical for the waterways, and IWA will be continuing its SOS campaign to press for awareness of the importance of the waterways to riparian MPs and councillors’, and also to guard against any property raid by Treasury.

Third Sector and Conservancy
However large, a potential crisis of this magnitude can also present rare opportunities for potentially beneficial change as well.

BW is probably one of the few agencies that has to an extent anticipated a reducing budget and looked early and seriously at alternative business models – with its third sector proposals. This is likely to be attractive to both Liberal and Conservative thinking through engaging better with the public as stakeholders and in involving community and volunteers, whilst also seeking to reduce dependence on the tax payer through more innovative use of resources and more flexibility in financial investment and management.

This approach does of course still require some government funding on a secure basis, and it also suggests that full access to the property portfolio is essential to make the thing work. The fiscal pressures also support IWA’s view that rationalisation of the various state sponsored navigation authorities is warranted as part of some form of conservancy sooner rather than later and should be integrated into third sector thinking.

New Secretary of State at Defra
Caroline Spelman MP has been appointed Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Caroline Spelman’s Meriden constituency, it includes part of the northern section of the Stratford upon Avon Canal ( Hockley Heath and Waring's Green to Majors Green), as well as a part of the Grand Union Canal main line between Chessetts Wood and Elmdon Heath, which includes Knowle Locks. (See www.election-maps.co.uk/index.jsp) She is local to, but not the constituency MP of IWA’s national chairman, Clive Henderson, who is in correspondence with her, her constituency is also local to BW chairman, Tony Hales.

At the time of writing we do not know who the minister with responsibility for waterways will be.

IWA MP Reception
IWA is organising a post election reception at the House of Commons for key waterway constituency MPs, to ensure that they are quickly inducted into the benefits of the waterways in their constituencies, to understand the issues surrounding funding, third sector proposals by BW, the IWA’s own conservancy proposals and to encourage the continuation of a strong all party Parliamentary Waterways Group to protect the waterways’ interests in the difficult financial times ahead. IWA will also be issuing guidance for branches on writing to new MPs shortly after the initial ’bedding in’ period has passed.