Monday, 22 July 2013

Open letter to Richard Parry.

This is an open letter to Richard Parry.

What is the status of the 'independent' Canal and River Trust council members that were elected by boat licence payers. Furthermore just how independent are the individuals. Ivor Caplan, Vaughan Welch, Clive Henderson and Anne Farrell were directly endorsed and supported by the IWA who urged their membership to vote for them. I ask myself this rhetorical question because, the four independent's have now been in place for a while. Yet I seem to have heard very little from them in the usual boating media. In some cases I have read more about their activities in the usual boating media.


I am not suggesting that the four are not doing a good job. I just don't know if they are doing a good job of representing the independent boating community. It should be noted that Clive Henderson and Vaughn Welch are also IWA trustees. So how do you square that anomaly. If an individual was to be truly independent and wanted to establish their independent credentials. I would have hoped that they would have established by now lines of communication with the non aligned boating fraternity. I just don't see this happening. How could someone be a tory one day and the next day be a member of the greens?

There was quite a furore over what were seen by many in the wider boating community as hijacked elections for independent representatives. Done by a collective effort by members of the Inland Waterways Association.  Everyone is aware that elections to political life are open to independents. We have all witnessed the sad spectacle during the reading of the results on election night. The independants standing round, while the anointed party representative gives his victory speech.

However, the reality is that like political parties who choose their 'representatives' within the party local group.  It is at this point that the party machinery then swings into action to garner as many party members votes as possible. The party member has to fall in line with the party whip and so any idea of independence is gone. On this basis alone the number of really independant people that get elected in public life (despite the best efforts of the Monster Raving Loony Party) is a very tiny list.

I would have hoped it would be different. I foolishly based my hopes on the word 'independent'. These four positions were touted as being there to independently represent the boating community. The one thing about 'real' independents who are not aligned to the strictures of their 'party'. Is that they tend to bring a breath of fresh air into a situation that could evolve into an accidental or intentional cabal.

There are members of council who are unelected representatives, appointed from some vary varied groups and associations. Such as the Waterways Partnerships, Local Government Association, Ramblers Association, Institute of Historic Building Conservation, Sustrans, Waterway Recovery Group, The Wildlife Trusts, Railway and Canal Historical Society, Society for the Environment, The Angling Trust, Country Land and Business Association and the British Canoe Union. There is however one group of significant waterways users missing, national boating groups. Why?

Is there a solution?

Here are some quotes from the Memorandum from the All-Party Parliamentary Waterways Group - The Future of the Waterways. Published in July 2012.

There was a strong indication that the model proposed in the consultation for governance, being exclusive of membership, was a missed opportunity in failing to harness the collective engagement of the many tens of thousands of stakeholders already using the waterways. We believe that membership has so much to offer the new organisation in terms of engaging the public and developing a sense of ownership that there should be a clear timetable for moving to a full membership model.

Cliff Mills (practitioner consultant for a number of charities) told us about his experience in setting up mutuals and membership-based organisations. He said that he was also struck by the potential for engagement with the wider community. He believed that the statement of intentions in the consultation document – with membership as an option for the new body to consider later on – was wrong. 

Mr Mills continued that in his opinion there was a danger that failing to adopt a membership structure - at least in the sense of identifying clear stakeholder representative constituencies that could generate elected representatives to Council - could result in bad publicity and be seen as a device to cling on to power. In effect it would hold at arm’s-length those who might benefit the new organisation most through their enthusiasm and potential financial contributions.

In the light of the evidence we conclude that following the route outlined in the consultation document (setting up a governance structure which initially does not allow for membership) is likely to foster a perception of a lack of democracy and public engagement and to engender a concern amongst stakeholders that the new organisation is British Waterways under another name. 

This is a concern that the Waterways Minister is on the public record as being keen to wish to avoid. "We would have to have a completely new board or council that would shape its own future. It would not be British Waterways by another name, but a new structure, in different hands altogether. " Citation: HC Deb, 7 July 2010, c501 

However its a widely recommended solution that is still seemingly still opposed by CaRT. I see no sign of a new dawn with an active membership arriving anytime soon. I am not aware that any steps have been taken to put in place such a system. As a progressive model for the future, it seems to have been totally disregarded.

Yet the solution is a simple one, a paid membership of the trust with all the usual benefits that come with it. Think of the hundreds of thousands that will be saved from not hiring gangs of chuggers. Every member would be a potential chugger and encouraging others to join. This would give the towpath cyclists and towpath ramblers a chance to put some money into the system. Think of the fishermen who would then feel some ownership and also want to give time and money. Think of the conservationist who would be able to give time and money. Think of all those people who instead of just being friends could become part of a larger family. Think of the cudos and the sense of sharing that would come, if every individual waterway user was under a single umbrella and a member of the Canal and River Trust. 

It is just a no brainer not to have a contributing membership of the Trust. After all, the waterways belong to everyone. They are going to be funded by everyone for the next fourteen years or more. You have to question why anyone would oppose such a membership and their reasons for opposition. I have not heard a plausible reason given yet. So why can't we have a CaRT membership?

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