Thursday, 9 January 2014

Public relations disaster

38degrees is a campaigning group with hundreds of thousands of members and supporters. I count myself amongst the supporters. 38degrees are looking to improve the way that our country is run and to ensure that businesses and charities are ethical in their dealing with the public and employees. I am from time to time very supportive of some but not all of their campaigning. However, I do contribute to their running costs on selective campaigns. 

There is a campaign that is gaining momentum which involves the Canal and River Trust. The cause behind the campaign and its supporting petition is:-

Canal and River Trust: Stop evicting disabled, elderly and vulnerable boat dwellers, put an end to the threats of homelessness and meet your Equality Act obligations not to discriminate against people on the grounds of disability, age, pregnancy and responsibility for children.

There is also a long document associated with the petition that highlights a few of the major concerns embedded within the issues. The Canal and River Trust have also issued a rebuttal of sorts. I don't know the facts in any great detail. But being a boater I have followed the issues at a distance with some interest.

First of all, it would be difficult not to be supportive of the paragraph that is reproduced above. This is after all, what the petition is based upon. You are expected to read the paragraph and decide whether to support or not the assertion. The rest of the document is just supporting information by way of representative examples. Intended to help you make up your mind on the issue. The factual accuracy of the supporting information I do not know. I expect that it will be leaked and revealed in dribs and drabs.  At some point the petition will close and the document will be presented to the Canal and River Trust. 

It will be at that point where the Trust will be able to defend its position with regard to the paragraph upon which the petition has been laid. I would imagine that the trust will agree with the paragraph. That what the petitioner is wanting to highlight is also what the trust would also want to uphold and be seen to be upholding.

As to the veracity of the supporting documentation, I do not claim to know any more than any other boater. I find this issues portrayed of some concern. Because in the main it refers to a section of the public (whether boater or not) which are amongst most vulnerable of all. In dealings with our local moorings team I have heard them express the opinion 'we are not social workers' However, when it comes to vulnerable groups on the CaRT managed waterways. There should be an expectation that such issues should not be swept under the carpet by a trite and dismissive mantra. Imagine a child at school being bullied and the teacher said - nothing we can do, were not social workers.

Is this to be yet another public relations disaster for the Canal and River Trust. I think it could actually be a positive step as long as the Trust actually deal with the issues in a measured way.  One would be to accept the petition gracefully, prepare a detailed response. Include in the response lessons learned and changes being implemented. Turn it into a PR triumph not a PR disaster.

The waterways and their management is not an easy task. The current management team are still of the quango mindset and have not learned the finer points of diplomacy and other flavours of public relations. The change from issuing orders and commands to asking is both subtle and demanding.

My plea to the trust would be. Please, Please, Please. Do not go down the road of m'learned friends and expect that the fickle public will later remember the fine details of the debated issues. The public will remember the first paragraph and will vote with their pocket change in the usual way. 

CaRT needs to take on board that people do live on the waterways either part time or full time. Therefore CaRT must have much more than a light touch responsibility.  Especially whenever those people are amongst the most vulnerable in our society. There should be a dedicated member of staff who can liaise with the appropriate authorities. The trust has to be prepared and able to step in and be proactive in their support whenever appropriate, if help is unavailable or not forth coming. 

If you are wondering if I signed the petition. The answer is yes I did. Because I support fully what is written about the petition. Especially the terms of the Equality Act. I have explained exactly why above.







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