Sunday, 16 November 2014

English Waterways

As CaRT continues to gently wring its hands over the 'misplaced vanity' surrounding the catchy new name it chose. Then all the money which was unnecessarily spent on the creation of new notices and notice boards, patch stickers and not forgetting the vehicle paint jobs. Then add into the mix the unintended consequence of the large number of CaRToon acronym it spawned, such as Cycling Angling Rambling Truss. Things don't seem to be wooing the paying punters into digging deep.

What's in a Name.
I have always wondered why the 'old guard' ejected from BW choose a new name like CaRT. When there were much better and much more meaningful names available. I suppose British Waterways - sort of says it all. But British Waterways or BW was a name chosen in an era prior to the waterways own government inspired regional devolution (Bonfire of the Quango's) into the third sector. (see note1)

‘It'd be great if everyone referred to us by the name that we at the Trust prefer to use, but I know we can't be too precocious. As long as people don't call us British Waterways!' Richard Parry CEO CaRT.

Well, that's a pretty clear statement from the school prefect. It would seem that the name change was chosen to disassociate the new charitable organisation from its less salubrious predecessor.  But that could only be successful if their was a root and branch change to a much more timely and effective operational structure.

What of devolution.
So what is the future for CaRT now we have the already devolved the Scottish Canals. Who devolved away with a name that has something of a national identity ring to it. One no doubt, that is something of pride to our northern neighbour. Since the recent Scottish referendum shows a significant swing towards 'Jock' wanting a stronger independent and national identity.

Will there be even more changes now that the Welsh have indicated that they will also be heading down the road of even more regional devolution. Will there be a Welsh Canals for the 'Boyo's' in the valleys.  One thing for sure the Welsh will want control of their waterways. So what are the odds on the name being chosen by the Taff's being Welsh Waterways. 

I can't see the devolved English regional government in future wanting to pick up the tab for the Welsh Waterways. The government has already promised that England will also be given its own devolved regional government. The Cornish folk are have been thinking of home rule for some time now. The 'Tykes' in Yorkshire will be watching and planning. 

So now we have the likelihood of a devolved English government. One that I imagine will be wanting a single English Waterways authority or agency. Operating under a name that has something of a national identity ring to it. One that will no doubt be something capable of generating national pride.  English Waterways could be the name. Is CaRT a safe pair of hands for government to place trust in?

But herein lies a naming problem.  There is a significant set of waterways outside of CaRT's remit. Is it CRT or CART or even CaRT. CaRT doesn't actually control all of the existing English canals or English rivers. There are already sub-regional waterways devolution in areas such as the Broads. So are we ever likely to see a unified English Waterways system. One that is operating under one coherent management remit. 

Are we ever going to see a 'real authority' for the English Waterways. Rather than something that resembles a fragmented - rail franchise look-a-like. We all know how well British Rail has performed since it was broken up. With confusing intercity connections, weird pricing structures and the constant risk of a banker like bailout being required. There is a significant mind change in Joe Public already as the calls grow ever louder to bring the whole rail network back into public control. 

So what of the EA.
I still can't see the EA managed waterways changing hands any time soon. The government is going to be far to busy jumping through political hoops in the run up to the next election. Devolution will be a serious issue for all the political parties. Even more so for UKIP who would like to see government devolved away from Europe and returned to the English. I anticipate that the vexed devolution issue will muddy the canal waters even more for a long time to come.

The Environment Agency has undergone something of a refit. It is now a much leaner and fit for purpose organisation. Many hard lessons have been learned about flood control and mitigation. Lessons have been learned about taking a balanced approach and not being commandeered by environmentalist and the infrastructure managed for newts and frogs. After the furore over last winters flooding - I can't see any government placing control over any portion of national flood management in the hands of a charity. Certainly not after the mauling they got in the media and from the public last time. CaRT is not a safe pair of hands for government to place trust in.

Not a consultation. CaRT has however, moved on and tainted itself in the minds of the giving public.The debarkle over visitor moorings - the fiasco brewing around an enforcement team that simply doesn't have sufficient staff to enforce a tea break. Now the latest home goal is the waste of time consultation that has already ruled out what most boat owners wanted which is to get rid of the tainted bidding system.

Third sector or third rate.
Through its sometimes weird and bizarre actions, such as evicting ill, vulnerable and elderly people from their homes. Leaving them stood on the towpath in just the clothes they are wearing. To end up living on the grass verge in a tent. This huge multimillion pounds worth of self inflicted bad publicity. A fiasco that was the subject of a petition on '38 degrees' which was seen by up to 3 million 38 degrees members and signed by in excess of 7,000 individuals. 

This charitable incident has the look and feel of a third world humanitarian disaster. One that charitable organisations would be expected to react to with support, rather than being the instrument that created the problem. Eviction of the vulnerable is not a charitable situation in anyone's mind. CaRT is not a safe pair of hands for government to place trust in.

Feint light in the tunnel.
I always try to end on a positive note. The on, off, on, off retirement of Tony Hales would be another good issue to resolve once and for all. It was welcome news that another ex BW grandee (Finance Director, Philip Ridal)  has now decided to go.  Once again I can't help but feel that this is a positive move. A friend has now whispered the name of another of the grandees into my shell like ear. Apparently they will be throwing off the mooring lines and drifting off into the twilight by the end of the year. So the ever shortening list might well be giving us all an extra surprise Christmas present.

Note 1 - Francis Maude wrote at the time 'The changes are intended primarily to increase accountability, but will also support the aims of the spending review by reducing costs and support our ambitions for a Big Society by encouraging alternative devolved or non-state delivery models'.

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