Sunday, 8 February 2015

The year in review - not!

I was tempted to write a review of the last year on the inland waterways. Then, looking back through my copious notes. I came to realise that I would be writing the sequel to 'War and Peace' if only in the length of the text. So I have decided to cherry pick from the very large bunch on offer. However, I'm now wondering if coconuts or bananas and the associated banana skins might have been a much better metaphor to use. 2014 was, it has to be said - something of a non event with regards to CaRT's ambitions to manage the inland waterways. Once more a poor performance has blighted even the faintest prospect that the trust would be self sustaining this side of a major freeze over in hell.

As one of the biggest national charities and at the same time one that will increasingly be reliant upon the giving public. More than anything else the trust has lost the support and confidence of many boaters. The boaters are the very people who should be championing, cajoling and encouraging everyone to support the trust. After all boaters have something that is seemingly lacking within the trust and that is a vested interest in the future of the inland waterways.

Typical of the banana skin culture is the complete mayhem and discord created over moorings. When a very large sledge hammer, (which must have been fitted with a floppy rubber handle) was brought to bear. Rather scope the issue and employ a fair, proportionate and appropriate response. The wholesale realignment of moorings on a national basis was the only answer. Then when the trust was challenged about the proportionality and appropriateness of the actions – the CEO said it would stop forthwith. Only for other individuals at a local level within the trust to carry on with the meddling in conjunction with the waterways partnerships. Chaos prevailed once again.

The eyebrow lifting and head scratching continues both inside and outside of the Waterways Partnerships. First of all it was over their role and function. Which as far as I can make out is something akin to Willy Wonker. As the hump-a-lumpers carry on regardless of any appropriate direction and knowledge to meddle in what they are not supposed to meddle with.

But even more incredulity was to come from the 'bold as brass' myth, that continues to be perpetuated by CaRT. That the partnerships would be self funding by the end of 2014 and would also be topping up the CaRT coffers to the tune of £800,000 each a year. You can almost smell the bacon cooking from this latest round of porcine avionics.

The collective amnesia on display for all to witness at the 'All Party Inland Waterways Committee' was both astonishing in its depth and utterly breathtaking in its length. Though some of the MP's must have given a nod to the consummate lack of transparency on display. Having at the same time picked up a few hints and tips for their next round of house flipping, moat cleaning, duck housing, expenses claims.

The gulf in what's needed to maintain a 'steady state' in the maintenance budget was highlighted. (the steady state is when the maintenance level gets no better and hopefully gets no worse) The true figure was possibly unintentionally given in a statement to the high court some time ago. The figure was quoted as being £130 million a year. The funding is currently around the £80 million mark. Even with me adding to my accountancy skills and digits by taking off my shoes and socks. I am still unable to come up with any way of reconciling that a further underspend is not pushing the trust ever closer to the brink of the tipping point into the chasm.

It does not take to many things to go wrong, such as the once in a decade canal breach or lock collapses which recently happened almost every month. At least the trust learned one salutary lesson and that was not to go running to the public shaking the begging bowl. Rather than raise funds it only raised the Joe Public's awareness to the precarious state of the waterways. One embarrassment on that score proved to be more than enough.

Then there is the next issue for the 'CaRT CaRTographer' where the trust is going to unilaterally redraw the UK ordnance survey map. As CaRT sets about reinventing the equivalent of the wheel - to declare already known areas adjoining each other - as a whole new place.

Then there is the consultation that's not a consultation being held with potential and exiting moorings holders. About the convoluted and unfair moorings bidding system. Where the universal changes that everyone wants (the end to the bidding system and the removal of minimum prices) - is ruled out of the consultation.

Yes, you could not make it up!

As I promised Richard Parry that I would do, I shall continue to end on an upbeat note.

There are and continue to be significant changes taking place in the hierarchy of the trust. Where its possible (from reading between the lines) that the modified reporting structure should, if nothing else be an improvement on the previous performance. However, such 'ad hoc' arrangements should be formalised as soon as possible. Maybe then the trust would be able to provide a management structure, highlighting reporting lines. This document would then provide the basis for a basic understanding and guide to accountability.

I am looking forward to our elected representatives reporting back on the first three years of their tenure in office. I can't wait to hear of their individual lists of personal goals and achievements 'on the job' so to speak. Though I suspect that like the collective amnesia that I reported on earlier. Only the continuation of the deafening silence, which so far has been the most noticeable of their achievements. However, as this is the start of their last year in office,  I imagine that there will be some communication with the plebs on whose vote they will want to court for another term of inaction.

I look forward to the day when the trust enters the 21st century. The day when the trust realises that social media is here to stay. And has blown away once and for all, any chance of escaping the attentions of the boating public. Including the examination and discussion in detail of the day to day running of the trust.

One thing I don't look forward to, is further exposure of the Trust, in one of the great periodicals of state. Which are read by MP's and Whitehall Mandarins alike, if only to see if their in it and if they have been found out! I'm not talking about Hansard or even the London Gazette. Here I'm talking about Private Eye and the peoples watchdog 38 Degrees.

I am still looking forward to a number of things like, the much vaunted and promised accountability, transparency and openness. After all, these are things that boaters want and expect. Accountability, transparency and openness should also be a significant part of the trusts mission statement. I'm still a waiting and anticipating the arrival (before the telegram arrives from the Queen) of a meaningful mission statement.

I am also looking forward to the day when the Trust has a paying membership. One which the trust must also be answerable to. That members of council are elected from the trust membership. I am looking forward to the day when all the significant boating associations also have representatives on council. To help provide some insider knowledge, balance between various associations, clarity and direction.

I am looking forward to a time when consultations take place before the outcome is decided. Running any so called consultation - on a for information only basis – and conducted after the outcome has been decided is not acceptable in this day and age.

The white knuckle grasp continues for the chairman as he grimly hangs on to any remaining vestige of power. The will he, won't he, go. Only piling more fuel on to the smouldering conflagration that is the continued uncertainty about the future of the trust.

Now, with the steady ongoing exodus of the old guard. Presumably, to spend more time counting their pension pot. Brings with it a feint glimmer of a sunrise in the east for the future of the trust. I hope that this is not yet another false dawn.

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