Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Mantra -v- Ethic

I like to think that the Inland Waterways are not only for the boater but for people with a genuine interest in the inland waterways. Whether its watching boats, fishing, cruising, volunteering or just walking the banks and towpath observing the wildlife. Some people are river orientated and other are more interested in the canal system. There is a rich tapestry of our industrial and social heritage encompassed in the canal system. After all the canals provided the seeds of the industrial revolution which in turn inspired feats of amazing engineering. Most surprising of all being that many were completed with only hand tools. 

All in all, it should in a way be a very close knit community with a common interest of maintaining and improving what we have. You might think that the above is a fair reflection on the inland waterways as you see it. However, like the duck gliding along on the surface, there is a lot of other activity going on underneath. The close knit community - such as it is. Is in reality quite fractious, with different ideological standpoints that seem to be completely at odds with each other. 

First there is the misplaced vanity of some people that a charity could ever run such an operation. If a government quango could not efficiently run the system. What logic could inspire the confidence that a charitable trust would fare any better. If the senior management of the quango had failed to run the quango - then why import the same people into managing the inland waterways, as it became a charity and moved into the third sector. The third sector being a place that the senior management had little or no experience of engaging with. With little if any understanding of all the nuances of such an enterprise in the first place. Why employ a plumber to repair an electrical fault.

The management team under the guise of British Waterways had long refused to engage with the boating public. The same mantra and ethic was then imported into the trust and continues today. However, its worth having a look at what happened as the quango burnt burnt on the bonfire and the charity came about.

Prior to its inception there were long discussions about what the new trust should look and be shaped like. It was discussed on social media at great length. In its plans for 'A New Era for the Waterways' published in March 2011. The Government proposed that a new Waterways charity be established that would 'protect and care for the Waterways on behalf of the nation'. [1]

Unfortunately it also described links and comparisons with the now discredited 'Big  Society Network' which has, almost like a portent for the future of CaRT. Big Society has become a poison chalice that everyone including the government has quietly reversed away from. The charity commission however has an ongoing investigation, over allegations that BS misused government funding and made inappropriate payments to its directors including a Tory donor. The organisation, which was launched by the Prime Minister in 2010, was given at least £2.5 million of National Lottery funding and public-sector grants despite having no record of charitable activity. [2]

It was announced by the then Environment Minister Richard Benyon when he said 'The Canal and River Trust will be a national trust for the waterways, maintaining and restoring 2,000 miles of heritage sites, wildlife habitats and open spaces so that we can all enjoy them for generations to come.'

It was discussed at the APPWG. (All Party Parliamentary Waterways Group) Where the new trust was envisioned as being 'The National Trust for the Inland Waterways'. [3] Many recommendation were made by a list of invited professionals and experts working in the third sector. Almost every recommendation from the experts were ignored.  One of the more prophetic warnings came from Cliff Mills, a charitable consultant. In what looks like at this distance to be some form of second sight or through the use of a crystal ball. Which was in fact exercising his expert knowledge. He told the APPWG about his experience in setting up mutuals and membership-based organisations. [3]

He said that he was 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.
The new body needed to start as a membership based organisation to generate engagement – membership was the point at which the public could become engaged leading to a sense of ownership. Unless membership was built in from the start of an organisation it could be very hard to move to membership later on. Membership empowered the community but empowerment required power to be given away and there could well be a disinclination for the trustees of a Charity to give power away at a later stage.
He said If the design of the organisation was right from the outset it need not be incompatible with a charity but accountability would be undoubtedly improved through membership. Under the currently proposed constitution arrangements, it seemed that preservation was fundamental to the purposes. But the opportunity to challenge, change and evolve would be lost with this model and there was a danger of preserving something in aspic. Membership would allow more freedom to direct evolution of the waterways in a positive manner.
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. Cliff Mills Consultant.
The APPGW did not leave it there, but added '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 we note that the Waterways Minister is on the public record as being keen to wish to avoid.' [3] 

The APPWG stated in its Governance - Conclusions and Recommendations. 'We accept the practicality that the New Waterways Charity should begin life with fair representation of stakeholders but we believe that a membership model of democratic stakeholder representation to Council should be developed, with representatives elected by their organisations rather than appointed by the New Waterways Charity'.
'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. We recommend that the Charity should begin life with a Council that comprises members that are elected by the relevant organisations where that is possible, and with representatives of other interest groups provided for through nomination in the first instance; and that the process and timetable for achieving a fully elected Council, and moving the Charity to a full membership organisation, should be incorporated into the articles for the New Waterways Charity and be a required milestone in the Government contract with the Charity.' [3]
The APPWG stated in its section on Finance. 'Projections by British Waterways of the expected New Waterways Charity voluntary income indicated a gain of £5.5 - £6million by year ten of the Charity. We queried this figure as being optimistic, given the altruistic nature of the covenant between the charity and the giver, but were pleased to see that it was significantly reduced from the figures published in the consultation, that had projected the figures at £8million. Many charities see revenue from donations flat-line at some point in their growth. 
We were informed by British Waterways’ own charity consultant that the marketing and fund raising costs were substantial and likely to require sustained large amounts of investment to generate the indicated returns, with a return of £2 for each £1 invested at year ten, and making a loss in the first years, breaking even only in year four.' 
Breaking even in year four? Uh! 

As you might imagine selling the dream was not short of puff pieces around misplaced vanity projects such as that by Chairman of trustees Tony Hales who said 'The public funding was not to be used for restoration purposes and the Trust did not intend diverting any monies towards the costs of restoration. Its contribution on restoration would be to provide technical support and fund raising support. The Waterways Partnerships would play a role.' [4]

In an amazing and totally bewildering statement that beggars belief. Vice Chair of trustees Lynne Berry said 'The Trust was aiming to achieve, in less than a year, a process and status that had taken the National Trust 150 years. She thought that whilst the industrial revolution had been important for the waterways in the 18th century, the 21st century would deliver a “social revolution” for the waterways.' [4]

The APPWG for Waterways published a report on the Waterway Partnerships in April 2013 that raised concerns over the lack of clarity of the Waterway Partnership's financial role. with an aim to be self funded in all their activities by the end of 2014.





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