Friday, 1 May 2015

Barking up the wrong creek?

Barking up the wrong creek?

SINCE THE Trusts inception it has been strongly allied in various ways with one particular Association for the Inland Waterways. The result of which was the issuing of a Memorandum of Understanding [MoU].  That, for want of a better description, could be described as a emasculating coup for the Trust. 

But does it come at a price and who is going to be paying the price?

Memorandum of Understanding
The MoU could be characterised as a sort of 'you scratch my back and I'll scratch your back' arrangement. Which on reflection it essentially is. Ask yourself, is there a need for such a 'mutual back slapping [and scratching]' understanding.' Such that now that once revered - arms length independence. Has been given over to what are perceived by some as 'on the nod' agreements. Which if true, would be a tawdry reflection upon the heroic efforts of the post war restoration pioneers.

I have had conversations with people who like me, feel uneasy with such agreements. Feeling that the MoU is portraying more about cronyism than anything else. Summed up by one very astute friend as -a return to the era of 'Beer and sandwiches at number ten.' I had heard the quote before, but I had to look it up, just to get the context.

The quote comes from the late Robert Carr, the Conservative employment spokesman. Who said when challenging Barbara Castle: 'I was disappointed -indeed, shocked- that the Secretary of State did not give more attention in her speech to an obvious but fundamental matter; the conflict of rôles which her Ministry now has. It is the conflict between the new rôle of operating an incomes policy- a rôle which is liable to stimulate industrial strife and dispute- and her Department’s old statutory duty of conciliation and arbitration. Warmonger and peace-monger. Can one be credible as both or either in the long run? Who will be left to arbitrate in the end? Will it be the Prime Minister over beer and sandwiches in Downing Street?'

Essentially he is saying: 'An obvious but fundamental matter, the conflict of rôles. Can one be credible as both or either in the long run? Who will be left to arbitrate and represent in the end?' 

Guidance for boaters
The next topic we discussed was the latest version of guidance for boaters without a home mooring.  I perceived this as a softly softly case of case of mission creep. Once more there are unheralded changes. Made bit by bit and in each version changes are being made. I asked the trust if the guidance was applicable to all boaters. The unequivocal answer given is that the guidance is not applicable to boaters who are away from their mooring and cruising. While essentially they are just like a constant cruiser and unidentifiable as not being a constant cruiser. Just cruising around the various bits of the inland waterways network. So why would their need to be such a significant and telling distinction between the two. 

My friend also paraphrased the possible outcome, by referring to Lutheran Pastor Niemöller. This time I knew exactly what the context was. Like Ghandi, Niemöller is a personal hero of mine and someone who has been an influence on my life. Not in a religious context, because I am not in any way religious.  More in an inspirational context, maybe that's why I am outspoken about issues.  
Niemöller is best known for his statement, about the political upsurge in pre war Germany. "First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out. Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out. Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out. Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me."

Sweeping changes.
I am not saying that CaRT is about to incarcerate boaters. But I do sometimes wonder if that is a power they would like to have.  It does however call into question the imposition of seemingly strong arm tactics now being employed. Tactics which have now been enshrined in the new terms and conditions.  Though their legality is certainly questionable. How would you like to enter your boat to find CaRT's enforcement staff searching around inside. If the police want to enter your home, they need 'just cause' and a search warrant. However, the Trust expects you to sign terms and conditions where you agree they can enter your boat, which could possibly be your home at any time day or night. The entry can be made on any pretext whether you are in attendance or not. 
Personally, I believe that such memorandums of understanding are nothing more than a charter that at least smudges the line between the poacher and gamekeeper. The distinctions become unclear, the independence becomes questionable. Ask yourself who really benefits and in what way do you benefit. 

  • If you join such an association will your interests be best served?
  • Is your membership just providing a path for a select few to push their own agenda?
  • Do all boaters benefit or does it benefit  a select few?

This should be a cause for concern for all boaters. It certainly creates a great deal of ongoing speculation. In essence can you ever be best served by an association that gives its full support and approval to such a sweeping change in the terms and conditions.

However, boaters are a naturally sceptical collection of disparate people. It could be said that the boaters almost hold as many opinions as there are boats on the waterway. This healthy scepticism was brought about in the early days when waterways were viewed as a thing of the past. Activists took on the new owners, the government. In a story with an almost fairytale ending. One that we should all be able to enthuse our our grand children with. The small group of boater activists and their association who overcame the behemoth of the state and won. 

So who is wagging the tail of the dog? 
Some boaters such as myself believe that as a result of that close working relationship. That boaters have been subjected to a whole raft of unneeded and disproportionate changes. Changes which must have been put in place at the associations behest or carried out with their complete agreement. If you like, a line was drawn in the sand and a new era of closer cooperation was born. On face value, one might believe that this is a good thing. 

Typical of this 'tight knit' MoU agreement was the election of what were supposed to be independent boater representatives to the Trusts council. Once more, one might have believe that this is a good thing. An election was organised, individuals manifesto's were circulated. The democratic process took place. However in the cold light of day the touted as 'independent boater' positions to the council were filled by the upper echelons of an Association which coincidentally happens to come complete with an MoU.

Since then there has been a total lock down on any information about any issues the representatives have raised on the backs of our votes.
  • So what are our 'elected representatives' actually representing to the trust?
  • So who are our 'elected representatives' actually representing to the trust?
  • So how do  our 'elected representatives' communicate with the electorate?
  • So what have our 'elected representatives' actually communicated to the electorate?
In this day and age of social media. Such two way communications to collect and disseminate information is easy. However, the silence from our elected representatives is both palpable and deafening. The blank refusal to divulge any information about meetings involving our representatives by the trust, is also a serious concern. 

Ombudsman Fiasco
The safety net as such, was supposed to be the Inland Waterways Ombudsman - in cases of dispute, the ombudsman would be the final arbiter. However, it turns out to have been a sham existence for the last three years.  Our elected representatives and other must have known about this. The trustees entrusted with the operation of the trust must have known about this. But the silence was deafening.

Is there any benefit to be gained from joining a boating association. Yes, there most certainly are benefits. I like to look upon it as another form of insurance. Something that looks out for your long term interests. But at the same time something that you hope you will never need. You invest a great deal of money in your boat and the canal, you need to protect that investment. 

Some of the bigger associations, just want to be all things to all people who use the waterways. Be that walkers, cyclists, fishermen, bird watchers and a plethora of other interests.  This on first sight might seem to be a good thing. However, boaters in that context would just be lost in the noise of everyone else wanting to pursue their own and sometimes conflicting agendas.

After all, why would you not  invest the price of a 'jerry can of diesel' in a boating association who is in essence, dealing on your behalf with your landlord.   But you also need to be selective about which association you join.  As a boater, it is essential to join a boater only association. The smaller niche associations for CCers, boat clubs or residential boaters, canal traders are self limiting by their small numbers. Many of the old associations are slowly fading into obscurity. Ageing population, the dearth of young people owning boats. The reasons for their change in circumstances are many and varied. The solution can only come from a truly independent boaters association.

I commend NABO to the house.

Further information can be found here:

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