Monday, 28 September 2015

Is it me?

Is it me - or is the Canal and River Trust actually fit for purpose. 

I am asking myself the rhetorical question because of the 'distinguished history' of the fledgling, third sector Trust, for getting it wrong. Not just on the odd occasion but repeatedly again and again. 

Its as if the Trust was deliberately trying to do things wrong. Three years into its tenure of office and it seems that the Trust is staggering from one problem straight into another. However today is a day to look on the bright side. Because the old guard of the Canal and River Trust are now being replaced. We have seen some of their passing with scarcely a ripple on the surface of the Inland Waterways. 

The inexorable drift towards the door was led by the staff that were made redundant. Which was followed by Robin Evans with Simon Salem, Philip Ridal, Sally Ash and others helping to clear out the blockage, so to speak. Now, with the exit of Vince Moran which has just been announced. But not only that, we will now see the (twice delayed) back of Tony Hales. I'm convinced that this will now be part of a huge step forward for an improved future.

Everyone knows that British Waterways was headed for what became known as the bonfire of the quangos. To be subsumed into the EA. As I look around, I can't help but wonder if that was a missed opportunity. However as usual its CaRT with a huge elephant in the room. Leaving one trustee to pen the waterways equivalent of a moving eulogy. 
'Under the leadership of Tony Hales so much has been achieved for the nation’s waterways. He had the vision and passion to take the waterways out of state control in what was the largest ever transfer of state infrastructure into a charitable organisation. Since that remarkable achievement in 2012, he has set the path for a bright future for the waterways for generations to come.'
Lynne Berry, deputy chair of CaRT.

I'm not sure exactly where Lynne has found this rare as hens teeth or rocking horse shit 'achievement' but one might have just slipped under the radar. (It could have been the square bollards) I'm not sure where Lynne saw the 'vision and passion' either. Maybe she should have gone to Specsavers.

'The Trust was aiming to achieve, in less than a year, a process and status that had taken the National Trust 150 years. Ms Berry also 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.'
Vice Chair of trustees Lynne Berry to the APPGW (All Party Parliamentary Waterways Group) in March 2012
I think that the 2012 statement of intent, by Lynne gives some idea of how well the Trusts trustees have done in achieving in 2015. What was obviously seen back then as being a simple task, all to be achieved in the first year of CaRT's existence. 

Maybe they should both have gone to Specsavers.

My mantra has always been that despite everything done by the Trust, we need to work with the Trust. Because there was no other alternative. So what will the future be like for the Inland Waterways in the post Hales years. Once the 'towpath celebrations' of his twice belated leaving have subsided.

So how well is the trust actually fairing three years into its term of office?

Maybe a pointer can be gathered from the Trusts own 'Boater Research' results which were summarised in 11th of September 2015 Boaters Update. 'The research discovered that the majority of boaters don't feel respected by CaRT'. Which I feel is possibly a mutual standpoint. To be honest I would question the need for the research. It should have been fairly obvious from the Richard Parry 'meet and greet' meetings. 

In view of the Trusts own research into its popularity amongst the boaters. Maybe we should actually reflect upon one or two of the achievements and home goals under the chairmanship of Tony Hales. The achievements that have obviously made his tenure all so popular. The Trust after all has never held back from making 'grandiose statements' and endless 'pie in the sky' predictions of its future. But never its actual less than  'glittering' performance when compared with the outcomes. 

So lets examine some of the spectacular 'achievements' that have come to fruition under the watchful, collective eye of the dual Chairman of Council, Chairman of Trustees and of the Trustees themselves. After all, it would be unfair upon the other trustees to leave them out in the cold.

Lets have a look at the first of Tony and the other trustees lack lustre achievements.

CaRT's performance in recruiting friends has been so 'piss poor' that it has gone into the red to the tune of £3,000,000 in the Trusts first three years in operation. What's more the Trusts own indications are that the losses will continue for the next three. Remember those fateful words of ms berry 'The Trust was aiming to achieve, in less than a year, a process and status that had taken the National Trust 150 years. So not a single penny of the donations given have been used for charitable purposes over the last three years. It also looks like the charitable donations will not be used for charitable purposes for which they were given over the next three years either. 

The missing friends in the friends recruitment target should be ringing alarm bells at Ivory Towers. The question I would be asking is:- 'Are the people who don't want to be friends of a charity, holding the view that the Trust is being less than charitable. That the missing friends don't want to give money year on year, only to learn via the back door, that its not being used in the way that they expected.' After all, charitable giving is done in the expectation that what is given will be used for charitable purposes.

Success 0 Fail 1 

Lets have a look at another of Tony's achievements. The Trusts biggest self proclaimed success and one that I find to be increasing incredulous. It is the visit/visitor figures that the 'lack lustre' Trust reports. CaRT claims 19,500,000 people are making 400,000,000 million visits a year to the canals. That totals more than the population of the top 10 European Union Countries put together.

This year between April and September we have travelled over 500 miles of the Inland Waterways. I can't hand on heart report that we have seen or witnessed anything that would make me believe that figure.

Putting the canal visit figures into perspective. If you break down the figure by the days in the year. That's 1,095,890 visits a day. Now divide that figure by the miles of canal and river managed by CaRT. This gives a figure of 498 visitors per mile of canal each day.  There are very obvious factors that will effect the day to day density of people on the towpath and therefore the visibility and chance of meeting significant visitor numbers. 

Daylight -v- Darkness or Summer -v- Winter. Good Weather -v- Bad Weather as well as Weekday -v- Weekend. If you give some thought, you will soon realise that the above factors will actually squeeze the visitor numbers into a much shorter time frame. Mainly during the daylight hours which can be very short depending on the season of the year. So we should be seeing about 1,000 visitors on each one mile section of canal in daylight hours.

What is very apparent from the back deck of our boat as we cruise around the inland waterways. In the countryside for tens of miles, the towpath is devoid of all but the serious walkers, cyclists and fishermen and they are in turn, very few in number. In the towns and cities the numbers do improve but even there are still not enough people to be seen walking, jogging, cycling or fishing.

This then started me to think more about the generalisation over the numbers being possibly concentrated into a number of hotspots. With the exception of (a drink in a pub, sat or stood by the water, visit to a heritage attraction or museum) all the rest (on a boat with an engine, canoeing, rowing boats and sailing boats, cycling, walking a dog, a walk, a ramble, a run or a jog) would require some significant movement along the waterway and towpath. So we should be able to observe the huge rise in the numbers of these visitors along the towpath. Not necessarily congregated around a hotspot.

At the popular floating market in Birmingham I stood on a footbridge and counted the number of people in one hour passing along one section of the canal.  So here I was in the middle of the day, at a weekend, in a popular venue in excellent weather.  It came to 123 people, some who were also on bikes. So that's an 8 hour average of about 984 people.  However, Birmingham has a number of other festivals going on such as the 'big hoot' and 'The Birmingham Weekender' Not only that but there were even the two huge Rugby events that had drawn 10's of thousands walking around the city centre wearing rugby shirts.  Even with all these attractions Birmingham could not attract the average number for any mile of canal. 

Success 0 Fail 2

However, I do hope that the Trust is being careful where it is encouraging the visitors to visit. The central hub for the Trust managed Inland Waterways, is Birmingham. Recently when we came into the city centre via the Farmers Bridge Flight. We were unable to avoid watching as three people living rough, got their fix of drugs. Two injecting it between their fingers and in one case dropping his trousers and injecting directly into the groin. When you are locking up the flight and such behaviour is taking place in full view alongside the canal. This is indicative of how the canal infrastructure is seen, by the local population on a regular basis, day in and day out.

Is this a place you would want to frequent?

Would you be happy to bring your children on a visit here?

Would you want to give a charitable donation to the Trust that manages this area?

Success 0 Fail 3 

I suppose when looking at other achievements of Tony Hales – it would be crass not to look at cycling and his part in changing the use of the towpath. This exemplar demonstrates what a wonderful place the inland waterways are. Sustrans says that cars make the roads too dangerous for cyclists, Whilst cyclist in turn make the pavement too dangerous for pedestrians. Not wanting to be left out of this two wheeled arms race, the Cycling and River Trust are now making the towpath too dangerous for pedestrians, boaters, joggers and fishermen.

The press has been reporting the incidence of high speed cycling on the towpaths for a decade. Social media is full of instances of people coming into conflict with high speed cyclists. There are social media groups made up of towpath users who are campaigning for something to be done about the speed racing on the towpaths. It would certainly require a visit to Specsavers if not one of the trustees had the 'vision' to see the impact on the safety of the public.

Now because they feel like front line troops - boaters have formulated their own Facebook group to publicly draw attention to the lack of any effective action beyond words, leaflets and duck lanes.  I know that there are petitions being organised and there is the promise of action days with the media invited to attend. 

'This [FaceBook] group are trying to make the Trust aware of the problems faced by some users, walkers, wheelchair users, hard of hearing, people with limited sight, dog walkers, people with prams... I could go on... the tow paths are becoming skittle alleys for some people as the speeding cyclists don't slow down and treat the towpath is like a racetrack.' Leslie Pearson

The upgrade to the towpath should be something that everyone is able to enjoy. Whilst at the same time look forward to using, especially in poor weather with improved conditions under foot. However, the commuting cyclists who are part of the group of users, are supposed to share the space. However, a minority simply cycle too fast. The Trust, through an ill thought through policy, are putting those 400,000,000 visitors on the front line. No amount of 'educational leaflets' handed out and no amount of 'educational duck lanes' will actually provide the much needed protection to the primary user and primary funder - the pedestrian.

Success 0 Fail 4

We should also broaden out the view to take a look at the Trusts performance in embracing the Internet and social media. There is the old rule in business, if any idea to improve the business model will require further work to fix any ensuing issues. The idea was fundamentally flawed in the concept stage. A further rule similarly applied in computing is - GIGO [Garbage In Garbage Out] if you put garbage into a system - you will get a garbage out.

The age of letter writing by 'Disgruntled of Milton Keynes' to the printed waterways press is almost gone. In the new world of social media everyone is a critic, everyone could be a supporter and more than anything else, everyone is a publisher. This maybe news in Ivory Towers, but the Trust is increasingly coming under social media scrutiny and is found to be lacking. In a way, the Trust is reacting abysmally to a change to joined up communications that took place over a decade ago. The Trust behaves itself as if the world has stood still in the meantime. Today the news is instantaneous and everyone gets to comment upon everything. So what the Trust would have us believe and published in its press releases. Is often critically bombed in social media within moments of being released.

Success 0 Fail 5

Then there is the enduring and perennial hot potato that has been inexpertly juggled by Tony. It is of course the lack of maintenance investment. The latest figures are an improvement, but only in accuracy. Unfortunately the figures are going in the wrong direction. No longer bandied at being around the 50,000 mark. The number of outstanding issues requiring maintenance is now trending upwards. The Trust has confirmed that the number of outstanding defects on its system has grown from 52,000 to 59,133 in less than 18 months.

Success 0 Fail 6

The promised 'openness and accountability' is another one of the chairman's achievements. Increasingly it is becoming more apparent that the Trust is now operating with a silo mentality - Where everyone on the inside of the silo is convinced it has all the answers. While those on the outside are more and more convinced, that the Trust has utterly lost its way. Managed by an insular management who are incapable of working with the users. The silo occurs whenever a management system is incompatible with the requirements of its remit, not integrated or incapable of providing a coherent plan.

Success 0 Fail 7

Another of Tony's achievements are the Waterways Partnerships which are a part of that silo mentality. Grandiose claims made for the future, which like most of the Trusts ideas have come to nothing. Vast sums of money were projected to be flowing into the Trusts coffers. The partnerships however could not even reach the break-even point by  the end of last year. However, it should be noted that there is money flowing between the Trust and the partnerships. Its actually flowing out of the Trusts coffers to prop up a piss poor idea. Mainly because the partnerships are disjointed and operated as the personal fiefdoms of an unelected whoever. I still have no idea how and in what way they are accountable. A cursory glance through the various meetings notes will certainly not give any crumbs of comfort for the future.

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. Including a reminder of their aim to be self funded in all their activities by the end of 2014.

Success 0 Fail 8

Then we should also take a look at Tony's shining edifice that is BWML.  Just how well is the Trusts BWML subsidiary performing. Not so long ago it was bringing in a small profit. Then just when I thought it could not get any worse. There is what has become known around the waterways as the 'dirty tricks' campaign. We are regaled by yet another fiasco on the Chairman Hales watch. Geoff Whyatt, BWML's Managing Director, has now publicly apologised to other marina owners for his actions. However, in addition to making a loss of £877,642 last financial year, BWML had also written off a further £714,087. However, no apologies have been forthcoming from the Trust or the chairman for that loss.

Success 0 Fail 9

Well, I'm finally convinced, against my better judgement, it can't possibly become any worse than it already is. Things can now only improve, but only if the newly liberated Trust can take on board that it needs to change its whole ethos and that change can't come soon enough.

So who will take up the 'poison chalice'. Step forward Allan Leighton, chair of the Co-Operative Group, and formerly CEO of Asda Plc and chair of the Royal Mail. He will formally take over as chairman of the Canal And River Trust in September. Allan joined the Board of Trustees in September 2014.

Do I have any words of advice for our new chairman.  Unsurprisingly, yes I do.  The main problem for the trust is the 'us and them' entrenched positions between the Trust and its customers. As evidenced in the Trusts own 'Boater Research' results which are highlighted above. The entrenched attitude has been around since the days of British Waterways. It requires a move of ethos from 'exclusive to inclusive'. 

Is there a solution - well yes there is. Surprise, shock, horror its a simple one. 

One which I would like to see the new chairman implement. The Trust has to be answerable to the people who own the waterways the public. The customer base is the public that choose to use or visit the waterways. There has been a promise made previously of an open and accountable Trust. Which unsurprisingly the Trust has so far failed to deliver. It requires a new ethos, it requires someone with the strength to grasp the nettle.

How can this new ethos be brought around. By the simple expedient of dropping the Trusts opposition to being a charitable Trust with a contributing membership. The Trust needs to become an inclusive membership organisation. The vast majority of charitable Trusts are membership led organisations. Further more the Trust has to be answerable to that membership. The insular mantle and inward looking ethos inherited from British Waterways is not fit for purpose. The notion of a no member charitable trust should be turned out to pasture, along with the outgoing chairman.

Remember what I said earlier 'The old rule in business, if any idea to improve the business model will require further work to fix the ensuing issues. The idea was fundamentally flawed in the concept stage.' The transition from British Waterways to the third sector was fundamentally flawed because it carried over the British Waterways ethos, management style and management team such as it is/was. Wisdom expressed by many people working in the charitable sector said the Trust would flourish only under a membership organisation – One that was accountable to the membership. Well the alternative has been tried for three years and failed. What is there to lose by moving over to a membership accountable, charitable organisation.

It was discussed at the APPWG. (All Party Parliamentary Waterways Group) Where the new trust was envisioned by the Minister as being 'The National Trust for the Inland Waterways'. Many recommendations were made by a list of invited professionals and experts working in the third sector. Almost every recommendation from the experts were subsequently ignored by the Quango drop outs.  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 aid of a crystal ball. Which was in fact Mr Mills exercising his expert knowledge. He told the APPWG about his experience in setting up mutuals and membership-based organisations.
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.'

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.'
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.' 

Success 0 Fail 10

'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.' Chairman of trustees Tony Hales.

Now, I'm not so sure in its current configuration that the Trust is the way forward for the Inland Waterways. Maybe the Trust could and should be absorbed into the Environment Agency. Some will look upon this as a retrograde step. The EA previously did not have a good reputation with its own boating users. More recently the EA has had to undergo significant operational changes - in the main the driver behind the dramatic change has been created by the various flood management issues over recent times. The EA has undergone a significant restructure, changes in its working practices and in its management structures. Its a leaner, smarter agency now, a much different animal from its previous incarnation.  Maybe the EA is much more fit for purpose.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please put your name to your comment. Comments without a name may automatically be treated as spam and might not be included.

If you do not wish your comment to be published say so in your comment. If you have a tip or sensitive information you’d prefer to share anonymously, you may do so. I will delete the comment after reading.