Sunday 19 April 2015

Fawlty Towers

It's been a sort of 'Fawlty Towers' experience, one where Basil and Sybil can't communicate with each other.  because of the head in the sand mentality of an ex quango, keeping up appearance of being the same old same old quango.  

By way of an example, you may remember that some time ago. I asked the Canal and River Trust if any of our elected representatives were holding meetings with the licence holding electorate.  Learning the hard way from emails and phone calls which can get lost or forgotten. I know it saves time to ask any serious questions via the Freedom of Information act.  So I wrote:

Dear Canal & River Trust,

I was interested to read the article in Aprils Boaters Update penned by Ivor Caplan. The article was a request for information on how to bring younger people into boating.

I was intrigued by the comment. “I know from speaking with many boaters, particularly those involved with organisations such as boat clubs, societies and trusts, how important they see this issue and I would appreciate receiving any comments.

I have searched the trusts website and I am unable to find a list of visits planned by our representatives either in the past or in the future at clubs, societies, trusts and other organisations.

Can you supply a list of previous and future planned visits (venue, time and date) made by the various boater representatives. - Ann Farrell, Chris Bailey, Clive Henderson, Ivor Caplan and Vaughan Welch.

The freedom of information request was stimulated because our ageing society is likely to have a profound effect on the future of the Inland Waterways. It was a pretty simple sort of request that I made I'm sure you would agree. One that should be easy to handle and one that I would have thought the Trust would want people to know, share and at least be aware of.

In the time honoured way that only the Canal and River Trust as a pseudo quango could ever comprehend. In a parody reminiscent of the members of Parliament and their attempts to cover up the 'expenses scandal' from the electorate. The trust refused to reveal what meetings were being held by any of our elected representatives. The very people we had voted to put in place to represent 'us' the licence holding boaters. Were invoking the Canal and River Trust's own version of the official secrets act.

Having considered your request, I am writing to let you know that we do not consider the information you have requested to be subject to the limited application of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to Canal & River Trust.

Therefore, in formal response to your request under the Freedom of Information Act, I have to inform you that Canal & River Trust is not under any duty under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to provide the information you have requested since it does not relate to any functions exercisable by it by virtue of the 2012 Order.

I even took it to the trusts own complaints procedure. I was provided with a bewildering reply from Roger Hanbury that demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of what I was asking for. What could have been a simple reply to my initial FoI request was now subjected to all sorts of internal machinations and angst. But then in a Kafkaesque way Roger provided the very information I had asked for:

Roger Hanbury said "I have spoken to Ivor Caplan and he confirms that the boater representatives have not arranged any public meetings on this matter."

Well almost a year has passed since my FoI request was made and nothing further has been heard publicly from our elected representatives on the matter. But then little has been heard from our elected representatives on any other matter. Then there was the 'smoke and mirrors' myth of a new 'openness and transparency' that the trust would undertake.  Which has also amounted to exactly nothing.
In March this year the Worcester Birmingham & Droitwich Canals Society and CaRT organised a conference to discuss the issue. I would have taken an interest but as many of you will know I have been outside the UK for an extended period. But I have been following up on the event.
Caroline Killeavy, Canal & River Trust head of community engagement, says: "In many respects the nation’s waterways are more popular than ever. However, societies, membership organisations and charities like the Trust all recognise there is a challenge to appeal to new groups, and inspire them to get involved with the waterways. Changing societal pressures and reaching the right audiences in the right way, are among the challenges we all face. What is clear is that we are better to work together to enthuse and attract new people to get involved."
It  is to be hoped that the 'challenge to appeal to new groups and inspire them to get involved with the waterways' and 'reaching the right audience' does not involve the Canal and River Trust.  Because reaching boaters and inspiring them to get involved has been a significant failure.

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