Tuesday 19 May 2015

How do I satisfy the Board

I suppose At a time when the Trust is seeing a significant fall in the number of boats on the inland waterways. (5000 less boats on the waterways) Add to this a significant number of boats who are changing from having a home mooring to elect to go constant cruising. Both of which will reduce further one or more of the more significant funding streams. 

When financial targets are based upon licensing and moorings. (CaRT's 58 million loss) It seems that the losses made by CaRT are because the trust has unsurprisingly taken its eye off the fund raising ball. Only to spend all of its time on scoring home goals on non issues. 

When it come to the Canal and River Trust nothing should ever come as a surprise. Well the draconian changes made to the 'Terms and Conditions' of boat licensing and the sweeping changes made to 'Visitor Moorings' have now taken place. Add into the mix the latest release of the 'Guidelines' for boaters without a home mooring. All of which are intended to deal with what is on the face of it a small problem.  With a reduction to 31,000 licensed boats and their numbers continuing to falling. It should be remembered that the huge majority of remaining boaters are compliant boaters cruising within the meaning of the 1995 Waterway Act.

It has to be acknowledged that a tiny fraction of boaters have chosen to ignore the generous nature of the 1995 waterways act and openly flaunt the rules.  This is a simple case of enforcement which the 1995 act adequately defines. It is certainly not rocket science, to understand, scope and manage the issue effectively.

On The Nod
With the notable exception of NABO (National Association of Boat Owners). (NABO slams CaRT's T&C's) Most of the changes went through on the nod, if not enthusiastically encouraged and supported by all the other boating associations. But then its well know that some of those associations have 'gone over to the dark side' so to speak. Giving up their once great rallying point of independence, championing causes of the waterways and the representation of their members aspirations. All give away by who, who has benefited and more questionably, for what purpose exactly?

Fair, Proportionate and Necessary?
You may be like me, querying and questioning the need for all the changes. First of all, the terms and conditions must have been put together by a non boater. Because the language used has been couched in such a way. As to make what had been for many years a well known and perfectly well understood process. Now metamorphosed not into a butterfly, but  into a confusing nightmare. But you might also question if the changes are actually fair, proportionate and at all necessary. There is even some doubt about the 'validity in law' of the changes.  I feel as a compliant boater that signing the terms and conditions actually place me under duress. After all, the alternative is obviously totally disproportionate option and in a reasonable world such an outcome would be unthinkable. 

Problem, What Problem?
Secondly in five years I have yet to encounter a problem of finding a visitor mooring. I could never be in a position to raise a complaint as such anyway. (NABO against mooring proposals) Simply because as a compliant boater, I would have no reason whatsoever to know how long other boats had been on a mooring prior to our arrival. This overstaying which is reported as a widespread problem has been seen for what it is - a load of old tosh. With little real evidence (as admitted by the trust) beyond hearsay to back up the claims. However, this did not stop the trust from changing time limits on moorings throughout the whole of the waterways. 

Now we see time and again on social media real evidence in the form of pictures taken at the mythical 'honeypot' visitor mooring sites. Which show them to be almost empty at what would be the traditional busy times of the year. All to evidence and truth now being conveniently ignored by the trust.

Get a Grip
Lets get a grip on the reality of the situation faced by the trust. The vast majority of boaters are law abiding and just want to get on with enjoying the cut. Their view of the rules was such that they were generally adhered to. Not strictly to the letter, but also where necessary the boater applied a bit of common sense. If moored waiting to go on a river and it was rising in flood they would overstay for a few days while conditions improved. If it was blowing a gale, they would overstay for a day or so while conditions improved before moving on. If it was torrential rain, they might overstay for a day. We can't legislate for the vagaries of the English weather. So the rules of common sense were applied.

It was a relaxed way of cruising, which did so much for the pleasure and enjoyment. The system worked without any real problems for decades. Now we see the start of sweeping changes to visitor moorings. And the imposition of a penalty or a fine whichever way you choose to look at it. Changes which have needlessly been put into place to address a virtually non existent problem.  A problem that the trust is patently unable to manage.

Vexatious use of the law
There is already a great deal of speculation that this is a 'vexatious' manipulation of the law to engineer a situation which is outside of the 1995 act. It could also call into question if the trust was trying to engineer that situation to its own ends.  Essentially setting up a scapegoat or whipping boy. One where there is an inequality of arms. One where the it can revert to its regular companions (the non contributing) "M'learned" friends of the Trust.  With the promise of further rounds of expensive litigation. It should be remembered that recently the trust has not faired to well in going to law. One has to wonder why there was even a need for a gagging clause. (Why the lack of publication of the judgement) in one recent case. (Community Law Partnership on Mayers) Maybe it was because the publicity of the judgement would undermine what the trust was trying to do.

Their in lies the nub of the problem. There are people who don't just overstay for a day or two because of weather or flooding problems. They want to do their own thing. They are a tiny almost insignificant number of individuals. They are anti-social boaters with their own agenda. They are not sticking to the spirit of the act. I also don't think that they will stick to the new rules either. So rather than addressing the problem - the trust introduces even more confusion. The non compliant boaters are extremely easy to find and identify. They are not moving. They are in the same location day in day out, week in week out, month in month out and unsurprisingly year in year out.

Draconian Change
Now we have the situation where a draconian change in the licence terms and conditions, time restrictions on visitor moorings and guidelines for boaters without a home mooring, has been brought about. Caused by a lack of ability by the trust to manage its own waterways systems. A huge sledge hammer that is being wielded to crack a peanut sized issue.

Now we can expect a set of guidelines to explain what the changes to the terms and conditions actually mean. Typical of the Trust who have already tried to define and then redefine the word 'place'. We now have the Kafkaesque situation  where the phrase 'satisfaction of the trust' will have to be defined.  If ever a phrase was loaded with intent - its
'satisfaction of the trust'.  

Satisfaction what's that?
How will satisfaction come about and will it apply equally to all boaters. I ask this question because the trust has already admitted that its 'guidance for boaters without a mooring' is exempted from those boaters with a mooring. Even when away from their mooring and are cruising the system. So if you purchase a home mooring from the trust. Even if you never intend to use it. You can essentially purchase an exemption from litigation. Its a popular ploy called a ghost mooring.

But now there is a great deal of additional speculation about the record keeping credentials of the Trust. Boaters have asked for sightings records held by the trust to find glaring holes in the records that present a false view of boat movements. (Guilty until proved innocent)  Through presenting a distorted view due to the lack of insufficient sighting records. There is discussion on social media of some boaters concern that they may now be travelling further than previously. But that this additional movement is not being captured by the trust. 

Openness and Transparency.
How can a boater correct the missing data and the false impression created by the inaccuracies and omissions.  I have tried to get information out of the trust - as usual it is less than forthcoming. Even though in the words of Richard Parry - the trust will be embracing a policy of openness and transparency. (Openness and Transparency)

I submitted a Freedom of Information act request on the24th of March 2015.

Dear Canal and River Trust.

This freedom of information request is being submitted as a boat licence holder and mooring holder. I have read the Canal and River Trust Guidance for boaters without a home mooring. However I understand that the guidance is equally applicable to boats with a home mooring.

From my reading of the Canal and River Trust Guidance for boaters without a home mooring. The Canal and River Trust has not not published, what the trust considers to be a system or methodology by which a boat owner can keep an acceptable record their movements. Such that the records would be unambiguous and in a form that would be perfectly acceptable to the trust.

Notwithstanding the preamble above. To enable me to satisfy myself and yourself that I am fully compliant with the Canal and River Trust Guidance for boaters without a home mooring.

1) Can you describe a system or methodology whereby a boat owner can record their boat movements that conforms with the requirements that the Canal and River Trust Guidance for boaters without a home mooring. So that the records would be unambiguous and in a form that would be perfectly acceptable to the trust.

2) Can you describe a system or methodology whereby a boat owner can check their individual boat movements against the records held by the Canal and River Trust. So that the records would continue to be unambiguous and in a form that would be perfectly acceptable to the trust.

3) Can you describe a system or methodology whereby a boat owner can correct any errors highlighted in the records of their individual boat movements. When checked against the records held by the Canal and River Trust. So that the records would continue to be unambiguous and in a form that would be perfectly acceptable to the trust.

 The trust replied on the same day the 24th of march.
I know that you intend this as a 'Freedom of Information Act request' but, having read through the detail of your e-mail, you haven't asked us for any information that would be already recorded; instead you request that we describe systems and methodologies relating to your three points.

I do not have any already recorded information which would address the three points in your request. So, to answer your e-mail I would suggest that I direct it to a member of our Enforcement team.

 I replied on the 3rd of April 2015.

As the trust states that boaters should be able to 'satisfy the trust' that they are bona fide navigating the inland waterways. Therefore without knowing the format of the records it would be hard for a boater to second guess how to record boat movements in a way that would be acceptable to the trust. I am sure that the trust would want to share what the trust consider to be acceptable ways of making such recordings.

On social media there is already much conjecture and confusion as to what is an acceptable form of recording of boat movements. Photographs with times and dates. Global positioning data. The trust has been somewhat vague in using the term 'satisfy the trust' without actually revealing what would be a proportionate, reasonable and acceptable form of recording.

People are already talking on social media about what are being described as 'glaring errors' in the trusts boat sighting records. Errors highlighted where individual boaters have requested copies of the sighting the trust has on file.

The popular workaround being espoused seems to be to make regular requests to the trust, for copies of the trusts sighting records. Then to dispute any errors through the trusts complaints procedures. This seems to me to be totally a totally inappropriate way of correcting sighting errors.

I wish to request a formal review of my FoI request.

The trust replied 13 days later on the 15th of April.

Thank you for your e-mail, which we received last Tuesday. I'm sorry not to have replied to you sooner.

My response to your pervious [previous?] e-mail explained why you had not made a request for information to the Trust, despite your correspondence coming to us via the Whatdotheyknow.com website. I offered to forward your correspondence to my colleagues in our Enforcement team for them to give you the explanation you seek. My offer still stands so please do let me know if you would like me to do this for you.

I replied the next day on the 16th of April 2015.

It may be me that's a bit old fashioned, but I had assumed that any request would have been passed on to an appropriate person within the trust, for actioning, as a matter of course. So yes please do pass on the FoI request to the enforcement team. 

The trust replied on the 20th of April 2015
Thank you for your e-mail and for letting me know that you're happy for me to forward your enquiry to our enforcement team. They'll respond to you directly.
Here we are as I write almost a month later. My formal request for a FoI review has been totally ignored. The request to pass on the FoI request internally has not generated a response. Neither has it generated any further acknowledgement. The trust has made new terms and conditions and refuses to tell me how I can be compliant in keeping a record of my boat movements.

Deafening Silence
The trust has pulled up the drawbridge and the deafening silence continues. So now I will have to hand over the Freedom of Information request to the appropriate authority for actioning. You might think that the 'pseudo' boating associations would be up in arms about what is after all a simple problem. But with the one notable exception of NABO - their collective silence continues to be deafening. 


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