Friday, January 14, 2011

Canal Trust's 'financial nightmare' year

2010 was a 'financial nightmare' for the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust according to an email they have sent to members.  
by Bob Naylor

The Trust now has no immediately accessible cash although on paper it has reserves of nearly £500,000 in the value of property and its trip boats.

The email goes on to explain: "Submissions to award-making Trusts and businesses have been an absolute washout in 2010. Each few weeks has seen yet more rejections to applications for support for projects." And continues, "All this has occurred as warnings about potential cash-flow problems, made five years ago, have come home to roost… The situation had been predicted, but it was not until this year that the impact became evident in terms of a need to dip ever more deeply into a bank overdraft to get the Trust through the difficult low income-generating months of January to April."

The email explains that crisis meetings of the Trust Council and the Enterprise Board in November and December recognised that the Trust needed to take action to try to handle the financial position and examine the role of the Trustees. 

'Strong Leadership' calls for Trustee resignations
A closed meeting of the board of K&A Canal Trust Enterprise Ltd (the trading arm of the Trust) was followed by an extra-ordinary Trust Council meeting on 4th December 2010 which was described by a Trustee as: "A very stage managed event, preceded by discussions behind the scenes."

The email describes 'strong leadership', from Enterprise Board members, Alan Whitewick,  Mike Rodd, David Inight and Neil Lethby, who asked that most of the K&A Canal Trust Board of Trustees resign — with the threat of the board being reported to the Charity Commission if they did not.

New Trustees
A Trust Council member has said: "The Board was basically given no choice about the election of three new board members without going through the normal and accepted procedures. We were told that we could not even wait for six days to be given full information on the candidates."

Of the three new Trustees voted in at that meeting, Pauline King who is an active member of both Pewsey Wharf Boat Club and the Kennavon Venture trip boat team and Suzanne Gaia who is the new treasurer have now joined the board. The third person put forward and voted on to the Board of Trustees is said to be Amy Whitewick, the Trust Webmaster, who with her father Alan Whitewick is the joint Editor of the Trust magazine. She has since decided not to take a place on the board. 

Kennet & Avon Canal Trust Enterprise Ltd
Trust Enterprise Ltd is wholly owned by the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust membership through its Board of Trustees who are elected by the membership. It was created with a loan from the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust with the sole purpose of raising money to enable the Trust to fulfil its aims of protecting, enhancing & promoting the canal.  

Currently the Enterprise Board has only one member elected by the membership of the Trust. Neil Lethby was until very recently in charge of the Trust finances as its Treasurer and the 'stand in' Chairman of the Trust following the departure of David Rees. The other members of The Enterprise Board of Directors are:  Mike Rodd who because of the Trust's financial crisis ceased to be its paid General Manager at the end of the year; Alan Whitewick, the joint Hon Editor of the Trust newsletter 'The Butty' who is the Managing Director of the board of Enterprise; Tim Jones who is the voluntary Human Resources advisor to the Trust; and new Directors, David Inight who is the Director of Boats and Acting Chairman of the Trust and Suzanne Gaia who both joined the board in December 2010.
Latest Trustee resignations include former Treasurer/Chairman
With many comings and goings from the Trust Council since the AGM and the secretive nature of the organisation it is difficult to be sure of the make-up of the Board of Trustees now but it has emerged that Tim Coleman who was brought in as Director of Marketing and Membership for the Trust left very shortly after joining the Board and long-time Board member John McIver has stood down. 

The Charity Commission website currently lists the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust Board of Trustees as David Copley, Bill Fisher, Terry Kemp, Terry Mundy, Pauline King, David Inight and Suzanne Gaia — Neil Lethby is no longer on the list so he has also resigned.
Peter Dunn resigns from Trust Council
Peter Dunn, the highly respected chairman of Claverton Branch, has very recently resigned. It is understood that he will continue as Chairman of the Bath Branch and Chairman of the group at Claverton who operate the Pumping Station.  

Pete Dunn has been the most publicly active member of the Canal Trust Council and there are few events on the K&A Canal that he has not attended as an effective ambassador for the Trust.  

Behind the scenes Peter was the Trustee responsible for health and safety for the Trust — a vital role for an organisation that invites the public into its working industrial heritage sites as well as onto its trip boats.

Current Chairman who replaced the 'stand-in' Chairman is only temporary
Alan Whitewick said in a seperate email to members that following the end of the General Manager post and the ending of Mike Rodd's paid employment he will be co-opted onto the Board of Trustees as soon as possible.

Trust insiders believe that at the next meeting of Trust Council on the 25th January,  David Inight, who has been chairman since 1st January 2011, will stand down and Mike Rodd will be elected Chairman of the Board of Trustees. 

General Manager
Mike Rodd was Director of Learned Society & External Relations for the British Computer Society until he was employed by the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust in March 2009 to turn its fortunes around.

His employment by the Trust at a new executive tier above the day to day administration was made possible by a grant of £75,000 from a local district council who agreed to 'part fund' the post for three years on the basis of an application that said that the post would be self financing within three years through the fundraising activities of the new General Manager.  

Because of the escalating financial crisis in the Trust he was put on part-time working in November and the post was finally terminated on December 31st 2010 when it was realised that the Trust finances were in an even worse state than had been previously thought.

With one year left of the grant funding and the post now gone Wiltshire Council is likely to ask for the £25,000 of charge payers money that has not been used from the grant to be paid back because it was granted specifically to part fund a new executive post of General Manager and not as a donation to the overall funding of the Trust.   

Fund raising 'absolute washout'
The Trust's fundraising under General Manager Mike Rodd is described in the email as 'an absolute washout'. Under his management the Trust embarked on a programme of 'outsourcing' its cafés and shops that had been previously staffed by volunteers with paid part time managers. Bradford on Avon, Newbury Wharf and Aldermaston Wharf cafés were all put in the hands of 'commercial partners'.  And the Trust says 'the outsourced cafés are all starting to generate income for the Trust, instead of continuing to haemorrhage funds out.' 

Another initiative under Mike Rodd's management was to lease an already operating commercial trip boat at Devizes Wharf. This is now run completely by volunteers with no wage costs — and the Trust says it has 'broken even in its very first year'.

But not only has the Trust failed to raise funds from its usual sources but the Trust's  'Membership Plus' scheme initiated to raise £100,000 by increasing membership of the Trust and general fundraising folded having raised no money. It was replaced in September 2010 by a scheme announced by Alan Whitewick who pledged to raise £1000 a month through increased branch fundraising activities and other initiatives with the help of a team made up of two members from each of the Trust's seven Branches.  

It appears that the committee has not been formed yet but fundraising activities so far have included the auction of two signed paperback books and a drawing workshop — with another drawing workshop planned for later this month.
Three new paid staff members sought for Crofton
Despite the Trust's perilous financial position recruitment still continues for the paid posts of 'live-in' warden and two part-time café managers for the Crofton Pumping Station

Tough times
The New Year message ends, "2011 will be a really tough time and many changes will still be required to ensure we are fit for purpose in a completely new environment. Following the staff restructuring described above, however, no further staff reductions are anticipated. This is the time for everyone — staff and members — to join the Trustees and Branch Chairs to ensure we are able to meet our prime reason for existing — to look after our unique and precious waterway."

1 comment:

  1. Is there anyone who thinks that they can - as the story says, "Look after our unique and precious waterway." I think not.

    January 14, 2011 5:38:00 PM GMT