Thursday, May 05, 2011

Trust does little for canal admits K&A Canal Trust Chairman

Trust Chairman: Mike Rodd
Picture by Bob Naylor©
"What does the Trust do?" asked Mike Rodd at a recent meeting, and the reply he gave to his own question was: "Actually at the moment it doesn't do much but sustain itself."

He then went on to explain that the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust and its trading arm, K&A Canal Trust Enterprise Ltd have a turnover of more than £460,000 but, he said: "The truth is, not much of it goes on the canal." 

Volunteers saved the K&A from closure and worked tirelessly to restore it. Now, with ‘Cruiseway’ status finally granted to the canal is the work of the Canal's Trust over? 

The Kennet & Avon Canal was reclassified by the government as a ‘Cruiseway’ waterway on 18 April 2011 and the future of the canal as a navigation is legally assured — does this mean the admirable work of the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust is over and the charity in its present form should be wound up? Some members of the K&A Canal Trust think that it should.

The Trust is 'Skint'

Former Trustee, Adrian Softley
Picture by Bob Naylor©
Speaking at a recent Canal Users' Forum in the very canalside building on Devizes Wharf that the Trust is soon to vacate because of lack of funds Adrian Softley, the Former Managing Director of K&A Canal Trust Enterprise Ltd, who was also previously a member the Trust's governing board and Chairman of the Devizes Branch of the Trust said: "The Trust is skint, its job is done and we all might as well volunteer for the new BW Charity"   

A similar note was struck by Mike Rodd who was the K&A Canal Trust's paid General Manager until the end of December 2010 when Trust Council described Trust fundraising as 'a total washout'  and terminated his position because as was said at the time 'we have no accessible cash'.  But in a bizarre twist, Trust Council then co-opted him onto Trust Council and then immediately elected him Chairman. 

Dr Rodd, who actually keeps his own boat on the Mon & Brec Canal was a speaker at a NABO Roadshow in Pewsey in March this year where he reported that he had been asked by Waterway Manager, Mark Stephens: "What did you do with the £25,000 that the Rose of Hungerford trip boat raised last year? How did it benefit the canal?" ... A question to which he offered no answer.

Mike Rodd continued by commenting on the bankside work being done at Bradford on Avon by a small group of volunteers and asked: "Shouldn't that be done in future by the new Waterways Trust and not through the K&A Canal Trust?" And he concluded by further asking: "Do we get out of what we are doing at the moment and become part of the new waterways charity?  Or do we have to sit down and say we're going to become more of a lobbying organisation?

Trust's proud history of defiance
The defiance, civil disobedience, campaigning, fundraising and hands-on restoration by the countless supporters of the Kennet & Avon Canal from the time that the government tried to shut the canal down completely has left a legacy that will benefit future generations.

In 1956 the whole of the UK’s canal system was in a sorry state. The Kennet & Avon Canal, which crosses the country from Bristol to Reading, for example, was hardly navigable and the British Transport Commission wanted to close it. In a Bill put before Parliament they planned to classify it as ‘Abandoned’ — never to be used again except perhaps to be filled in and used as a convenient bypass for some of the towns along its length.

The Kennet & Avon Canal Association was formed in 1956 to fight to save the canal from abandonment. And those early campaigners really had a fight on their hands. A fight that the navigation authority did not want them to win. Locks gates were padlocked closed, but Association members cut them off. 

Protests and petitions

A petition to the Queen is carried by canoe for part
of its journey in along the K&A to London
Protest meetings were held and names of supporters were collected on a petition that was sent to the Queen.

After a lengthy, hard fought, campaign the early pioneers finally succeeded in 1962 in having the canal re-classified by the Government as ‘Remainder’. 

The goal then was to restore the canal to full navigation and have it re-classified as ‘Cruiseway’, to ensure the future of the waterway and put a legal responsibility on the navigation authority to keep the canal maintained and open for navigation and give long-term security to the businesses trading on the Kennet & Avon Canal.

Trust 'heritage' status
In 1962 the Kennet and Avon Canal Association applied for ‘heritage’ charitable status and the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust was formed.

The railway built by Brian 'Grumpy' House from 'borrowed'
parts to speed up work on Caen Hill
Men, women and children got dug in, quite literally, and weekend after weekend volunteers cut down trees, dug out the channel or worked to re-claim locks. 

Others helped to raise money by running boat trips, shops, cafés or other fundraising events such as car boot sales, Crafty Craft races or wharfside fetes. 

Members of the Trust pulled together and made it work. There was energy, determination and a goal. 

They were inventive, imaginative and creative. They called in favours, borrowed, scrounged and, it has been said, stole the tools and the materials that they needed to do the work. 

They found labour where they could. Local schools became involved and a thriving ‘Youth Division’ was formed. Links were forged with the Criminal Justice System and local prisoners were sometimes to be found working on the eastern end of the canal. 

And all of this work was carried out with the ultimate goal to see full navigation of the canal and to get the elusive ‘Cruiseway’ status.

BWB put a stop to K&A volunteering
In 1977 volunteers were stopped by BWB from working at Widmead and Monkey Marsh locks, allegedly for safety reasons — and eventually BWB put a stop to all volunteering on the canal. 
It may have been a matter of Health & Safety, certainly early volunteers talk of a definite gung-ho approach that would put fear in the hearts of anyone with responsibility for the safety of volunteers today. It has also been claimed that the unions were to blame because they believed that volunteers were taking away staff jobs.

Whatever the truth of the matter, Trust volunteer labour was no longer welcome, or allowed, on the Kennet & Avon Canal and so the effort of its members was put into raising funds.

The canal was finally opened for through navigation from Bristol to Reading when the Queen came to officially reopen the canal on 8 August 1990. 

But this was far from the end of the story. There was still much more to do to get the K&A up to standard and in 1994 a Partnership of BW, the K&A Canal Trust and riparian local authorities was set up to apply for a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. 

They succeeded in raising £29m, the largest grant awarded by HLF at that time — but not all the cash actually came from the HLF. £21m came from the grant, the rest – as a condition of the grant – had to come from matched funding from the riparian authorities and the K&A Canal Trust whose liability for matched funding was £50K a year. The K&A Canal Trust certainly knew how to raise funds in those days.

K&A Canal Trust 'financially weak' 
The Trust’s finances are now described as ‘weak’. The sad fact is that It actually has no cash reserves and only an unexpected legacy and a donation saved it from having to try to re-finance in March this year. 

The Trust was also on the brink of having to re-finance in the Spring of 2010 but managed to weather that storm. 

However in 2011 but for an unexpected legacy and donation the Trust would have definitely had to re-finance. So the financial position this year must have been even worse than in previous years. 

Charity Commission submission ... 'empty promises'
No lessons were learned from 2009 and no strong financial controls were put in place although in the Trust’s report to the Charity Commission in 2009 it said: “... the trustees decided that they should go into 2010 with a balanced budget. To achieve this, difficult decisions have to be made. These included reducing HQ staffing, reducing the cost of producing the Trust Magazine, The Butty, outsourcing most of our cafes and tea rooms through partnership arrangements with professional caterers, refreshing the admissions Gift-Aid proposition, and planning a fundraising push for 2010.”  

The report went on to say, “The result of the changes is a balanced budget for 2010. Looking ahead, the Trustees plan to increase the income-generating activities on the canal, with more boat operations and enhanced offerings at visitor attractions, thereby also promoting the public experience of the unique waterway.” 

As a mother might say when a child says they will tidy up their room tomorrow — "empty promises".

The 2009 accounts have this to say about financial reserves, “It is the policy of the Charity that unrestricted funds which have not been designated for a specific use should be maintained at a level equivalent to between three and six month’s expenditure. 

The trustees considers (sic) that reserves at this level will ensure that in the event of a significant drop in funding, they will be able to continue the Charity’s current activities while consideration is given to ways in which additional funds may be raised. This level of reserves has been maintained throughout the year”.

The 2009 report to the Charity Commission says: “The trustees have assessed the major risks to which the Charity is exposed, and are satisfied that systems are in place to mitigate exposure to the major risks".

Long term financial failings
So what went wrong? In 2006 the accounts show that the Trust lost £56,528, In 2007 it lost £35,770, in 2008 it lost £43,258. None of these figures include the results for the trading arm, which was accounted for separately until 2009.

In 2009, when the deficit was £26,328 the trustees realised that something had to be done and so they applied to Kennet District Council for £75,000 to support the salary of a general manager for three years. The GM's job was to sort out the finances and to make the role self-financing before the end of the three years of the grant funding — through the fundraising activities of the person appointed. 

Lack of scrutiny by funders
Because the grant was awarded in the final days of the District Council's existence the full £75,000 was paid in one lump sum and the normal scrutiny that Local Authority funded organisations would expect before receiving year 2 and year 3 of the grant has not occurred. 

The fact that the K&A Canal Trust publicly stated earlier this year that they actually have no cash now adds confusion because of course there should be £25,000 that was banked in 2009 for the third year of Local Authority funding of the GM post. Has this already been spent?

The practice of a well run organisation would be to 'ring fence' that money and, of course, it is possible that it is sitting there in the bank following the decision to end the General Manager's post because the Trust did not have any money to pay his wages. 

The former General Manager, Dr Mike Rodd, who is now the latest Chairman of the K&A Canal Trust is now refusing to answer questions about the finances of the Trust.

Trust GM refuses to take responsibility for poor financial performance
At the end of 2009 Dr Rodd had been in post for nine months, although he had been volunteering in his role for the previous three months before taking up the post. The end of year accounts showed a deficit of £26,328 — by any standards a catastrophic performance against the budget set for that year by the trustees.

Dr Rodd refused to take responsibility for that performance, saying, “It wasn’t my budget”. 

As one commentator has asked, "Is it not the job of a charity’s General Manager to monitor financial performance against the budget and make recommendations to the board of trustees during the year, rather than wait until the final figures are disclosed?"

Trust Treasurer — 'financial performance monitoring is not my role'
Former Trust
Neil Lethby
by Bob Naylor©
The Treasurer until the end of 2010 was Neil Lethby who felt that monitoring financial performance wasn't the role of the treasurer either. He said in 2009,  "We don’t do financial forecasts throughout the year". 

Every set of year end figures in recent years has come as a surprise — but proper financial planning should have been in place so that they were not. 

Yet in 2010 — when Dr Rodd, who is a Visiting Professor at Cranfield University School of Management, was there to set the budget, the financial performance of the Trust has demonstrably worsened.

Have Trust funds benefited the canal?
Aside from the issues of the actual financial performance of the Trust another question being asked by observers is: "How has the canal benefited from what income the Trust does raise through the membership subscriptions, entrance fees to its attractions and from running trip boats, shops and cafes?"

Income from these activities has definitely not been spent on the historic building on Devizes Wharf that has been the Trust’s HQ for the past 30 years since the building was converted from the local authority dustcart garage by a Manpower Services project in 1980 and the interior finished off by Trust volunteers. 

This building belonged to Wiltshire County Council who leased it to Kennet District Council on a peppercorn rent who then sub-let it to the K&A Canal Trust, who in turn leased rooms to three local organisations, the Lions, Devizes Canoe Club and Devizes and District Anglers. 

The lease was for 25 years and when it expired in 2007 it was costing the Trust £2,000 a year with the rent  from the three other organisations, believed to be £1,000, contributing to the rent. The Trust had the building for £1,000 a year and no Council Tax to pay.

Negotiations for a new lease floundered when KDC demanded a full commercial rent for the building of £20,000 a year, which the Trust refused to pay, and the Trust has remained in the building since then, continuing to pay £2,000 a year.

Half a million pound turnover
It is doubtful that there is another charity in Devizes with a turnover of £500,000 a year that is not paying a commercial rent for their premises. So it is reasonable to ask why the K&A Canal Trust should be any different.

The reason certainly isn’t because the Trust is protecting and enhancing the building that it has occupied for 30 years  because since the Devizes Branch of the Trust took over the building when Manpower Services finished their re-building work in 1980 and volunteers spent the next year fitting the building out, re-wiring, plumbing and turning it into offices, shop, storage rooms, museum and meeting room, very little routine maintenance has been carried out.

The external back single story wall has been allowed to deteriorate through neglect, the guttering is missing in sections and there are no downpipes so that water runs down the stonework keeping it constantly damp and prone to frost damage. There has been no re-pointing or replacement of the stonework. There is much work to be done on the building and much of that work could have been done by volunteers — but unfortunately there seems to be no inclination among the leadership of the Trust to harness the enthusiasm that still exists within its membership — or to encourage more.

For the leadership of an organisation with charitable status under the 'heritage' tag to have allowed this stone wall to deteriorate so badly has been described as 'an absolute disgrace'.  If the Trust is either unable or not inclined to maintain an important historical property that it has occupied for 30 years should it actually be a heritage charity?

Failure to maintain roof causes internal problems
The rotten flooring in the Gents' toilet

Problems with the roof have not been addressed and it is this lack of essential routine preventative maintenance that resulted in costly essential repairs in 2009 when rainwater channelling through a partition wall rotted the flooring and caused part of the second floor of the building to collapse under one of the Gents' toilets on 4 March 2009.

Ceiling damage caused by
lack of roof maintenance
Whilst Trust management deliberated about the toilet problems they took one of the Gents' cubicles and an adjacent Womens' cubicle out of use. But over the Easter weekend in 2009 a remaining toilet sprung a leak which wasn’t discovered until Saturday April 11th — during the Devizes to Westminster canoe race.  The toilet had been emptying into a store room below and not into the sewer.

'Bizarre' central heating 'failures'
More plumbing problems were soon discovered. The 30-year old central heating system had been temperamental on occasions in recent years, but during Dr Rodd’s first year in the building the radiators started to deteriorate in a most bizarre way.

One by one, at weekly intervals over a three or four week period, the radiators developed leaks. 

Sabotage was blamed after neatly drilled holes were found in a radiator and metal drill swarf was found on the floor below it. 

The police were brought in and the mysterious 'failures' suddenly stopped — prompting the Devizes Police Station Manager to comment to a journalist: "There is clearly disharmony in that building."

More recently the radiators are said to have simply failed through old age and new radiators have now replaced the old, but now the boiler itself is claimed to have 'failed'.  After 30 years of constant use that might not be thought unexpected and prudent financial management would have ensured that funds were in place to replace it.

Water continues to flow from the central heating overflow and is running down the back of the building with, seemingly, no attempt being made to address the problem whilst the Bath stone wall continues to deteriorate.

Building care
Trust members are now asking the question, "Why have none of these maintenance jobs been completed?" 

Most agree that there is not the same degree of 'play value' in maintaining a historic building that is home to the Trust office, a meeting room and the canal museum as there is in running internationally important historic steam and water driven pumping engines — or crewing a trip boat — but the Wharf building is part of the heritage of the K&A Canal and deserves proper attention from a heritage organisation that has inhabited it for more than 30 years on a full repairing lease.

Perhaps it’s because no-one running the Trust has identified a need to recruit and manage volunteers to do the work. Or perhaps it’s because no-one running the Trust has ever considered it important to maintain the building that they pay so little rent for.

One thing is certain, the leadership of the K&A Canal Trust has not called for volunteers to help to maintain this important and iconic canalside building. Instead its leadership complains about how much it would cost to GET it repaired.  That is a far cry from the 'can do' attitude that drove volunteers to save the canal against all the odds.

No financial planning for the wharf building
The iconic wharf building beside the Canal in Devizes that the K&A Canal Trust is to vacate. Picture by Bob Naylor©
There is no mention of planned maintenance costs for the building in the 2009 or 2010 budgets. In fact close examination of the budget for 2010 reveals that £0.00 was allocated for maintenance of the building although £1,000 was set aside for repairs.

Remember — this is a 200-year-old building occupied by a heritage charity. And that charity should care enough about it to plan for its maintenance. But it hasn’t — for year after year — with results that are clear for all to see.

The building is owned by the local authority and in common with all other local authorities it is making staff redundant and cutting services to save money. Local tax payers have a right to expect their local authority to take proper care of the property that it holds in trust for them.

There are worthwhile organisations that deserve support through heavily subsidised rents — but where the tenant is responsible for the repair and maintenance of a building the Council has a duty to ensure that the tenants actually carry out the necessary maintenance. 

In the case of the Wharfside building in Devizes it is hard to see how they can have discharged that duty — and the current state of the building is the result. 

Trust neglect causes problems for neighbour
The Trust's neighbours at the Wharf Theatre had negotiated a lease and it was on the verge of being signed — but we are informed by sources within Wiltshire Council and the Wharf Theatre that this is now on hold as a direct result of the condition that the K&A Canal Trust has allowed its building to get into. Quite rightly, Wiltshire Council are determined that they will not allow any other tenant to allow a building to fall into such a poor state in the future.

Wharf building departure
Trust members were recently told that the Trust Council has decided to vacate the Devizes wharfside building in September because the maintenance costs are too high. The Trust, as yet has nowhere to go and Trustees are talking about mothballing the museum and archive.

Following the restoration work and the re-opening of the canal the late Peter Lindey-Jones said in his definitive book on the restoration of the canal, “There is a role for the Canal Trust, if only in a limited capacity to administer the pumping stations and to look after the education facilities, museum and archive”. It seems even these limited responsibilities are now too much for the current management.

A charity set up to care, amongst other things, for the heritage of the Kennet & Avon Canal has surely lost its way if the state of their HQ and the state of their finances over the past few years is anything to go by. 

This charity is time expired. Now that the K&A Canal has achieved “Cruiseway status” it is surely time for the future of the charity to be considered and for what assets that do remain intact to be handed over to some other body that can run its affairs prudently and efficiently for the future.

Job done — will the last one out turn off the lights
Has the time come for the K&A Canal Trust to say, "Our job is done, the K&A has achieved Cruiseway status, will the last one out please turn off the lights?" ... Before they go out because the bill hasn’t been paid.

Copyright Bob Naylor 2011 ©


  1. Isn't Dr Mike Rodd also the Chairman of the Local Board that is now running the Kennet and Avon Canal?

    If he is bringing the same financial and organisational skills to running the canal that he brought to the Canal Trust then heaven help the canal!

  2. How have this bunch of idiots been allowed to carry on in this way have the members not been concerned about the Trust's failings?

  3. What a lot of vitriolic tosh. Is it true you are suing the Trust? Is this what drives your desire to constantly undermine it? Shame on you. Are you even a member of the Trust or do you just shout from the sidelines? Have you offered your help to repair the building?

  4. 'Doing something for the canal' seems to focus on physical works. What about the trips boats, centres, great website, cafes and events that the Trust run - all brilliant activities to engage people with the canal and absolutely critical to its future. This gives a limited account of what the value of the Trust is and the clear role that they have in the future. More importantly, it undermines the valuable work of a huge number of dedicated volunteers. Well done to all of them battling on in challenging situations that many of us find ourselves in currently.

  5. Neither of the anonymous posts challenge any of the facts, so I don"t understand their point. It seems clear that the Trust is coasting along. There are very few volunteers left in the cafes - 3 out of 4 of the Trust cafes have now been put in the hands of commercial partners. Many of the boat volunteers are not members of the Trust - they are not all volunteering for the sake of the Trust, but to have a fun time on the water. Why else would they not be membes? The Trust and it's members did a fantastic job in the past. But it seems time to move on.

  6. The Volunteer Trust members of the past did a fantastic job of saving our waterway from complete distruction. The Volunteer members of the Trust today are carrying on regardless of the Trust hierachy in the tradition of those past stalwerts. It is such a shame that as we approach the 50th anniversary of the Trust as a charity - 2nd June 2012 - that it looks like the Trust which faught like a lion is going out like a lamb with a wimper. The opportunities for the Trust to leave an everlasting mark on the future of our canal system are being thrown away. Where are the Generals and Admirals of the past?
    I applaud the work of the past but dispare of the lack of work in the present.
    Let us hope that the new Waterway Charity will enable us volunteers to carry on the work of those special people without whome we would not be able to use our beautiful canal.

  7. Events? Anonymous please explain what events the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust has put on during the past few years. The wonderful Newbury Waterways Festival of course, but that is not happening this year. The Reading WaterFest, well yes, but that's really a Reading Borough Council event. So that leaves us with.... um sorry you'll have to bear with me whilst I think.... The Wharf Days at Bradford on Avon stopped a long time ago. Botox was great in its day, but is long gone. The odd carol service it is true, but I can't think of anything else. Unless, of course, you count the Steam Rally at Crofton, though that's hardly a major event compared to other local steam rallies. Last weekend saw the fantastic Crafty Craft Race between Hungerford and Newbury. It had nothing to do with the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust. It was run by the Hungerford and District Round Table - and has been since 1974. Last year, during the canal's bicentenary, they raised £6500 for West Berkshire Alzheimers Society and Time Spanners. some people can still raise funds on the K&A. In fact people are raising funds for all sorts of charities by doing sponsored walks and cycle rides along the towpath. One annual event is actually organised from the Trust's own HQ - the Devizes Lions annual sponsored walk. The Devizes to Westminster Canoe Race each Easter uses the Trust building as a base for the weekend as well. But no-one ever thinks to encourage anyone to take part and support the Trust through sponsorship. What did the Trust do last year to celebrate the bicentenary? There were events and exhibitions up and down the canal, but none of them run or organised by the Trust. Had BW not taken the lead, there would have been no celebration of the bicentenary. Wake up. This Trust is doing nothing to meet its aims as a charity. It is a disgrace that they continue to waste public money.

  8. In part answer to the previous comment. There is one section of the Trust that had an input into nearly all of the 200 events. Mounting exhibitions providing pictures, arctifacts and expetise for other organised events. Other members of the Trust were involved with the 200 team headed up by BW especially with the change of emphisis.In all quite an input. ALTHOUGH with not any support or very little from the powers that be who seemed to be quite ready to take any praise. There is now no mechanisam in place or no enthusiasm to publish the efforts put in last year, such a pity when so much work was done by the team at the Trust archive.

  9. Is it True that you; Bob Naylor, are suing the trust???? Why????
    Anyway putting that american style of conduct to one side, may I point out that the only truth that constitutes a whole truth of what the current status within the Trust is at present, is the Devizes Police station managers comment, "There is clearly disharmony in that building", when called out to investigate leaking radiators. You can feel it. Partly due to the personality clashes between the old & new involvement within the trust.
    The rest of what I'm reading in this blog when it discusses the trust, reminds me of the lads I went to school with, who at the time were still trying to blame someone or something else for their lack of achivement and lack of self worth. they've just got all grown up and clever yet remain very insucure.
    Never mind folks, words can always be used to sway an opinion, how about swallowing your own bile and set up a meeting amongst yourselves to positively turn things around! Or do you need your master present?
    In your own words and in your own blog you mention trust losses between 2006 & 2009 ranging from £56,528 to £26,328, does that mean nothings any different when you were involved in the trust to whats occuring in your opinion now? you really do seem to have issues with finding positive things to say, are you a happy person when not near your mates?
    Bless you all. AND I MEAN IT!

  10. Is it True that you; Bob Naylor, are suing the trust???? Why????
    Anyway putting that american style of conduct to one side, may I point out that the only truth that constitutes a whole truth of what the current status within the Trust is at present, is the Devizes Police station managers comment, "There is clearly disharmony in that building", when called out to investigate leaking radiators. You can feel it. Partly due to the personality clashes between the old & new involvement within the trust.
    The rest of what I'm reading in this blog when it discusses the trust, reminds me of the lads I went to school with, who at the time were still trying to blame someone or something else for their lack of achivement and lack of self worth. they've just got all grown up and clever yet remain very insucure.
    Never mind folks, words can always be used to sway an opinion, how about swallowing your own bile and set up a meeting amongst yourselves to positively turn things around! Or do you need your master present?
    In your own words and in your own blog you mention trust losses between 2006 & 2009 ranging from £56,528 to £26,328, does that mean nothings any different when you were involved in the trust to whats occuring in your opinion now? you really do seem to have issues with finding positive things to say, are you a happy person when not near your mates?
    Bless you all. AND I MEAN IT!