Plans to turn British Waterways into a charitable trust are 'stupid' says David Bruce who became President of the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust following the recent resignation of former MP Michael Ancram.
Speaking at the Trust's AGM he called for a campaign to persuade the coalition government to reverse the policy in the way that they did over selling off the forests and the proposed changes to the National Health Service.
He said: "Government came up with a stupid idea to hand responsibility for Britain's Canals from the public accountability of British Waterways to Parliament and the electorate and it now proposes that it be run by a small group of new Trustees who will only be accountable to the Charity Commission and the jobsworths that tick the boxes at Companies House."
He described as 'extraordinary' the fact that of the eight new trustees, three of them are existing British Waterways directors. "Guess what", he said, "they are the Chairman, the Vice Chairman and another director who happens to head the Audit Committee.
"When you are trying to change the culture of a body that used to report to Parliament and you have still got the same culture of the British Waterways Board leading those eight trustees then I treat that with a great degree of scepticism. This is a 'shoo-in' … a done-deal and I hate a done deal.
"It has been bad enough, I think, for poor old British Waterways, and I don't normally feel sorry for them, trying to keep Britain's Waterways going with their piddly little amounts of money from Defra - it may be 40 or 50 million pounds a year — but its not enough."
David Bruce, who started the Bruce Trust charity 22 years ago so that people with disabilities and their families can enjoy a canal holiday, went on to question how a charity is going to be
able afford to maintain the locks and the infrastructure and to maintain the water levels if British Waterways with Defra cannot.
He said: "My experience of charities is that they are not bottomless pits of cash — and I think it is really worrying that the government is now seizing this opportunity to pass our much loved national treasure of waterways from BW to a charitable trust — this new National Waterways Trust or whatever absurd name the jobsworths come up with.
"Who knows, if enough canal enthusiasts throughout the UK make their views heard then perhaps the government might listen as it did with the Forestry Commission proposals and the NHS reforms, when the public revolted and the Government listened. We have got to appeal to the Government."
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