Wednesday, September 28, 2011

British Waterways couldn't even organise a piss-up in a brewery says canal trust president

K&A Canal Trust President, David Bruce
Picture by Bob Naylor©
By Bob Naylor

Brandishing a copy of the British Waterways Annual Report at a meeting in Devizes about the transfer of BW to a new waterways charity David Bruce, President of the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust, made a savage attack on what he sees as the financial mis-management of BW.

Referring to the annual report he spoke of the failure of the BW nationwide pub partnership last year saying, "It went into administration — they cannot even organise a piss-up in a brewery — this report says 'Our venture into pub partnerships had to be put into administration by the creditors'".

David who has run successful pub and brewery businesses and started a charity that makes it possible for people with disabilities to take a canal holiday then rounded on British Waterways Marinas which he said spent £5.8 million to generate £6.6 million: "Its not worth getting out of bed for." he said, "Why are they fiddling about with marinas -  trying to break even? These are the guys that are going to be running our charity next year." 

Pension Fund deficit
He pointed out that in the financial year ending March 2011 there was a pension deficit of £59 million, which he said will be transferred to the new charity. "While Defra were concerned about who's going to use the towpath - and access to it - not one word has ever been mentioned in any consultation document about what's going to happen to the £59m pension deficit."

Emperor's new clothes
Likening the unquestioning acceptance of the plan to create a new waterways charity to the children's story of "The Emperor's New Clothes", he again read from the annual report saying, "On page 33 it says that the whole group has a net cash flow deficit of £6.6m - and the deficit on the operational activities before tax is £10.1m. That doesn't come out when you get open letters from the Waterways Minister. He just says, 'This is a super idea - I do hope you will co-operate in making sure it happens'.  

There were nine directors last year whose salaries cost £1.4 million  — paid by the British taxpayer, "These are the guys that are going to be switched into the National Waterways Charity —  they also get taxable benefits such as company limousines that add £77,000 on top of that 1.4 million." 

"I've never met the CEO", he continued, "He may be a lovely bloke — but last year he trousered £234,000. How is the new charity going to pay for that next year? He is the chief executive of what will become a charity. Even if the charity cannot afford it and decides to make him redundant imagine what his pay off is going to be.  And he referred to a BW executive director who left last year saying: "I don't know if he was sacked or just decided to leave, but he got paid £188,000 in lieu of notice and he walked away with a total of £342,000 of our hard earned taxes.  None of this has ever been touched upon in the Defra consultation documents".
Directors pension pot
"These executive directors - and there are only eight of them now, because, remember, the other bloke cleared off with over a third of a million quid last year — well the accrued pension value of those eight people is £6 million. So in the year when, to quote from this report, the 'group deficit for BW was £29 million' they still managed to keep £6 million for the directors' pensions."

Flogging off the nation's assets
He expressed his concern that BW are selling off real estate and cutting off one of the revenue streams of the new charity. He said, "In the chairman's report it says that in the last three years £45 million worth of freehold assets have been sold by BW to 'retain liquidity'. In my language that's to stop the cash running out and had they not sold £45 million worth of assets they would probably have gone bust. But they weren't just assets — these were 'income generating assets' - they generated rent and that rent went into looking after the canals.

"And they are awfully pleased with themselves at the moment because they say that they have managed to make a profit of £11 million — but they only managed that by flogging off the nation's assets."

Directors' bonus payments
As to the 'performance' bonuses the directors awarded themselves after the AGM — he encouraged people to sign the e-Petition calling for  the Government to put a stop on the £15,000 lump sum bonus for Chief Executive, Robin Evans and the £12,500 for the other Directors. 

Maintenance budget cuts
All the country’s canals and, from David’s perspective, particularly the K&A, need appropriate and adequate maintenance if they are to remain open to traffic and continue to be an asset for the communities through which they flow. And herefered to the experiences of hirers of his Bruce Trust boats  —  explaining that recently BW bankside staff have had to help to push the boats free when they have become stuck.

Lack of maintenance and dredging in particular is having effects on businesses and other users of the canal. The K&A Canal Trust tried to get some new trip boat licences and was told 'no you can't because the canal is too turbid'. David's response to this was clear:, "The reason it is too turbid is because the canal hasn't been dredged and boats just stir up the mud - if the mud gets stirred up you get turbid water. And every now and then that turbid water goes down into a nice clean river like the Kennet and that upsets the fishermen so you then get the Environment Agency and Natural England involved. But if BW had not reduced its water maintenance budget by £9.5 million we probably wouldn't be having those problems."

All Party Waterways Group
The non-political group of MPs and Peers who make up the All-party Parliamentary Waterways Group have been discussing the proposed move to a charity. David reported that they issued a report as recently as last June saying that the new waterways charity must not be BW by another name. "But", he added, "I think this new charity is going to be exactly that even though the APWG has said it must not be. How do you avoid that when three of the new Trustees are BW directors including the chairman and the vice-chairman?"

David concluded by saying  that the K&A Canal Trust would be making a robust reponse to the latest Supplementary Consultation document and he expressed his disgust that Defra had reduced the 12 week consultation period to six weeks: "For no other reason than to meet their own deadline of creating the charity on April Fool's Day 2012."

The Annual Report & Accounts is available to read online.

Read Celebrating Our Canals & Rivers 1948–2011, British Waterways' Transition to Charitable Status.

You can read the full consultation response at:

You can read the supplementary consultation at:

Fact File
David Bruce has been in the international brewing and leisure industry for more than 40 years and he was the founder of the Firkin Brewery pub chain.

He set up the Bruce Trust in 1988 with his wife Louise and the Trust operates four wide beam boats specially built to make it possible for people with disabilities and their families to take canal boat holidays. They operate their boats from Great Bedwyn and Lower Foxhangers on the Kennet & Avon Canal.

David is currently Executive Chairman of Country Food and Dining which has five farm shops — mostly in the south of England.


Simon R said...
BW Directors' pay- off if they are made redundant is at least a year's salary. (Annual Report 2010/11 page 50)
September 29, 2011 10:42 AM

Kirsten Elliott said...
While a lot of what he says is true, I can't help thinking this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black, given the parlous state of the K&ACT's finances. Is anyone interested in forming a new K&A pressure group? I even have the name - KAPITAS. It stands for Kennet and Avon Pain in the Arse Society - the aim being to be a perfect nuisance to the powers-that-be till they appreciate what an important asset they have here.
October 2, 2011 3:09 PM 

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