Friday, November 11, 2011

The Boaters' Manifesto — final version published

Boaters' Manifesto
New Website at: http://boatersmanifesto.weebly.com

This manifesto was compiled as the result of responses to a request made on half a dozen boaters’ groups of Facebook (total membership around 2,500) and through various individual boaters’ Twitter networks and discussion groups.
Boaters were asked to let the transition trustees know what they actually need from them so that they can respond to the new charity with enthusiasm and commitment. A first draft was produced and offered to same group of boaters for further amendments and additions and this is the result.

Key Points

1. Waterways are about boats and boaters and the Canal and River Trust needs to listen to boaters more closely and have more representatives on the board.
2. Before the Canal and River Trust accepts the legal burden of running the waterways it must ensure proper funding to keep all waterways open, navigable and properly maintained, otherwise it should refuse to do so.
3. Boaters have lost faith in the most senior management of British Waterways and believe that the government should accept the cost of making them redundant to give the Canal and River Trust and fresh start.
4. The Canal and River Trust must develop a system of working that values full time paid staff and their skills above the expediency of using cheap contractors in order to maintain the skilled workforce the waterways require.
5. The Canal and River Trust must enforce a simplified set of mooring rules across the entire waterways system without fear or favour.
6. The Trust must make it a priority to ensure non-boating users of the system make a financial contribution to its upkeep and that their use of the system does not impinge on its primary purpose of navigation.
7. The Canal and River Trust must ensure it is open to Freedom of Information Act requests and operate in a totally transparent fashion if it is to earn and retain confidence.
8. Those for whom the waterways are a home have a special interest in and value to the Canal and River Trust and should be clearly represented at board level and consulted on all navigational issues.

Why the Canal and River Trust should listen to boaters

Navigable waterways were not only created for boats, they are only still with us today because boats and boaters found a new use for them as commercial traffic came to an end.
It has been boaters – not cyclists or walkers or fishermen – who have fought to reopen neglected canals in the face of official opposition; with British Waterways only jumping on the bandwagon in recent years.
Canals without boats don’t last very long for other users as there is no longer a reason to keep the unique industrial heritage in working order, the structures crumble, the water silts up and little is left. Waterways need boats as much as boats need waterways.
Boaters are the only group that has already made a substantial financial and personal commitment to the waterways as well as the only collection of individuals that pays substantial annual fees for their upkeep.
Boaters, especially those with many years of experience and those who live on their craft and travel widely on the system have a wealth of expertise that has been largely ignored by British Waterways and those who helped to compile this manifesto fear that the Canal and River Trust may continue this policy.
Most of all we would like to see many more experienced boaters, proper users of the system, taking a role at national and regional level than the current proposals suggest. Just five out of 35 (7 if you include boating business representatives) at a national level is simply inadequate. It is vital that many more than the proposed 50 per cent are elected by people concerned with the function of the waterways, primarily boaters.

Navigation

Boaters need to be assured that all existing navigations are sufficiently well maintained to enable the vessels designed to use them to travel the whole length of those waterways at all times of the year and operate locks and other equipment with relative ease and safety.
Waterways must not be allowed to deteriorate through lack of maintenance and the Canal and River Trust must have sufficient contingency funds to deal with a major breach – on the scale of those on the Shropshire Union Canal the Monmouth and Breconshire Canal in recent years - without delay.
This means that sufficient government funding is a prerequisite for the Canal and River Trust and if the levels of funding do not fill the massive gap identified by the IWA, and the specialist waterways MPs group, the trustees should refuse to sanction the creation of the charity. It will not be enough to depend on optimistic projections of future charitable income and would be dangerous to do so.
We believe some of the financial projections offered by British Waterways and Defra are simply wrong as they do not model the true cost of creating a well maintained system and accept the projections of a ‘steady state’ with a massive maintenance backlog and need to be tested far more critically than seems the case at present.
If the funding is not adequate to keep all waterways open, navigable and well maintained the Canal and River Trust should refuse to accept the task of running the waterways.

Management

Executive management
Boaters and many others have completely lost faith in the most senior levels of British Waterways’ management in recent years and almost all those who contributed to this manifesto want to see the current directors removed before the Canal and River Trust begins to run the system. It is our belief that government should bear the cost of making these people redundant as the new charitable role is essentially different. Our concern centres on the enormously expensive pay, pension and perks packages of the most senior directors and their willingness to grab bonus payments when staff are being penalised by pay rise well under the rate of inflation and we believe that their continued presence will make it extremely difficult to create any trust among boaters in the Canal and River Trust. That is especially the case as many of the commercial ventures in which they are supposed to be experts have failed to produce promised results.
Boaters do not believe the Canal and River Trust should be willing and will not be able to pay such large scale remuneration and feel that the removal of a group of directors who have little understanding of waterways or boats would do more to give the Trust a fresh start than any new logo.

Middle management
British Waterways’ workforce has become disconnected from the system it looks after. This is due to attempts to farm out much of the bankside and construction work to the cheapest available contractors, along with a policy that obliges the workforce to work in teams covering large areas.
Boaters would like to see visible individuals responsible for a particular stretch of waterway, with clear responsibilities and accountability in the event of failures. 
We believe the skills of the workforce should be valued, encouraged and passed on, especially as caring for a 200 year old artefact requires special expertise. We would like to see work brought back in house and apprenticeships encouraged along the lines of those provided by the National Trust.

Mooring
Whatever else the Canal and River Trust does it will achieve most with most boaters if it applies the same rules on mooring to all parts of the waterways system and enforces them without fear or favour.
This does not exclude setting up special rules in hot-spot areas; but they should then be available for all hot-spots in the country that want to adopt them. We do not believe there is anything wrong with the current mooring guidelines but feel they must be applied equally and effectively across the country. Don’t make rules the Canal and River Trust can’t enforce.

Towpath issues.

Boaters do not mind sharing the towpaths with fishermen, walkers, cyclists and dogs – although we draw the line at motorised vehicles and horses, other than those used to tow boats.
We do believe it is essential the Canal and River Trust finds ways of ensuring all those users contribute to the costs of upkeep and abide by a national set of rules.
Once again enforcement will be the key to stopping dog fouling, rubbish and speeding cyclists putting lives at risk.
We would encourage the new Trust to get into schools, angling clubs, cycling, ramblers etc and educate them about the policies on the towpath, and about canals and waterways in general so we can all enjoy them


An open society?

The Canal and River Trust needs to be completely open with boaters and other supporters and we would urge Trustees to stop avoiding the inclusion of the charity in Freedom of Information legislation.
Given the sensitive existing issues over directors pay, commercial operations such as BWML, pub chains and property development it is essential that the Canal and River Trust’s supporters are able to assure themselves that the murky goings on under British Waterways are brought out into the open and that complete transparency is the rule as soon as the charity begins business.
The Canal and River Trust is vitally important to boaters. Other users can always find what they're looking for somewhere else, if the new trust is not up to scratch, their stake is minimal. If the canal system crumbles then where are all the boat users going to go? 


Liveaboard boaters

The Canal and River Trust should endeavour to help those who live on their boats by the provision of more residential moorings where needed and perhaps usable postal addresses (BFPO can do it for the forces), recycling facilities, more potable water and sewage disposal points.
Those who live on the waterways system, several thousand people, should have specific representation on the board of the Trust.

Peter Underwood compiled the manifesto following requests from half a dozen boaters’ groups on Facebook (total membership around 2,500) and through various boaters’ networks on Twitter.

For more information go to: Boaters' manifesto Facebook page 
And you can follow Peter Underwoods blog 'Living Afloat' at: http://peterunderwood2.blogspot.com

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