Tuesday, March 13, 2012

How credible are IWA council members of the Canal and River Trust?

The Inland Waterways Association swept the board in the election for the boaters' seats on the Canal & River Trust Council and this has not found favour with many boaters who question how an organisation which represents such a wide range of canal and river users can represent the specific interests of boaters. 

"IWA members’ interests include boating, towpath walking, industrial archaeology, nature conservation and many other activities associated with the inland waterways" says its website.

Four IWA candidates have been elected for the four positions designated to represent boaters on the council of the Canal and River Trust. "But are they credible representatives of all boaters on British Waterways waters?", asks Peter Underwood, who founded the Boaters' Manifesto group and is the author of 'Living Afloat' a no-nonsense book about the reality of living on a boat.

To begin with they were elected by just a quarter of those entitled to vote - hardly a ringing endorsement.

Secondly they were backed by the IWA, the biggest waterways charity and the most able to influence boater members by producing recommended candidates.

That makes this result predictable (in fact I predicted it to John Dodwell when the Boaters' Manifesto group met with him) especially with the inevitable low turnout of a hurried election conducted in the winter season.

Thirdly there will be those who conclude that the IWA is a campaigning organisation of boaters so what does it matter that they have all four seats?

The answer is that the IWA is no longer a campaigning body but a collection of committee people happy to do business behind closed doors. It is run by and for often elderly hobby boaters and no longer represents the whole boating community. That is amply demonstrated by its hostility to full-time boaters, especially continuous cruisers.

So we now have the CaRT council with too few boater representatives and those handful that are in place completely controlled by just one view of boating - and that view hostile to thousands who boat as continuous cruisers.

Not only that, they were elected by just one in four voters in an election which allowed a single body to distort the result by jamming the list with nominees.

I suspect that some of the so-called apathy that led to the pathetic 25% turnout was a boycott by boaters who see the election and CaRT as a stitch-up between a Government anxious to offload responsibility, a BW management happy to take perks for as long as possible and 'trustees' from the 'great and good' unwilling to challenge or question the BW management propaganda.

That can only leave full-time boaters more wary and more suspicious of CaRT than we already were.

Here is a so-called charity that is being run by the same people as mismanaged British Waterways - Hales, Evans and the other bonus boys - being monitored by a handful of IWA yes-people who are, in any event, outnumbered on the council.

Of course, there are also increasing doubts about the power or relevance of the council as the trustees appear to be colluding in the establishment of commercial structures within CaRT that may end up making the financial and commercial decisions that will decide the future of our waterways.

Those IWA council members may be powerless to prevent Evans, Hales and co from awarding and collecting yet more undeserved bonuses, flogging off more key equipment, investing in more failing ventures as they spend what little funds there are available on anything except the waterways themselves.

I began the Boaters' Manifesto because I feared just such a stitch-up amongst the greedy BW bosses and the professional committee people of the trustees, the IWA and others. 
Along the way I met with, argued with and enjoyed the company of a lot of proper boaters.

As I have been politically active for nearly 50 years I never really expected to win, but it is always worth getting important truths an airing.

Boaters like me are now privately resigned to more bonuses, more financial failures, less spent on the network.

We can't look to the IWA council members to fight for our interests and we are reduced to standing on the sidelines once more keeping a beady eye on this ridiculously over-committeed structure that will probably become CaRT eventually. 

They are not our friends and we will to continue to question, criticise and complain when necessary.

1 comment:

  1. Even though I don't agree with all of the conclusions, this is nevertheless a very good post that raises several important lessons that I hope are learned for future elections.

    First, I consider it to be be undemocratic for one organisation to endorse more than one candidate. In fact, I would go as far as to say that it should be up to individual candidates to carry the burden of their own campaigning. What is democratic about some candidates having more 'funding' for their campaign than others?

    I tried to address this through my website, http://waterwaywatch.org by giving every candidate a free page and the opportunity to add their own thoughts. I also challenged every candidate to respond to 5 simple questions, only two bothered to reply and only one answered the questions.

    Of course, it was a major disappointment that despite BW going to the trouble (and expense) of mailing everyone with the right to vote, so few boaters felt it was worth the effort to vote.

    But, to my mind, the greatest disappointment, was the fact that so few of the candidates even bothered to campaign for their votes; many of you have made notable contributions to the waterways over many years and I consider some of you as friends but most boaters don't even know who you are. How could you justify asking people to vote for you without at least setting up Facebook account and expose yourself to scrutiny?