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Saturday, 1 October 2011

Pricing poorer boaters off the waterways?

Another guest blog from Peter Underwood today...

Next April will see boat licences rise by an inflation busting 6.4 per cent.

Diesel prices are steadily climbing again and the EU is trying to insist that boats use only full-price white diesel.

Like every other person in this country, boaters are seeing their incomes and savings squeezed by what increasingly looks like a double-dip recession.

Many people are worried about the future of our waterways as the Government seems to be determined to leave the new charity with a £40m black hole in its funding.

Despite all that there are more boats on our waterways than there were in their working heyday – perhaps because it is somewhere to escape the stress and horror stories of an economy where the only language is of cuts and redundancies with little hope of growth.

Tony Hales, BW Chairman who is also heading up the transitional body – no change anywhere then?

While well-heeled boaters may be able to shrug off the economic impact of higher charges for almost everything, there are many thousands of us on fixed incomes, often pensions, or with other severe financial constraints.

We are not a juicy fruit to be squeezed by British Waterways or the government and we will not be able to continue to produce the extra cash they demand as if there were no financial hardship.

A British Waterways director admitted to me three years ago that they were reaching the point of diminishing returns with licence fee increases as they were close to driving poorer people off the canals.

I suggest the worsening economic picture now means they are well past that point. It may not mean that boats are driven off the canals but it is already resulting in fewer people being willing to pay the high fees charged by new marinas and there are now claimed to be 3,000 empty spaces in those marinas.

Why? Because boaters have opted for something cheaper as many of them can’t afford £3-5,000 a year to tie up their boat, and that’s outside London.

I suspect there will also be fewer paying their licence fees and more trying to work the system by buying ‘river-only’ licences and using them elsewhere or opting to stay on cheaper Environment Agency waters or simply not having a licence.

I predict the number of boats using the canals without a proper licence is about to soar – and with it the cost of BW or the new charity trying to catch offenders and bring them to book.

For the rest of us it will mean more unlicenced – and therefore uninsured – boats on the water and a bigger burden on those who obey the rules, albeit with gritted teeth.

Those are the same teeth that BW chooses to kick every time they get greedy with their licence fees whilst paying out hundreds of thousands of pounds to their top directors like Robin Evans and his friends.

If I thought the new charity had a hope in hell of changing that I might even begin to support it.

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