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Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Guest Blog

The Making of a Boaters’ Manifesto

It seemed like a good idea at the time... Kevin Blick, a former canal magazine editor challenged me about some negative comments about BW and the new Trust I had been making on Twitter and Facebook – we need something positive he said.

While I don’t withdraw any of my reservations about BW and the Canal and River Trust I could see that boaters, and especially those who live on the system or spend much of their lives on the water did need to face the new reality of the Trust and tell those creating it what was needed.

So was born the Boaters’ Manifesto. I asked for contributions online, some of you may have seen my request on Norbury’s Facebook page, and then I put them all together. Everyone looked at it again and we fine-tuned it before the manifesto, created by a group of boaters, was sent to the Transition Trustees, the IWA and the members of the parliamentary waterways group.

It is now being discussed by the IWA and members of the parliamentary waterways group and a direct meeting is planned with the Transition Trustees of the proposed new Canal and River Trust.


It says that 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.

It also demands that before the 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.

Most controversially, the manifesto says 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.

Contractors also come under fire and the manifesto says 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.

The manifesto asks the Trust to enforce a simplified set of mooring rules across the entire waterways system without fear or favour and to make it a priority to ensure non-boating users of the system make a financial contribution to its upkeep.

The manifesto also wants the Trust to ensure it is open to Freedom of Information Act requests and suggests that those who live on their boats, several thousand people, should be clearly represented at board level and consulted on all navigational issues.


One of the Transition Trustees, John Dodwell took an interest in the first draft of the manifesto abd told organisers: “I agree with you that waterways need boats as much as boats need waterways. The role of boat owners and others in saving the waterways is undisputed.”

John says the Trust’s Council needs a good representation of passionate and knowledgeable boat owners but does not agree that the five currently suggested is inadequate.

He also doesn’t envisage the Trustees turning down the deal if inadequate funds are forthcoming from Defra. He said: “Personally, I can’t see that the Government will fill the gap to the extent that everything is perfect and there is then no need to seek donations etc.

One key demand of the manifesto is that the Trust should not have the current BW directors at the helm. John Dodswell has told the organisers: “Sorry but getting rid of the current directors now – in the midst of much change – doesn’t make business sense to me. Let’s get the handover to CRT completed first!
He also seems to believe that contractors will still be doing much work for the Trust, saying: “Bear in mind that central contracts mean using bulk buying power to reduce costs. They provide flexibility.”

On the Freedom of Information Act John says: “At one level, the charity world is worried that if the Act applies to this Trust, then it will affect other charities; not being Government agencies, charities are not generally covered by the Act. At another level, the Trust would anyway follow closely the spirit of the Act.”

Anyone who wants to check out the Boaters’ Manifesto can find it here along with John Dodwell’s comments in full or here or on its own website here where you can add your name to a petition in favour of it.


I think the manifesto is a worthwhile document and gives a voice to real boaters – well I would, wouldn’t I?

Getting it together has been interesting, especially as the contributions have all been made online and opinions vary according to perspective. I am pleased that we have got agreement from such a disparate bunch on a simple set of demands.

If the Transition Trustees can move some way towards us there is a tremendous reward in sight for the new charity because experienced boaters who spend much if not all of their lives on the system have already got a great deal of personal and financial capital invested in it.

We need to see a successful organisation running our waterways and doing so in a way that allows our investment to remain worthwhile. If the Canal and River Trust can convince us they are the people to do that here is a great wealth of enthusiasm, commitment and knowledge amongst boaters that can be tapped in a way that BW could never manage.

My next task is to put together a team to present the Manifesto to the trustees from amongst boaters I have only met electronically, each speaking on a section of the manifesto and possibly doing so from a variety of BW regional offices on a video link.

Remind me again why I started this?

1 comment:

  1. An interesting blog and good to see someone has taken up the challenge. I hope you get your "team" together and achieve as much as possible.
    Just one comment, you didn't credit the article to anyone.
    "Blow your trumpet" from the roof tops.

    Graham Ray