BW's 2012 Vision—what went wrong?

Published: Friday, 05 June 2009


In 2004 Robin Evans was set a yearly recurring target:

Achieve increased visitors to ensure target of doubling numbers by March 2012 is achieved. The indication of success will be annual progress compared with the targets.

A graph gave a baseline figure of 3.6 million for 2003/4 doubling to 7.2 million for 2011/12. However, the following year (2004/5) showed that he had only achieved 2.7 million against a target of 3.7 million. Furthermore, figures released with BW's new 2020 vision indicate that for 2008 Robin Evans missed his target of 5.4 million by a staggering 2 million (only 3.4 million achieved). To make matters worse (if that were possible!) BW are now indicating that the number of visitors measure will only be 3.5 million in 2010/11.

In summary, under Robin Evans leadership British Waterways' strategy was to double the number of visitors by 2012. However, despite a massive investment in marketing to promote use of the waterways (estimated at over £4 million per year) British Waterways will not have achieved any increase. In other words, visitor numbers will be still be around the 2002 figure of 3.6 million in 2011/12 rather than the targeted 7.2 million. How could they get it so wrong?

Self sufficiency

In 2004 Robin Evans was set a yearly reoccurring self sufficiency target. However, it was not a target showing a year on year decrease in government grant taken up but a rather meaningless 'self sufficiency indicator'. No figures are available to show recent performance against this target. 'Largely self sufficient', however, can only be interpreted as meaning a dramatic decline in reliance on government grant so this is the measure that will be considered.

In 2001/2 (the last full year prior to Robin Evans appointment), British Waterways took up the government grant to the value of £64.6 million. The latest set of accounts (2007/8) show that government grant is actually higher than this figure at £67.9 million. It is the same story for all the intervening years! Whilst BW has a policy of reducing its dependence on government grant it seems that it has simply taken all the grant on offer every year. To add insult to injury, BW has been claiming for several years that it is under funded by £30 million—the difference between what it spends on maintenance (about £95 million a year) and what it should be spending (£125 million) to prevent backsliding into chronic disrepair.

It can be stated quite categorically that British Waterways has simply failed to make any headway in its ten year drive for self sufficiency.

Again, how could they get it so wrong?