BW's 2012 Vision—what went wrong?

Published: Friday, 05 June 2009

Eager to take credit

Unlike 'visitor numbers' and 'self sufficiency', Robin Evans was set no year on year target to expand the network. Perhaps this is just as well as BW tends to avoid making more than a token contribution in financial terms to network expansion despite having the money to do so.

It is, however, very eager to take credit for others physical effort and financial contribution. Many people recall the Cotswolds fiasco where BW simply withdrew financial support pleading poverty. What is perhaps less well known is BW's contribution to expanding the network for the Olympics. The claim that 'BW is playing a leading role in maximising the opportunity the waterways can make to a successful Games and lasting legacy', simply does not hold water (like many BW locks!) as its contribution will only be in the order of 25%. In the case of the Liverpool Link, for which it has claimed credit, it is even less at 10%.

The bottom line

British Waterways, under Robin Evans leadership, has failed to make any progress whatsoever towards realising its 2012 vision. It has reneged on its promise to create an expanded network and has simply not delivered on 'visitor numbers' and 'self sufficiency' failing to achieve even baseline results.

Tony Hales and Robin Evans seem to have forgotten that British Waterways is a navigation authority not a property developer. The strategic steer developed with the Minister for Inland Waterways reiterated that BW's most important priority was 'maintaining the waterway network in satisfactory order'. By under spending by £30 million per year on maintenance in an attempt to achieve the second priority of 'a shared Government/British Waterways longer term vision of moving towards greater self sufficiency' it has failed completely in both priorities. It has also failed to deliver on the third and least important priority of 'delivering a range of additional public benefits', as visitor numbers indicate.

When BW removes the '2012 vision' statement from its website it may care to replace it with the following '2012 reality' statement.

Our reality

Our reality is that by 2012 we will have created a static, decaying, underfunded waterway network only used by the same number of people as in 2002. It will still be regarded as one of the nation's most important and valued national assets but visitors will be devastated with the quality of our management of this historic asset and as a consequence many will stay away.

Active participants will question why we are only spending 45% of our income on maintenance (2007/8 figures) whilst investing heavily in our property portfolio and other commercial interests.

The Operational Efficiency Report indicates that the government is aware that funds are being misused. Let's hope it is prepared to act.