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NOT wishing to take anything away from all who are contributing to the discussions on the proposed Canal & River Trust or to undermine any of the Trustees who are volunteering, I would like to add some further views on the proposals, writes Orph Mable.
Also, where relevant, address the 'Boaters Manifesto' in the context of my thoughts. I have put the manifesto points in italics to make this clearer.
I have not seen anything generated so far that sets out what the Aim of Canal & River Trust is, both in the interim and long-term future. This cannot be of the form 'take up the reins from British Waterways' or anything as meaningless. It must be clear, concise and not open to interpretation, but above all it must have substance and be measurable i.e. can it be clearly demonstrated that the Aim is being met/supported by any action the Trustees take?
The Aim must be agreed by the entire interim Board of Trustees and with some consensus from all 'stake-holders'. When eventually the interim Board is replaced by those voted into position by members then, subject to the constitution of the Trust, the Aim may be revised or changed completely.
(I would have expected this to have been a very hot topic by now considering the fast approaching April 2012 deadline, but I have seen little.) It would be the constitution that holds all the detail of membership, voting rights and the method for adding and removing Trustees. I would expect (and hope) that there would be an Interim Constitution that will be agreed by the Interim Trustees after serious consultation with all stake-holders.
Eventually members of the Trust, usually at an AGM where trustees would be nominated, selected, deselected or censured, would agree the constitution. It is usual for the constitution to define the maximum and minimum number of trustees allowable and what would be considered a quorum when voting can take place.
1. 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.
8. Those for whom the waterways are a home have a special interest in and value to the Canal & River Trust and should be clearly represented at Board level and consulted on all navigational issues.
The ability of Board members (Trustees) in supporting the Aim is paramount, and should not be constricted to a limited aspect or overly narrow view point. In order for far reaching decisions to be made, all ramifications of any action must be considered, and only those demonstrating this ability should be Board members.
Although a boater and someone who earns a living from boating, I feel that the canals and rivers of the UK are not just about 'boats and boaters'. In order to fulfill the role of trustee candidates should be able to consider all aspects such as heritage, nature conservation, angling, access to towpaths for cyclists, and many others. A trustee may be an 'expert' in any one or several areas but must be prepared to do more than just acknowledge the existence of other aspects.
3. 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 a fresh start.
The recent narrowboatworld poll showed that a high proportion of readers agreed with the statement, and it is my view that it should be seriously considered when finalising the interim trustees and Board. Once the constitution has been accepted, the method of removing trustees should be known and be an option to members.
7. The Canal & River Trust must ensure it is open to Freedom of Information Act requests and operate in a totally transparent fashion if it is to earn and retain confidence.
The FOIA is a useful tool in gaining access to information that is being withheld. I believe that it must apply to the Trust whilst it is in the 'interim' stage to ensure that British Waterways gives every assistance to the incoming regime. Once the Trust is up and running, the constitution should enshrine the ability of members' to access information, making the FOIA superfluous.
The new Trust will have funding from many sources, with the government grant being the single largest in the short and medium term. There must be an agreed viability point when this funding level, once initially agreed, can be removed or reduced.
Income sources that I am aware of are shown below:
- Government grant
- Craft licensing
- Mooring permits
- Property rents and leases
- Angling agreements
Some of these, and others not listed, may well be considered 'commercial', and fall into that category for management. An example of where this can be seen in operation is with the Way & Arun Canal Trust, which utilise Wey & Arun Enterprises Ltd.
It is usual for a charitable trust to separate any 'commercial enterprise' away from the actual trust for tax and legal reasons, although it may be controlled/overseen by Board members. The profits from the commercial enterprise can (should) go towards supporting the Trust. I am sure that British Waterways Marinas would fall into this category.
These, and other, income streams should be used by the Board to meet the Aim. Before it can become responsible for accepting its Aim, Canal & River Trust must be 'viable' i.e. income from all sources must be sufficient to do so. Ensuring this must be the responsibility of both the trustees and government. (By April 2012—you're having a laugh!)
2. Before the Canal & River 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.