JUST days after after the transfer order which moved the quango British Waterways into the third sector comes news that it still has not acceded to a Freedom of Information requests concerning possible 'perks'.
So its successor, the Canal & River Trust (CART), could face contempt of court action, concerning a request made over 15 months ago to ascertain if any director had 'perks', gifts or free trips over the last three years, as this remains largely unanswered, writes Allan Richards.
The Information Commissioner website has issued a decision notice requiring British Waterways to respond to the 15 months old request within 35 days from the 11th June or face a possible charge of contempt of court. However, it failed to respond before it was replaced by CART on 2nd July. As such, it will be CART (who have inherited British Waterways' obligations) who will have to respond or face court action.
The decision notice is the eighth that has been served on British Waterways this year most of which deal with its reluctance to discharge its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act.
Failed to disclose
The requests refer to British Waterways failing to disclose that its Head of Boating, Sally Ash, is a director of a company that sells boating holidays on behalf of some of the leading 'names' in the inland waterways industry such as ABC Leisure Group Ltd (better known to boaters as Alvechurch) and Shire Cruisers.
One of Sally Ash's fellow directors, Nigel Stevens (director of the a company that trades as Shire Cruisers) is also a member of CART's committee.
British Waterways also failed to disclose if Ms. Ash paid for a holiday on a narrowboat travelling from Anderton to Worcester (both ABC Leisure hire bases) although they must have known about this as she blogged her journey on British Waterways' Waterscape website.
What is of greater concern however is the questions that arise with regard to a BW board member and a £12.9m debt the charity has inherited.
In its partial response to to the request, British Waterways divulged that a Board member, Pommy Sarwal, was also director of Port of London Authority (PLA). However, what it failed to mention was the part that he played in arranging a loan to British Waterways of £12.9m by a PLA subsidiary, Port of London Properties (POLP), and if he received any payment related to the loan.
Government imposes strict controls on loans made to British Waterways. These loans are normally made via the national loan fund (NLF) at fixed rates of interest. As part of the 15 years funding deal, CART will receive some £6m to pay off British Waterways' NLF loan.
However, CART is being made liable for the £12.9m POLP loan, and the public will have to find the money to fund the interest repayments (bank rate plus 1%) and pay off the loan when it falls due.
Surprisingly, there is no record in the public domain of government, or even British Waterways' Board, agreeing to the POLP loan being taken out which may indicate that it was unauthorised. It simply appears in British Waterways' 2007/8 annual report as a liability.
Also, there is no record of what the loan was used for! However, the timing of the loan suggests that the money was invested in high risk joint ventures and was part of the £50m losses that were incurred.
Let's put this POLP debt into context.
A couple of minutes with a calculator shows that, over the first ten years of its life, CART's expected accumulated income from charitable giving (i.e regular givers, appeals, legacies and corporate donors, less costs) will be in the order of £13m. That's the same as its POLP debt!
It would seem that the trustees are quite happy to take on the POLP debt and raise the money to pay it off by charitable giving over the next ten years.
Those considering becoming a friend of CART might take a different view!