Where was £132m 'maintenance' being spent?

Published: Friday, 16 November 2018

PETER SCOTT tells us he has made a complaint to Canal & River Trust in accordance with its Customer Complaints Policy & Process (2017), and writes:

Your Boaters Update, dated 27 July 2018, starts "Welcome to the latest, bumper, edition. There's something for everyone; read about our positive Annual Report (we've spent more this year than ever before - £132m - on maintenance) ..."

On charitable objects

As with other boaters I have talked to, I have taken "£132m - on maintenance" to mean the sum spent discharging your statutory maintenance duties as a navigation authority and 2.1.1 in your charitable objects (rather than 2.1.2, 2.1.3 and 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, 2.5, 2.6 and 2.7 of your charitable objects).

Curious to find out more about how this amount of £132m was being spent, I read your Annual Report. Unfortunately, the nearest I could find was a breakdown of £153m spend on charitable activities on page 39 under the following 12 categories:

Maintenance, inspections, repairs and minor works
Major infrastructure works
Operational buildings, craft, plant and equipment
Customer service and facilities
Supervision, volunteering management, training, safety, travel, insurance etc.
National operational and technical teams
Third party funded regeneration projects
Museums and attraction
Allocated support costs
On 31 July 2018, I emailed Damian Kemp asking him if he could provide me with a "breakdown under the same headings" of this "maintenance" spend.

Still waiting

Three and a half months later, I am still waiting.

Recently, I have taken advice as to why the Trust has failed to respond appropriately to this seemingly simple request. The following is is a shortened version of what I have been told.

From Boaters Update 27 July 2018.
CRT claims it spent £132m on "maintenance".
Elsewhere in Boaters Update, an alternative definition of "maintenance" is given as " ... core spending on waterway infrastructure, maintenance and repairs rising to almost £132 million".
Again elsewhere, "almost £132m" is given as an actual figure of "£131.6m".

From 2017/18 Annual Report

From Page 12 of the annual report "Caring for our Waterways". The largest part of our expenditure is dedicated to maintaining and repairing the waterway infrastructure in our care, much of which is over 200 years old and still in active use. In 2017/18 our core spending on caring for the waterways rose to £132m ..."

Page 65 (part of the audited accounts) under "Expenditure on charitable activities" gives the following figures:-

Waterway operation, maintenance and repairs 131.6
Third party funded regeneration projects 16.7
Museums and attractions 4.7
Total expenditure on charitable activities 153.0

Nothing of the sort

It is clear from page 65 that what is referred to as "Waterway operation, maintenance and repairs - £131.6m" is what CRT is calling "maintenance" in Boaters update. It is also clear from comparison of page 65 and page 39 that what appears in CRT's audited accounts as "Waterway operation, maintenance and repairs" is nothing of the sort! It is ten of the 12 categories shown on page 39 - everything except "Third party funded regeneration projects" and "Museums and attractions" (see list above).

As such, CRT is including in "Waterway operation, maintenance and repairs" significant spend which should be allocated elsewhere. I have been given several examples such as £2m of redundancy/termination payments and cost of volunteers for non maintenance related activities such as education.

Discrepancies exist

It has also been pointed out to me that discrepancies exist between the audited accounts on page 65 and the chart on page 39 with no explanatory text. To give two examples, "Third party funded regeneration projects" is given as £16.7m in your audited accounts but £14.4m (£2.3m difference) on page 39. Likewise, "Museums and attractions" is given as £4.7m in your audited accounts but £3.7m (£1m difference) on page 39. In the absence of any explanation, the supposition here is that CRT have wrongly inflated categories such as "Maintenance, inspections, repairs and minor works" and "Major infrastructure works".

Also your audited accounts on page 83 gives "Waterway operation, maintenance and repairs" as £148.3m rather than £131.6. Self evidently it can't be both figures!

Whilst, I have been given a detailed opinion as to why CRT would wish to misrepresent the amount it spends on "maintenance", I will not document it fully here. Suffice to say it has been suggested to me that the Trust is trying to conceal a fall in the amount spent in 2017/18 on "maintenance" compared to the previous year and instead present it as an increase.

My complaint:

1 CRT has misrepresented the amount spent on "Waterway operation, maintenance and repairs" in its 2017/18 Annual Report and audited accounts.
2 CRT misrepresented the amount spent on "maintenance" in Boaters Update dated 27 July 2018
3 CRT wrongly delayed a response to my request for information
4 When it did reply, CRT's response was not in accord with my query.
5 When it did reply, CRT's response was not in accord with information published in its annual report.
6 CRT failed to respond to my request for clarification of its reply within a reasonable timescale.

With regard to outcome from this complaint, I consider 1 and 2 above to be of paramount importance. My preferred outcome is for:

1 CRT to agree that it has misrepresented "maintenance" or "Waterway operation, maintenance and repairs" as it is called in its 2017/18 audited accounts.
2 CRT to alter its 2017/18 accounts as appropriate (with re-auditing if necessary).

3 CRT to alter its annual report such that it only provides information that can be verified by its amended (and audited) accounts.

Should hold a complete record

Damian Kemp and Melissa Ashdown-Hoff should hold a complete record of correspondence regarding this matter (about 20). Mr Kemp has said that he did not receive an email from me asking him to treat my query as a request under the Freedom of Information Act. However, I subsequently posted a copy of that email on his forum. I am happy to provide a complete record of all emails sent or received if required.