DEFRA reneges on Autumn future funding decision

Published: Monday, 07 November 2022

HAVING already defaulted in making a decision on CaRT's future funding by July 1st 2022, DEFRA has now reneged on its new undertaking to make a decision this Autumn, reveals Allan Richards.

To add insult to injury, it has failed to say when a decision might be made.

Silently altered an announcement

Allan Richards explains how a statement made by CaRT's new chairman, David Orr, led to the discovery that DEFRA has silently altered an announcement such that it is no longer committed to an Autumn decision on future funding.

On 13th June 2022, Defra made the following statement on its decision about future funding:

'Defra and the Canal and River Trust have been working together to gather the information necessary for the UK government to conclude its review of possible grant funding for the Canal and River Trust beyond the end of the current grant period in 2027.

Due to extenuating circumstances, including the significant impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and wider strategic considerations, the UK government is not yet in a position to reach a decision on possible future grant funding for the Canal and River Trust by the 1st July 2022 date set in the current grant agreement.

Defra continues to work closely with the Canal and River Trust to ensure that the evidence gathered for the review is used to make the best possible decision on future funding. The UK government expects to publish a decision in the autumn'.

'Death by PowerPoint'

CaRT's 2022 Annual Public Meeting three weeks ago was similar to its 2021 Annual Public Meeting. The usual self congratulation 'death by PowerPoint' presentations, a rare chance to spot CaRT's chair and waffle from the chief executive in response to very simple email questions.

Fifty-five minutes into the charade, following questions from both IWA and NABO on lack of future government funding (and the usual avoidance of any meaningful reply), David Orr opined that there was an expectation that government would have a continuing financial role to play in the waterways and that he hoped that the trust would be having that conversation with ministers and senior officials over the coming months.

Perhaps, someone in CaRT would direct Mr Orr to the 2012 Memorandum of Understanding between The Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs and Canal & River Trust. Annex 8 defines DEFRA objectives for funding under the Grant Agreement. Objective 2 reads:

'To move the long term cost of maintaining the inland waterways and the associated heritage infrastructure (estimated at around £4 billion in nominal net present value terms) from the public sector to civil society'.

Poorly briefed or confused

It would appear that the new chairman has either been poorly briefed or is confused with respect to the first part of his statement. CaRT acknowledged DEFRA's long term zero funding objective ten years ago!

However, the second part of David Orr's statement also raises concerns. Why is it he believes that CaRT have months to converse with ministers when DEFRA has said that UK government expects to publish a decision this autumn?

Surely, that should be days or weeks not months!

The disappearing sentence

Investigation has shown that sometime between 20th June 2022 and 5th November 2022, DEFRA altered its 13th June statement on the decision about future funding. It deleted the sentence 'The UK government expects to publish a decision in the autumn'.

Shame on you DEFRA for silently deleting your commitment to provide a decision in the Autumn, having already failed to meet your 1stJuly commitment.

... and shame on you David Orr for failing to inform waterway users that DEFRA has kicked its future funding decision into the long grass.