Should not be boat owners who make up shortfall in finances

Published: Wednesday, 10 August 2022


TARGETING boaters is CRT's easy option, relates the National Association of Boat Owners.

But it should not be just boat owners who are expected to make up any shortfall in CRT's finances, whether this is due to the current economic situation or poor management.

The problems facing boaters

The current problems facing boaters include infrastructure failures and low reservoir levels leading to widespread canal closures; closures and failures of facilities; unprecedented incompetence of vegetation management leading to a lack of towpath and offside cutting which increases the dangers and inconvenience to boaters; increased fuel prices and maintenance costs.

It is unacceptable to expect boaters to pay out more money for less; fewer waters to cruise, less services, fewer available moorings as boaters attempt to cram onto official visitors' moorings unless they have a strimmer onboard. All this at a time when boaters' disposable incomes are falling like everyone else's. CRT no doubt will blame each of these problems on individual causes, weather and climate change, switching to new veg contractors, international increases in cost of fuels etc., but some of these could have been predicted and acted on in a preventative way, if CRT managers, directors and trustees were not asleep at the wheel.

Hardly a sum to balance the books

Depending on whose figures you believe, boat licences makes up between 10% to 12% of CRT's income. The amount they will raise in this financial year would be around £0.5m, hardly a sum to balance the books, and trivial in the wider scheme of annual expense. Likewise, fishing licences and permits make up only a small percentage too, so neither is a worthwhile target to increase.

Apart from hire companies and other waterway businesses, no other group pays to access or use the waterways and it is very unlikely that CRT would be able to introduce charges for cyclists and walkers. Surely instead, CRT should be looking elsewhere to increase the funds available to keep its waterways functioning, such as its investment portfolio for example, which it says makes up around 40% of its income. A close look needs to be taken at the performance and management decisions of CRT's investment division over the last 12 to 18 months; are the directors and trustees satisfied that CRT are getting the most out of this sizeable income stream?

Eye watering amount on salaries

CRT also needs to take a hard look at its expenditure, not on waterway maintenance but on all the other so-called jobs that its x-thousand employees have. Are all these jobs essential to the functioning of the charity? A look at CRT's recently published 'organisational structure' document reveals an eye watering amount of high salaried positions, often with obscure titles and this list is growing. It would be heartening to see these directors offer a temporary reduction in their take-home pay and donate the rest to a waterways fighting fund. Leading from the top is always a good way to garner support.

Then there is the issue of consultation before the licence fee increase was decided and what constraints exist on CRT to prevent it doing the same again whenever it feels like it. To put up the licence fee twice in a year is unprecedented. Boat owners, particularly those in hardship, must have confidence in these costs, and be able to manage their income/expenditures.

Should plan ahead

NABO has always pressed both BW and CRT to plan ahead on increases and give notice of what the increase will be. If CRT continue with surprise cost rises, it will undermine boat ownership confidence, driving more people to motorhomes and caravans. Not what anyone wants, but boaters can make choices. Should there be a change in CRT's T&Cs to say that the trust will consult all waterway organisations in future before any additional increases above the planned/publicised ones are decided? And listen properly to the responses—after all, we are all in this together aren't we?

CRT needs to better manage the funds it already has. A critical look at the performance of senior managers and directors and at the robustness and competence in oversight by the trustees must be performed and published. We need an assurance that this is a one-off, that the licence is not going to increase three times next year, hitting us low hanging fruit, we boaters, again and again.