Canal & River Trust boat numbers in decline

Published: Friday, 03 February 2023

The number of licenced boats on Canal & River Trust (CaRT) waterways are in decline, writes Allan Richards.

The drop in numbers cannot be explained by a rise in the evasion rate.

Furthermore, CaRT thinks it's likely that its licence income will fall next year (2023/24). This years licence income will not be known for some time but last year it was £24 million (up 12.7% on 2020/21).

300 boats down

Two months ago, CaRT’s board of directors were told by Julie Sharman (Chief Operating Officer) that, since June, the number of boats being licenced was some 300 less than the previous year. This had resulted in a loss of income of around £250,000. Sharman also noted other changes including boats taking out Gold licences and an increase in 3/6 month licences at the expense of 12 month licences.

She conceded that the move to shorter licences was, in part, due to a sharp increase in 'Continuous Cruiser cases'.

Sharman told the board, that the 300 decrease was not due to greater evasion as this was only marginally up on the previous year. Rather, she opined that boats were leaving the trust’s waterways. She went on to say:

“We believe these changes may reflect the wider cost of living/financial pressures being felt across the economy.”

Approved another licence fee hike

The board's reaction to the news was to approve a proposal for a 9% licence fee increase from 1st April 2023 (in addition to the 4% 'in-year' increase already applied). Together the increases are 3% above the 10% inflation forecast. 

The board also approved a holding a licence fee consultation. However, what the board was told and how it responded remains unclear as parts of the board meeting minutes have been redacted (i.e. removed).

National consultations on licencing have previously been held in 2020/21 (Terms & Conditions) and 2017/18 (Pricing).

CaRT have just made the following announcement on its National Consultation webpage (and boaters have already started to receive emails) :

'The Trust will shortly be launching a consultation with boaters to gather feedback on boat licence pricing over the next ten years to help support the long-term future of the 2,000 miles of waterways that our charity looks after. More information will be available once the consultation launches'.

Deliberately removed?

Needless to say, documents relating to the last pricing consultation can no longer be found on CaRT’s website. Deliberately removed?

…and why is it CaRT’s trustees agreed yet another price increase then immediately sanctioned a price consultation?

Surely, that is putting the 'CaRT' before the horse!