Claim and counter claim

Published: Thursday, 17 August 2023

MORE than a year late, on the 10th of July,Dr Thérèse Coffey, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announced a new ten year government funding package for Canal & River Trust.

This follows on from the 15 years funding package which expires in 2027.

The same day, Canal & River Trust (CaRT) announced 'Government funding cuts put future of nation’s historic canals at risk'.

Allan Richards fact checks one of government’s claims and one of CaRT’s counter claims.


In her statement, the Secretary of State claimed:

“To date we have awarded them [CaRT] £550 million funding and, with this further commitment, are now supporting the Trust with a further total £590 million between now and 2037—a significant sum of money and a sign of the importance that we place on our inland waterways.”

This is misleading. In 2012, government committed to fund CaRT with a financial package estimated to be worth £800m over 15 years. However, due to low inflation for most of period to date (remember that!), the package will now only be worth £739m.

Defra’s new offer is f £401m over 10 years from 2027 to 2037.

The minister has cleverly suggested that government is increasing funding whilst, in fact, the opposite is true.

The 15 year deal gave CaRT average funding of about £50m per year from 2012 to 2027. The new ten year offer provides an average of £40m per year from 2027 to 2037. Obviously this is a significant decrease. Even more of a decrease if inflation is taken into account.

CaRT’s counterclaim

“Following today’s announcement from the Government, we are issuing a stark warning that a reduction in grant funding of over £300 million in real terms will threaten the future of the nation’s historic canals, leading to their decline and to the eventual closure of some parts of the network.”

Whilst the minister's statement is misleading, CaRT’s statement is just blatantly untrue. Back in 2012, CaRT entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Defra. Annex 8 set objectives for funding which include reducing dependence on government grant and moving the long term cost of maintaining the inland waterways from the public sector to civil society.

Furthermore, the grant review terms of reference made it quite clear that Defra has absolutely no obligation to fund CaRT after 2027.

How can grant be reduced if the default position was that it would cease in 2027. The new offer is an increase of £400m above government obligations rather than a decrease of £300m.

Only one winner

There can only be one winner in this slanging match—Defra.

For years, government have been happy to accept CaRT’s figures showing that the condition of the waterways entrusted to it have been improving year on year. Furthermore, it has been happy to accept CaRT’s glowing reports of superlative business performance.

Until such time as CaRT comes clean on what it calls its 'growing funding gap' and its financial failures there is no compelling case for government to abandon the pipe-dream of moving the costs of the waterways onto the third sector.