The big con revealed

Published: Tuesday, 24 August 2010

THE CON is British Waterways telling all and sundry that its property portfolio was contributing some £45 millions towards maintaining our canals—it is not.

It was narrowboatworld that focused the public's attention on British Waterway's massive losses in 2008/9. Whilst BW (and IWA) have attempted to con us that BW's property portfolio was contributing some £45m per year towards maintaining our canals and rivers the actuality is somewhat different. The property portfolio is making a massive losses, discovers Allan Richards.

Unpalatable truth

Perhaps unsurprisingly, BW's losses are not highlighted in either of its two latest annual reports.  Instead, it uses meaningless property market comparisons to show how well it is performing against various indices.

It took a request under the Freedom of Information Act to force BW to admit that the portfolio was making a loss rather than the £45m profit claimed.  BW were asked to provide 'After tax profit (or loss) on non-operational property' for the years 2003/4 to 2009/10 (with an estimate for 2009/10).

A massive loss

A simple request!  However, it seems nobody in BW was prepared to come clean, and it was left to BW's chief executive, Robin Evans, to reveal that BW had not made a £45m profit on its property in 2008/9-but a massive £73.6m loss!

Even then he failed to provide an the estimate for 2010 as requested.

The unpalatable truth is that the 20,000 plus signatories to an e-petition demanding that BW be allowed to keep its property portfolio were misled.  How can something that is operating at a loss contribute £45m towards maintaining the canals?

But what of 2009/10?  Some people have already written to NbW with an analysis of BW's 2009/10 annual report.  The general consensus is that BW has suffered an overall  loss of over £30m but the figures vary. It is important to note these figures are overall losses where losses in say joint ventures are offset by gains elsewhere.

Wrong place

The £30m plus loss is spot on. In section 6.4 of a confidential report to BW's board, Finance Director Philip Ridal gives BW's actual trading loss for 2009/10 as £32.6m.

Mr Ridal, who was paid over £186,000 last year (excluding any bonus he may have been awarded!) somehow forgot to provide a comparative figure for 2008/9 in his report. Perhaps, this was a simple oversight. On the other hand, maybe BW did not want its own Board to know that its trading loss last year (£32.6m) was actually higher than the previous year (£30.5m).


BW's continuing commercial disaster is one of its own making. Its claim that the property portfolio contributes £45m a year towards the waterways is as false as its claim that the waterways are in the best state ever.

Allan Richards, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.