CRT Annual Public Meeting, National Waterways Museum, Ellesmere. Monday 9th July 2013
I attended this meeting on behalf of NABO. It was not obvious who had been invited, but numbers had to be restricted for reasons of space, and those who had not booked in early were not able to attend. This had caused some angst and there have been serious complaints about this on various blogs and websites.
It was a very full house and the Museum and their staff and volunteers did a great job on providing delegates with access to all the activities taking place on the site. Several other interested groups also had displays.
Tony Hales kicked the day off with an upbeat report on the past year. He emphasised that CRT have a strong balance sheet - their first Annual Report and Accounts were made available during the day. Given the additional government funding coming in from 2015, they had brought forward several major projects. They were very disappointed, he said, about the decision on not bringing the EA navigations into CRT at this stage, and he felt this was due to a lack of imagination on the part of Defra. He mentioned CRT’s satisfaction with the Partnerships and the growth of volunteering, and gave several examples of projects being undertaken using money from new sources. He concluded by saying that the immediate challenges, as he saw them, were coping with climate change, responding to the HS2 proposals, and the need to engage with the “non-traditional” waterways groups.
Vince Moran gave an excellent presentation on the funding situation; he described in detail how the funding was being used, and the resulting decrease in the number of high-risk areas. The work on assessing the “network stewardship score” was interesting but he did say that the results of this were not being echoed by users.
Jane Cotton then gave a positive report on her experience as one of the first Trustees.
The new CEO, Richard Parry, on only his second day in the post, was introduced. He gave a very short address, saying how much he was looking forward to the challenges.
Tony Hales then led a Q&A session, followed by a panel discussion involving several Trustees and others. Points of interest included:
· What had been learnt from the SE Consultation? Above all, the need to consult, and that CRT must learn to “share the space” more!
· Was anything taking over the role of IWAC? No.
· How could the local canal societies and trusts work with CRT?Some good examples existed already, but more needed to be done. One of the Trustees said that he felt this was indeed very important and that there should not be any perception of competition.
· Business Boat Licensing terms and conditions:Some operators, the BMF and others had expressed concerns about the revised proposals, which had recently been circulated, largely relating to increased charges. It was emphasised that these were still at the consultation stage.
· Competition between CRT and existing organisations; for example, the Boat Museum itself was experiencing a decrease in its “friends” and felt this was due to CRT’s recruitment activities:Trustees emphasised that this should not happen and we need to get everyone pulling in the same direction. (However, on closer examination the Business Boat Licensing proposals contain one very worrying comment: “Now that we ourselves are a charity, we need to agree to all fundraising activity that takes place on our land to ensure that there is no conflict of interest and that waterway visitors are not being overly targeted for contributions.” Not in competition then?)
· Preaching to the converted:“We need to be talking to others and not just to those already involved, especially given the age profiles of present users.” (Agreed, but I just wish someone would tell CRT speakers that not all boaters are overly-rich early-retirees!)
The afternoon was spent in small session workshops, and I attended a very good one led by Adam Comerford, CRT's Group Hydrology Manager, on the growing water resources issues. The description of their developing strategy was most professional and I was delighted that this is being shared at this early stage with users. I also attended (just observing, though) the workshop on the Partnerships, at which I was struck by the comments on the roles of the Partnerships. Most of those present were personally involved but it was not clear to me where the Partnerships fit in, or what the boundaries are.