The following is my report - I have used some notes from Andy Tidy’s report (mostly the finances as he explains it better than I could) As these are my recollections from notes they are not designed as an exact record and are not minutes. Therefore , they should not be accepted as such.
We were invited to York this year. Owing to constraints of dialysis, I opted to do a long day - getting up at 4.45am, getting a train at 6am and arriving at York at 8.15am, where we were met by two young ladies from the Leeds Office with a sign and everything. Once everyone that was coming by train arrived, it was a short stroll to the bus taking us the 6 miles to Naburn Lock - a fascinating place - Kenny, the Lock keeper has been there over 30 years - his cottage is flooded on average 5 times a year and he remains remarkably sanguine about this fact.
It is a beautiful place and although the Trust operate the navigation of the River Ouse, the only land the Trust own is the island, stables and lock-keepers cottage, 6 miles outside York. There is a caravan park next door (a good catchment area) and the river cruises start and return here taking passengers into York - the challenge now for the Trust is to make the island at Naburn Locks a tourist destination and teaching place, to this end they are redeveloping the old wharf offices and making them flood resistant, this entails stripping plaster off walls and pitting drain holes in the floors. It was a lovely morning - sunny and the river had subsided enough for our cruise to happen. It is the only real chance you get to meet other council members and Trustees, much “networking”.
We arrived at the pier and a short walk to the Yorkshire Museum through the gardens ahead of the showers.
The Council meeting ran from 11.30am to 4.30pm with a short break for lunch. There is always a dinner in the evenings for the Trustees and local businessmen and councillors - a chance to drum up funding opportunities for both the local Waterway area and the Trust nationally.
The day is normally a series of presentations on what the Trust has been doing by senior managers and this was no different really - a slight emphasis on looking forward and as there are only two meetings a year - the other is in September and the morning is the Public Meeting., so this is the longest meeting. I could not get to Bath last year as I had dialysis that day; so this was the first meeting I had been to since the first meeting in Liverpool two years ago.
Allan Leighton opened the meeting and then we had Richard Parry’s report with him reporting the following:
l towpath satisfaction at 91% although awareness that the Trust maintains the towpath is only at 36% (a lot of people believe are local government operated and maintained), the target was 40%, there are 23,500 Friends of the Trust.
l The Trust had a turnover of £200m and a small surplus of £800k. Income included a £2.7m grant from the Postcode Lottery ( most of which has been spent on the Marple Flight and Aqueduct). Income was higher than budgeted for.
l A recent High Court Judgement in the Trust’s favour in the Thames Water -v- CRT, which may mean additional income in the future.
l Planned 240 winter stoppages and 180 lock gates replaced, quadrants on the Eastern side of the Huddersfield had to be replaced due to subsidence.
l Eight open days (2 had to be cancelled due to the snow) and attracted 15,000 visitors.
l Safe guarding, especially in view of recent revelations in other charities, they have procedures and processes in place for visitors, volunteers and staff.
l New regional structure, due to be in place on the 4 June, as 18 posts of the 60 posts (reduced from 78) still have to be filled, only 27 of these new managerial posts are Senior, with the Regional Directors in place in April.
l No gender pay gap exists within the Trust Main gender pay is -3.6% and Median pay Gap = -13.8%
Julie Sharman, the new Chief Operating Officer, reported on the following
l River Lea Navigation at Pyms Brook - a tanker full of oil was illegally dumped in the brook and has been very difficult to clear up and has resulted in a 5 week stoppage; there is an ongoing police and EA investigation
l the recent drowning in Manchester and the temporary barrier erected to prevent people crossing the lock across the lock gates rather than the bridge 30 feet away
l Middlewich Breach, which although not as big as Dutton in 2012 has challenges regarding access - fortunately, there was no damage to houses and they have set up a Just Giving Page. As with all unplanned stoppages this diverts contingencies and means planned works are put further back on the plan.
Business Plan 2018-19
Focus is on Caring For the Waterways, Sustaining Waterways and moving to becoming to a Waterway and Wellbeing Trust; to extend its aims to a wider audience.
The quality of contractors used is being closely scrutinised following well known issues with Carillion etc.
The EA transfer now appears unlikely.
BWML is seen as a non core operation and a buyer is being sought.
£8.4m to be spent on dredging, £20.6m on operational (culverts, aqueducts etc)
Dame Jenny Abramsky - appointments committee chair
Terms of Reference amended to reflect the new Regional Advisory Boards and recruitment of chairs is under-way in the 6 regions with definition of the minimum and maximum number of seats on regional committees.
Following the departure of some experienced trustees replacements are being sought
National Council Review
Group discussions took place and concluded that a Council Member handbook would be of benefit, defining what a council member does and more importantly doesn’t do, how its is done and how best to maximise the influence membership offers.
The trust should look at a way of partial refreshment of members rather then everything en masse
Should clarify the roles of appointed and elected council members
Maybe the use of smaller sub groups, such as the boaters reps meeting would be beneficial
Long Term Debt (these are Andy Tidy’s notes, as his explanation is brilliant)
Stuart Mills (Chief Investment Officer and Sandra Kelly (Finance Director)
At its inception it was agreed that the Trust should carry some debt, initially via a £25m revolving credit line upped to £50m in 2016.
This debt was consolidated in a private bond placement of £150m at the end of 2017.
This debt is agreed over a 30 year term at less than 3% in offering stability.
The money is invested in the Trust's investment portfolio of which property is making 10.8% and non property 9%.
In effect the trust is borrowing cheaply based on its asset base and inherent strength, investing the money is assets which are earning a return which is higher than the financing costs and the difference (called arbitrage) is profit applied to the trusts wider operations.
(Andy comment 1. Don’t get blinded by this high finance stuff. In simple terms the trust owns investment assets of £800m which is an endowment providing income. They see an opportunity to make more money from this source and are borrowing some long term money to buy more commercial property. Its a bit like a glorified "buy to let" where you use the value of your home to support a cheap second mortgage to buy another property which you then let out.)
The private placement was to a number of well known North American and European institutions which, we were assured, do not carry reputational risks.
(Andy's comment - I am comfortable with this overall arrangement which appears prudent and well stress tested, however, as with personal debt, a bit is fine but one can overdo things. The Trustees assured us that they have no current intention of any further placements beyond £150m and in my view any further increase in long term debt should be discussed before it is entered into)
John Horsfall (Interim Head of Boating)
32,000 leisure licenses and 1,000 business licenses covering 32,000 craft, generating £27m of income
He did say boaters should be major advocates for the Trust
The rules covering licensing are within the BW Act of 1995, and there has been a dramatic increase in the number of boats used as dwelling since the act was passed, particularly in the London and K&A. (My comment - the majority recently are boats without a home mooring - this is partly choice but also because of a general lack of permanent moorings in these areas)
John made mention of the choice that people make to live in these areas - London Mooring Strategy is still to be issued.
The recent review is about fairness, not income generation. With this goal in mind they have opted t give 2.5% discount to all those paying DD whether annually or monthly.
Consultation elicited 11,000 responses and an overriding desire was to see area included in the calculation; however, they decided against area as there would have been those who ended up paying a greater fee. The announcement has so far generated 15 to 20 complaints. All changes are being phased in.
Some areas such as discounts such as Electric, Historic and areas of high demand and are subject to further ongoing review to ensure that they deliver the desired outcomes.
Brand awareness has been growing and has risen from 30% in April 2016 to 36% today (the target was 40% for this year)
The cascade of engagement is : Beneficiary (say towpath user) to Follower (Social media) to Friend and then Volunteer.
The slower than expected growth in public awareness is a major issue as it is inextricably linked with the bid for further government grant funding when the existing package expires.
Focus groups were convened to identify the key message needed. Well Being emerged as the key message the Trust are not communicating - the benefits of being able to spend time beside water which has a proven link with people’s emotional and physical wellbeing.
The resulting strapline is "making life better by water".
This altered strapline will be accompanied by a change of logo, a circle shape in blue and green to give a better fit on towpath and digitally; they wouldn’t show us the new logo but it will be launched on 21 May with all web based screens changing that day, and everything else replaced as they roll out (I have subsequently discovered offices have not been ordering headed paper in preparation) and it will be on a 2 to 3 year roll out
The cost is from within the existing Marketing budget and we are assured that this exercise has not involved expensive consultancies; the main cost being a graphic designer for the new logo.
My comment - I have to say I had more messages concerning this than anything else - particularly as the breach and lock closure have closed both the Cheshire and Four Counties Ring in the North. So I asked on the behalf of boaters - why now? Why not tell us the cost?
Nicky responded that it was within the existing marketing budget with no extra funds going towards it, Time marches on and with the government grant coming to the end of its term the Trust needs to raise its profile - it is the 18th largest but the Woodland Trust is better know than them and without the government grant there would be a 25% income gap which cannot be filled with the existing other income strands. So in order that they can maintain the waterways into the future both online and towpath presence needs to be increased, so that the government can see the benefits of supporting the waterways as a health benefit for the wider land based communities in cleaning the air in urban areas and the transportation of both water and goods.
I have to say I understand the need for increasing awareness but to announce into a vacuum was not the smartest move in my humble opinion. All we have is that it is modern and will influence people who are not influenced now.
The meeting then closed - the annual meeting is in Birmingham in September and there are Boaters’ Rep Meetings in the interim, so please get in touch with any comments, questions I can pass on.