Chair, Mike Rodd is concerned by what he sees in his crystal ball.

In these strange times that we’re living in, our thoughts and prayers are with those tragically affected by Covid-19 and we feel for those who have lost a family member, friend or colleague, or whose livelihood or mental health has been seriously affected.

Nevertheless, even on a smaller scale, I am sure that you are all, like me, totally frustrated by the unfortunate delays in being able to get back on our boats – made worse for those of us who boat in Wales, where the Assembly seems to be continually slightly out of phase with the situation in England. I am looking forward to be able to go and check that our boat is still floating!

Mike Rodd considers some effects of the pandemic.

Like many of our members in self-isolation at home and unable to travel to our boats, it has really come home to us how much the canals and rivers are an essential part of our lives. It also reminds us how precious these waterways are, and how urgently we need to ensure that they are protected. 

This will be especially important in the days ahead, when our economy will look very different from the immediate past, with governments facing many horrendous difficulties in recovering from the financial wrecking balls caused by the pandemic. And – of vital interest to all of us – at the same time as the Government will be trying to sort out this mess, CRT and EA will be bidding for at least some essential government funding.  As I have said before, I just cannot see how either body will be able to continue without some level of government support, at least similar to that which has been received in the past. However, I really can’t see such bids being high on any government's priorities. It is vital, therefore, that boater representative bodies, such as NABO and RBOA, get behind CRT’s and EA’s bids – even though we must also continue to be critical friends when needed.

Mike Rodd compares the attitudes of two navigation authorities.

Although being on a boat is a good place to self-isolate, if you are not a liveaboard, going to your boat is no longer an option. If you are already on board, CRT and the EA are asking boaters to stop all travel on the waterways, with the exception of accessing facilities. The suspension will be kept under review, applying initially until 14th April. During this period they are suspending the requirement to move every 14 days. These are challenging and changing times for all of us and we must all do what is best to ensure the virus is contained, and that you and I do not overload the NHS – which is doing an amazing job. Incidentally, CRT’s advice is at

https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/enjoy-the-waterways/safety-on-our-waterways/coronavirus.

It has been a busy time for meetings with the senior EA management and it is very important to acknowledge that, as they look to make their navigational responsibilities less dependent on the public purse and explore becoming more commercially viable, they are making every possible effort to consult all the boating and water-related organisations that are involved. While the outcomes are not yet clear, my own view is that the new senior folk, who have experience of making other organisations move towards becoming less government-dependent, are being very realistic in analysing potential funding sources. And they accept the responsibilities they have, to maintain their historically-precious infrastructures. I also have a strong feeling that they are determined to make themselves ready to become part of CRT!

Challenges in the year ahead

Mike Rodd considers NABO’s priorities and the way forward.

Coming back into the NABO chair at this time in the history of our waterways is far more formidable that it might seem – the challenges that face us are by no means simple. The next few years will be critical to the future of our waterways, with CRT and EA both facing long-term funding issues. At present, the government grant covers about 40% of CRT’s income but, in about six years’ time, the initial funding stream will come to an end. It was always the intention of government that, by then, the organisation should be essentially self-funding – that is, no further government grant would be needed. Of course, as NABO has always pointed out, such a concept was cloud cuckoo land; however hard CRT might try, there is no way that it will be able to continue without direct government support. CRT Trustees and staff have tried very hard to address this issue; one approach has been to try to show how amazing the waterways are in promoting ‘public wellbeing’. That’s all good stuff, but I seriously wonder if governments of the future will take any notice – especially as many other organisations seeking government support are saying exactly the same thing. Ultimately, some level of government grant seems essential, and making the case for the real value of the waterways is of major public importance. That is really all about recalling their historic significance, as well as recognising the huge numbers of people who use them or benefit directly from their presence, as boaters, fishermen, traders, towpath walkers, bike riders, international tourists, etc.

Mark Tizard and Mike Rodd prepared a review of 2019.

Thank you for coming. Stella Ridgway, our Chair, unfortunately can’t be with us as she continues to recover from her kidney transplant. Stella is standing down from our Council and, on behalf of NABO, we would like to thank her for her service. She will be missed both by her NABO colleagues and also as a boater’s representative on CRT’s Council. During the year, our Vice-Chair Paul Howland passed away unexpectedly; his wise words are greatly missed.

Last year has been a challenging one for NABO: your Council has been spread thinly, seeking to establish contact and relationships with the new CRT Regional Directors, and the first meetings have taken place. On top of this, the latest major reorganisation has seen many experienced managers leave the Trust. During the last couple of years, with constant management changes, it is perhaps not surprising that communications with CRT have been sporadic. They certainly have not been proactive in wanting to engage with us. Your Council has recently taken steps to set up regular quarterly meetings with the Head of Customer Services and Head of Boating. In addition, we continue to be represented on the Navigation Advisory Group and the Boat Safety Scheme committees. The new CRT organisational management structure continues to bed in and we have concerns that in some areas core engineering and management experience have been lost.