Defra has today (20 December 2010) announced that its grant to British Waterways next year will be £41.5m. This is a reduction of £9.8m (or 19%) from the 2010/11 baseline grant of £51.3m.
Given that Government funding makes up approximately half of the net spend on the waterways, this will translate into an effective cut of resource available of about 12% in 2011/12.
The settlement represents the last annual grant to British Waterways in England and Wales before a longer term contract comes into place in April 2012 when the canals, rivers and docks in its care are expected to be transferred into a new charity.
Defra has also announced indicative funding from 2012/13 to 2014/15 will be an annual £39m, with a long-term commitment that a funding contract running up to at least 2022/23 will not fall below this level.
British Waterways’ chairman, Tony Hales, commented: “In the current climate it would be unrealistic to expect British Waterways to be exempt from cuts in public spending and we will have to make difficult decisions to ensure the continued maintenance of the historic canals and rivers in our care. The Government’s commitment to the first ever long-term public funding settlement for the waterways is, however, a good step forward and I have been heartened by ministers' continued commitment to this ‘Big Society’ flagship.
“Security of funding is fundamental to achieving the Government’s objective of establishing a new ‘national trust’ for the waterways. The challenge now is to develop a funding plan which gives confidence to the incoming trustees of the new charity and retains the support of waterway stakeholders. I firmly believe this can be achieved and, while we would all have hoped for a larger settlement, we are one step closer to turning the long-held vision of a waterways charity into reality.”
NABO General Secretary, Richard Carpenter, was invited to take part in a conference call with Robin Evans and Simon Salem from British Waterways in which this mornings announcement was discussed. Representatives of leading Stakeholders including the IWA, RBOA, BMF and AWCC were also on line to hear a quite noticeably shaken Robin Evans go though the details. He stated that he had not expected so much in the first year whilst expecting a more gradual drop over the review period. It meant, he said, some very serious and possibly not pleasant workfor his management to be done in the New ear, although he wouldn't be drawn at this stage what that might entail. All stakeholders were asked to report back to their various organisations and help to advise on next steps.
Mr Evans suggested that a protest flotilla of narrow boats on the Thames was probably not the right approach but hard work lobbying MP,s would help. An appeals process is the next step and NABO an other Groups would be involved.
One good thing appears to be the contractually agreed £39m fixed for the next 12 years which at least allows the New Waterways Charity a basis to work with.
Further comments to follow.