A personal perception by Stephen Peters (A candidate in the CRT elections – I think!)
When the call went out from the Canal & River Trust asking for boaters to be nominated for election to the Council, I gave it some thought and concluded that if I were to vote for a candidate, that person would need to reflect my philosophy and boating interests. Who better, I thought, than yours truly? I was extremely grateful to both NABO and The Boating Association for co-sponsoring me.
The letter from the Chairman of BW and the information from CRT outlining the election process appeared to be well-conceived and reasonably democratic so I waited until the appointed date when nomination and sponsor forms would appear on the CRT website. In actual fact, it appears that the trust does not yet have its own web presence and its public face is handled by Waterscape and the election administration conducted by BW itself.
I duly downloaded the appropriate application forms and noted the involvement of Electoral Reform Services in the election. This was a confidence booster as I knew it was a professional and impartial body, well used to conducting elections for many organisations.
The nomination and sponsor forms immediately presented a confusing request to include the boat licence number applicable to the signatory. I correctly inferred that what they really meant was the Craft Index Number which every boat owner should know. Judging by the questions raised on various websites it seems that some people went as far as making a special visit to their boats just to obtain the printed serial number on the licence disc, which appears nowhere on the renewal paperwork, and is not the same as the Customer Number or the renewal number.
The confusion was compounded by the reply on the official website which initially confirmed they wanted the serial number, not the craft index number. A subsequent correction reversed this erroneous advice.
Another source of confusion was the requirement for candidates and sponsors to hold 12-month boat licences. What about river registration certificates, or houseboat certificates, or Gold licences? It was finally clarified that all were valid as they constituted a 12-month licence.
The fear that candidates would be frantically rushing around seeking sponsors in person or by post over the Christmas holiday period was allayed when it became apparent that 10 separate sponsor forms were required to support a nomination. The rules were silent on how many persons could be sponsored by any one eligible boater, so that did not present any problem.
Candidates were requested to submit a 150-word election address for inclusion in the election packs but it is surprising how little information one can actually convey in so few words. Again there were no instructions preventing further publicity or canvassing for support, so I produced a longer manifesto which you will find here on the NABO website.
My nomination papers were submitted by Recorded Delivery well before the January deadline and my election address was emailed as requested. The due date passed without any confirmation of safe receipt of my papers. I knew the letter had been delivered and signed for, so after a week I attempted to contact the CRT on the given email address but the message was rejected. So I telephoned the election office. The call was answered by the BW switchboard operator who confirmed that the email contact was not working and that candidates were using the BW general enquiries address instead. She said that she could check for me and after a brief interval she confirmed that my forms had been received and even told me my home address! So much for data protection and confidentiality.
After a few days I did receive an email response apologising for the technical problems and assurance that all was now working as intended. However, I would not be receiving confirmation as to the validity of my nomination until after the appointed noon deadline for submissions. This was worrying. What if my papers were not acceptable and one of my sponsors was ineligible? I was assured that once they had checked them, I would be given the opportunity to amend any errors.
No further communication was received as of 24 January. By that time the ballot preparation should surely have commenced, with candidates details and ballot papers having to be produced and dispatched ready for the due voting day. I still don’t know if I am to be a candidate. We are even told that the names of all candidates may not be published until voting commences.
The unprofessional and casual way in which the nomination stage was being handled led me to contact ERS who explained that they were only involved in the ballot procedure and it was BW who were validating nominations. My faith in the democratic process took a tumble at this point.
I have been involved in no fewer than 9 local council elections and 2 co-operative elections. It has always been my experience that nominations were acknowledged on receipt and validity confirmed before the final deadline, so that correct papers could be submitted. No amendments should be made after the date for submission of nominations. Also, the rules and requirements are well-known from day one and usually place restrictions on canvassing or external promotion of candidates.
The CRT Council election failed in all these major respects. The sequence of questions and responses on the Waterscape website seems to support my perception that this has been an ill-thought-out and shambolic election process, mismanaged by well-paid administrators who do not seem to realise that these Council elections matter to boaters who take them seriously. BW say they want to engage with volunteers and tap their wealth of expertise and knowledge. Why did they not ask someone well-versed in contesting elections for impartial advice and guidance?
All this has done nothing to instil confidence in BW. They could not run an election in a brewery! The new CRT will have to do better.