Friday, 20 May 2011

Back pay required

Open letter from David Fletcher (ex BW chief)

I am taking the unprecedented (for me) step of writing this open letter to the biggest waterway titles because as a lifetime user of the waterways, a boater for 30 years, ex-Chief Executive of BW from 1995 to 2002, and Vice Chairman of the British Waterways Advisory Forum, I have the privilege of a multiple perspective on this move from a public corporation to a national charity.

During my time at BW I prepared proposals for its activities to be transferred to a charitable trust which could operate the publicly owned navigations. This even featured on the front page of the Financial Times! However, although the then Labour Government recognised the proposal had much to offer, it was decided for a combination of political and funding reasons not to implement it at that time.

This decision at the time was right as evidenced by the following period of unprecedented repair, restoration and regeneration of the waterways and the areas surrounding them. This was only achieved by an equally unprecedented era of cooperation and support from everyone who used the waterways, local authorities, development agencies, many generous funders, and especially government. This was a great time to run BW!!

The world and the waterways however have now moved on. BW has fought hard, with some success, to continue the earlier momentum. However in the current challenging economic climate the waterways need a new model to make them sustainable into the future. In these circumstances I commend the leaders at BW, many of whom I recruited, for having the vision and indeed the courage to revive the charitable trust concept in the modern ‘Big Society’ format.

So now we have a once in a generation opportunity to create a new body to hold our waterways in trust for the nation, and to operate them in a proper and sustainable manner. For this to truly succeed we need another era of special cooperation and support. We must now harness our energy and talents to find imaginative ways to make the new trust the success that we and the waterways deserve.
What he fails to say is that prior to the cutting of the umbilical cord those that are to take the reigns should first fight for the backlog of maintenance (reputed to be £300m) to be funded direct from the government purse. It is after all the continued reduction in government funding that has contributed to the severe decline that we see today. A budget of 39 million pounds spent totally on maintenance for the next 7 1/2 years would allow the system to stop going backwards by 2018. The current plan to turn BW into a charitable trust with only a budget of £39M pa means that the system we know will continue to deteriorate beyond repair.

I personally cannot believe that with unemployment at quite a high this government can put so many BW workers out of work in favour of volunteer workers. Obviously it is cheaper to pay benefits rather than salaries.

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