Friday, 30 March 2012

Not feeling "charitable" just yet...but getting a bit closer!

After having decided not to run in the recent Canal and River Trust elections, I decided that I would try to keep up to date better with what's going on with the waterways. My aborted run did demonstrate to me that there is a lot that British Waterways has tried to hide in the past (bonus payments, failed investments, etc) and I decided that I would do my best to make sure that I knew what was going on with the Canal and River Trust, which will replace British Waterways in.... erm.... well, at some point to be determined.

Having had to reconcile myself to the fact that my quaint old idea that our Country's Assets (hospitals, schools, railways, and now waterways) should be publically owned is now hopelessly out of date and anything not nailed to the floor is likely to be privatised, I am also doing my best not to moan all the time about how horrible the future of the waterways is going to be, and how everything is doomed.

I do want to get behind the new charity - hell, if it fails, then my way of life will be in serious danger. Establishing a new charity does present a once in a generation opportunity for those of us who love the waterways to effect some change - but it's an opportunity we're in danger of squandering.

The transition from quango has been poorly managed - the only people who will say otherwise are those who managed it from BW's end. The new charity is late (it was due to be up and running now), has been subjected to further Parliamentary Scrutiny, and, at the moment, is not even registered with the Charities' Commission.

However, a transition of this nature from the public to the private charitable sector is pretty much unprecendented, so, if I'm in a charitable mood, I can forgive the odd delay or hiccup - particularly if it's going to make the end result better.

What I can't forgive, though, and won't forgive, is if the new charity turns out to be British Waterways 2.0 - and there is a real chance that this might happen.

True, the new Trustees seem to be "making the right noises", saying in public that they are seeking to engage stakeholders, and talking about what an opportunity this is for the waterways. What's worrying, though, is that the same people who managed the day-to-day affairs of BW will manage the day-to-day affairs of the new charity. Given their track record, this is something that should worry anyone afloat.

A bright spot, though, is that there seem to be more forums through which the management of the new charity can be held to account - or if not held to account, at least get a pretty cleark rebuke. Waterways Boards, a new Council elected from boaters, boating business, employees, and other stakeholders, and the Trustees themselves should do this. What remains to be seen is whether the new Boards, Councils, and Commitees will be filled with "yes" men and women, and/or whether they will have the desire, will, or strength to stand up when it's important.

So, I may not be feeling "charitable" towards the new charity, but I'm warming to the idea. It had better deliver, though, or there will be one hell of a backlash.

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