Meg Lee Chin

Many think that we boaters are scroungers with little power and should be grateful for what we have. But far from being scroungers we boaters have more power than we realize, both politically and financially.

The current canal situation has much wider implicatons. CRT are a private company masquerading as a charity. They are the pilot program which governments are watching very closely. If successful this model will be rolled out to other public services in the UK.

Far from being incompetent Richard Parry is under enormous pressure to deliver. He has chosen to concentrate on PR and enforcement as the tool to achieve the privatization of a public asset under the guise of a charity. As you may have noted under this arrangement, boaters receive no charity nor do they reap the benefit of the freedom of choice offered by the marketplace.

There are 3 myths which have been perpetuated by CRT's PR department.

1) Boaters have no financial power
2) A congestion crisis has arisen due to selfish, irresponsible, lazy boaters
3) If boaters police themselves properly CRT won't have to get stricter with our licence agreements.

But not only do boaters have financial power we are CRT's most viable customer. Though there are no doubt lazy, irresponsible boaters the larger problem of congestion is due to CRT's policies. Boaters can self-police to infinity, it won't change CRT's publicly stated plans. (Visible in their operating agreement)

Of all income streams boaters has the most potential for expansion. Here is a breakdown of CRT's annual income

Government funding - £39M.
Property portfolio - £36.5
Boater income - £32M
Rental of towpath for power lines - £24M.
Charitable activites and Fundraising - £12M

Government funds are like training wheels on a bicycle and set to taper. Boater income can expand in 2 ways.

Plan A - less boats each paying quadruple the fees (Enforcement Plan)
Plan B - more boats each paying the same but spreading out (Incentive plan)

Plan A has the most financial expansion potential;

1)Cull trashy boats with pretty boats pushed into marinas/year round winter moorings at quadruple plus income
2)Invest in towpath, mooring rings, lights, water, more marinas
3)More room for more pretty boats at quadruple plus income.
4)Repeat from step one

Plan B has the most social satisfaction potential;

1) 30 day or longer moorings in underused areas. Relief for families with children.
2) Long term licenses for service boats (chandlery, diesel, 2nd hand shops, laundry, mini-markets, etc.) in underused areas. Along with more boats the general public is attracted to these underused areas which become floating arts/crafts markets.
3) Investment into the towpath, rings, water, lights, CCTV, etc.
4) We have brainstormed many, many more ideas (no room here).

What is needed is the harnessing of boater energy toward demanding Plan B. This is especially difficult in the current climate as some people who I will call the "traditionalists" are prone to blaming new boats for their current problem. Thus they will strongly resist any idea of developing the towpath. Some even naively believe that CRT's heightened enforcement will turn back the clock to more idyllic times. But as you can see from the repeat cycle of plan A this will never happen. Once the pretty boats are tucked in away into nice Marinas, CRT will be back for the other lot.

Plan B is worth pursuing even if only to "smoke out" CRT as any resistance makes obvious to the wider public that they have no intention of alleviating congestion. Thus we force them into revealing their hand.

There is a third plan which I will call Plan C - A Boater Managed Waterways Co-op. Financially this is viable. Here are CRT's current expenditures.

Larger asset repairs (bridges and aqueducts) 33% or £30M
Customer Services 18% or £16.4M
Planned Preventative maintenance 12% or £11.2M
Costs not attributed to activities 12% or 12.8M
operational Plant and Equipment 8% or £7.4M
Dredging 6% or £5.4M
Dowries 4% or £3.4M
Operational Buildings 4% or £3.1M
Inspections 3% or £2.5M

Bridges and aqueducts should be government not boater responsibility. They should be covered by the transport department. £16.4M customer services and £12.8M "costs not attributed to activites" could be severely slashed once your boater self-managed community is allowed fruition.

Boaters should be able to easily cover the rest with the £32M we currently pay. If not we could negotiate to control the towpath power line income, the charitable income, the property portfolio, etc. The point is CRT are an unwieldly PR monster that are expensive to run.

By "smoking CRT out" and forcing them to reveal their hand we would create the potential for a boater managed community. This issue is bigger than just the canals and has the potential of inciting the wider public to take up arms against CRT the 2 headed hybrid charitable/company monster threatening to devour our public service bodies in the UK.

But at the moment all this talk of boater self enforcement is flying into the face of the facts and feeding the myths. These myths are redirecting boater energy into finger pointing and blaming our fellow boaters. Though CRT community liason officers and other PR reps are mostly lovely people, their role is merely to dissipate energy. Volunteering to clean the canals allows CRT to avoid their responsibility and the whole reason they were put into existence. It saves them money which they then put into enforcing us.

The false meme must be replaced by a true meme - that of boaters as a powerful force to shape not only the future of the canals but that of public services in this country. can you imagine the NHS becoming a "public charity/private company" like CRT?

The situation is urgent as CRT's draconian new agreement which though currently seems innocent enough at a reasonable 15/20 km/miles is a trojan horse and establishes a dangerous precedent in law for a further erosion of our rights.

I am not against community self-enforcement or voluntary cleaning but believe the sentiment is being exploited.

If we want to get to Plan C we need to go through Plan B.