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BW's new strategy - first details

BW is proposing to become a "third sector organisation" by 2020 - in other words, much more like the National Trust. In BW's words:

"British Waterways, the last remaining part of the British Transport Commission still in public ownership, is proposing that its 200 year old waterway network is moved out of direct state control and into a new 'third sector' or trust organisation within the next 10 years."

But before then, the existing waterway units will be reshaped into smaller ones, which BW says will be "closer to the customers". A layer of management will be removed, resulting in 100 redundancies. The main changes are:
  • "New" Central Shires unit: T&M from Sawley to Stoke, Coventry, Ashby, Soar, GU Leicester-Harborough. Not clear where the office will be.
  • New South Wales & Severn unit: Mon & Brec, Severn, Worc & Birmingham..
  • New Peak & Pennine unit (based in Northwich): Cheshire Ring, Rochdale and Huddersfield Narrow.
  • New Kennet & Avon unit (based in Devizes).
  • North Wales & Borders moves to Chester.
The new strategy will be debated at public meetings throughout 2009. You can read the BW summary on their website.

Key quotes include:

"We propose the start of a gradual migration from the public sector to the voluntary sector"
"It will take up to 10 years to implement"
"Privatisation is not a viable or desirable option for the waterways now, or in the long-term"
"Our property endowment is important to our future success. We will need to retain what we have and, where sensible, extend it... we will need to continue to receive government funding"
"In April last [?] year we began a programme of savings including a restructure... to not only achieve economies of scale but also more responsiveness to local authorities and individual communities" 

The full BW press release is:

British Waterways (BW) is today announcing to staff, customers and stakeholders the results of a major strategic review which it believes will form the basis for the continued renaissance and long-term sustainability of the 2,200 miles of canals and rivers in its care.  The key proposals are to: increase efficiencies; open up new funding and partnership opportunities; create closer links with local communities and; start a gradual move over the next decade towards the waterways achieving a ‘third sector’ trust or charitable status.

As a first step, BW is proposing an internal restructure of its operations in England and Wales with the creation of 11 smaller, ‘hands-on’ waterway units, the removal of a layer of management and, subject to consultation with staff and trade unions, approximately 100 redundancies from office staff.  Together with other planned changes these proposals would enable approximately £10m per annum to be redirected to waterways maintenance.

The newly established 11 waterway units in England and Wales will focus solely on delivering BW’s core maintenance programme to ensure high levels of efficiency and customer service.    Whilst the units will be more evenly balanced in terms of waterway length, number of waterway structures and customer base, the exact boundaries between each will be the subject of a customer consultation.  Certain functions currently carried out in existing waterways units, such as managing moorings, developing partnerships and carrying out major engineering projects, will be undertaken by specialist teams.

In the revised structure, additional focus will be put on working with volunteers and local communities, whilst the creation of a new regeneration directorate will build on the ability of the waterways to kickstart regeneration and contribute to social inclusion.  The directorate’s aim will be to develop new relationships with community stakeholders and funding bodies at both a local and national level.

Robin Evans, BW chief executive, comments: “In the last decade we and our partners have successfully eliminated a massive backlog of safety repairs on our canals and rivers, we have generated record levels of third party and commercial investment, and the network is bigger, busier and in a better shape than for generations.  The waterways are visited by millions of people each year and offer a huge range of public benefits, including leisure, health and wellbeing, flood mitigation, wildlife havens and investment opportunities.  This is an extraordinary change from the 1950s and 1960s when, with the exception of a few enthusiasts, the waterways were largely looked upon as derelict ditches and a public health risk.

“Despite this turnaround the waterways today still face serious challenges.  The global downturn has reduced our ability to earn additional funds for the network, public funding will come under considerable pressure for the foreseeable future and we are already short of the money required to maintain the network properly. 

“With this in mind, our absolute priority must be to maintain investment in the waterways and this means reducing spending elsewhere.  Our proposed new structure will both redirect important funding to essential maintenance work but also make us much more responsive to customers and partners.”  

In the longer term, British Waterways believes the time is right for some fresh thinking about what the waterways mean to Britain and how their sustainable future might be secured.  Next month it will be launching a public debate on the role of Britain’s former industrial canals and rivers, highlighting their considerable modern-day contribution to society and seeking views on its proposals for how they should be used, run and funded in the future.  Central to the debate will be BW’s view that the time is now right to consider the option of changing its structure to turn it, by 2020, into a third sector ‘public interest company’ or trust.  Such a change could: stimulate far greater participation in the waterways by volunteers and other individuals; enhance openness and accountability for communities and waterway users; create opportunities for new sources of income such as grants and donations and; ensure the historic network is held in trust for the nation.  

The waterways are still likely to require public funding some time into the future, however BW believes that in the long term this could evolve from annual deficit funding into a contract with Government.  This would allow BW greater certainty in planning future expenditure and give Government a clearer understanding of the public benefits, such as flood control and public open space, which the waterways deliver. 

Robin continues: “Over the last year, at our Annual Meeting and elsewhere, waterway stakeholders have told us that we should get closer to local authorities and communities and adapt ourselves to be more responsive to volunteers.  Many organisations have shown how this approach can add to their stability, both financially and practically.  I believe that the best way to embrace this is to start the gradual process which could see the ownership structure bring a greater sense of belonging and responsibility to communities and individuals, and eventually move into the third sector.”

Wednesday 29 April  | Richard Fairhurst  | 2.54pm, Wednesday 29 April 2009


".....economies of scale but also more responsiveness to local authorities and individual communities"
Not often you see that in the same sentance, probably because it won'thappen!

Patrick Morriss  | 4.58PM, Wednesday 29 April

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