Friday 1 May 2009

Do British Waterways offer value for money?

British Waterways license fees - are they value for money?

Salaries and bonuses paid to senior officials are in the spotlight at the moment, and David Cameron has pledged to publish the remuneration of all public officials earning more than £150,000k per annum. That is a lot of money by any measure, and certainly beyond the experience of most boaters. It therefore surprised me to see that four senior employees of British Waterways are divvying up the thick end of £1m between them.

So, with my license fee due next month, it begged the question: "does my £500 BW license represent good value for money?"

Set against a backdrop of the above salaries, a typical "ask the audience" poll will almost certainly respond with a resounding "no" . But is this really fair?

In a normal year I see very little of BW and may tend towards the "no" camp myself, but let's take a closer look at what I get for my money. £500 buys me unlimited access to the 4000 miles of BW waterways which, in our case, represents about 10 weeks of boat movements. This accounts for our our own full week cruising trips, weekend outings and occasional trips by close friends and family. So that's £50 per week to travel about 100 miles and pass through 100 locks - which is a lot less than the cost of the diesel that propels us. Put like that it it seems like reasonable value for money.

But that isn't the end of it. We have a tendency to explore the less frequently visited extremities of the system, and to navigate these areas relies on additional support from BW. Take our recent passage round the South Pennine Ring:

Our little jaunt across the Pennines consumed the better part of six man days of BW resource:

8 staff to move 4 boats through Standedge = 2 days
Tuel Lane and Salterhebble lock support = 1/2 day
Rochdale Summit passage = 1/2 day
Failsworth to Piccadilly escort = 3 days

If we assume that the typical BW employee is paid about £20k per year, that equates to an all in cost of £100 per day and our support package cost £600 - more than our annual license fee.

Whilst this may be view that goes against the general consensus, I would have to conclude that the license fee is still reasonable value for money in a "normal" cruising year, but represents expectational value if we stray from the beaten track and explore those hard to reach zones, routes which are only possible with the ready availability of BW lock keepers and support staff.

I share David Cameron's reservations about the salaries paid to the top brass and have to question if such salaries are justified for a relatively modest £60m turnover Government owned business, but when I weigh the benefits we get from our licence, and consider the other more significant costs of boating, I am satisfied that value for money is delivered.

So, with the GCSE season upon us I pose this question:

Does the British Waterways boat license fee represent good value for money? - discuss.


SimonR said...

Perhaps the closing question be are the BW Directors good value for money?


Jim said...

Or, alternatively, for £500 you could buy TWO second-class peak hour return rail tickets from Manchester to London!


Anonymous said...

Typical BW workers are on £13k and no bonuses. (I wish we were on £20k)So SimonR's comment really is valid.