Saturday 14 January 2012

C&RT - putting things in perspective

Canals & River Trust - where the rubber hits the road
January 2012

There has been a huge amount of on line debate about the composition of the forthcoming C&RT Council; Is the four boater representation adequate? Should they be independents or be drawn from existing waterways bodies? Should the boater representatives subscribe to some or all of the Boaters Manifesto? etc. I fear we may be in danger of failing to see the wood for the tees here.

Lets get this C&RT Council in perspective - they are the last line of defense in the C&RT structure. They are not the executive committee (Trustees) that manage the running of the organisation. Every organisation has be to accountable to someone and for most charities that structure means an Executive Committee to do the doing, and this body is subject to censure by a higher Council. Checks and balances.

In the case of the C&RT there will be a huge number of activist "do-ers" in the Regional Partnerships further down the structure chain, making decisions which will impact the system in your locality. The Council will meet twice a year and this limitation alone means that their role is a supervisory one - a body who can challenge the strategic direction proposed by the Trustees, or indeed apply a veto via their ability to dismiss them from their posts.

To put this in perspective, lets turn the explanation on its head and start with the local set up first. 

At the most local level there will be twelve local Waterways Partnerships, each consisting of 8 - 12 members. Their task is to:

"... work closely with their chair and waterways manager to develop an overarching vision of the Trust's waterways within the Partnership area and develop strategies and plans to encourage more people to use and get involved in their local waterway."

There volunteers are the true hero's of the story. They will be devoting two to four days of effort per month to the task of making the C&RT come to life in their region. If I had time, this is the level I would ideally like to contribute to. However, I need to earn a living for a few more years so this is an aspiration for the future.

This is the level where the nuts and bolts of the plan will come together - or not.

Then there is, I have been reminded, the existing BW executive management team who will remain in situ for several transitional years.

Above them there are the Trustees, some of whom are already in place:

Three more trustees are currently being selected bringing the total to 11.

This body is what I regard as the Executive Committee, technical specialists in their own right or key staff from within the old BW structure who can provide hands on experience on how we got to where we are, and have the knowledge to see the organisation through the transitional period. Love them or loathe them - this body is essential to the medium term stability of C&RT. 

Finally you have the new Council, comprising members who seek to represent all those with an interest in the future of the system. Boaters, Volunteers, Ramblers, Cyclists, Anglers, Employees, Natulalists (not Naturists - well, not many anyway!) Historians, Local Government representatives and a handful of other unspecified co-opted members. In contemporary speak - all the stakeholders.

Whilst elections are all very exciting and sexy, I think we should be paying a bit more attention to the establishments of strong local Waterways Partnerships. Not only do they hold the key to the success of the regions, seven of the partnership Chairs have an automatic seats on the Council. I  would have to say that the real power block lies in the collective views of the regional  Partnership Chairpersons.

In our enthusiasm to select boater representatives, lets not lose sight of the embryonic Waterways Partnerships. There are five regional partnership Chair's being advertised at  present with a closing date of 27th January, and new members sought in three more. Lots of scope to get involved.

In summary, whilst the selection of the four boater representatives to the Council is significant, they are only a few stars in a much wider C&RT firmament. 

If I have got numbers or descriptions wrong please forgive me - its the principle here that is important.


Carol said...

Hi Andy - I am assuming that you have the 10 sponsors required to enable your standing for this election? If I can help in any way please do not hesitate to contact me.

Andy Tidy said...

Thanks for the offer - in the end I was inundated with sponsors which encouraged me a lot! All I can ask for now is your 1st preference vote and to share my name around your contacts. Its difficult to compete with the big organisations but it will be really interesting to see just how wide the combined blogging audience really is. I certainly cant complain about a lack of support in blogdom and twitter. The question is: Do lots of boaters read our blogs or do we just read each others? Time will tell.

Alan Fincher said...


If another "independent" candidate is allowed a comment in your blog, I agree very much with your analysis of the situation.

I think a lot of those pressing candidates for Council for our "policy statements" and the like, have perhaps not fully realised the role of Council in the bigger picture of CaRT.

As I think you are saying, I see the main role of Council members as unlikely to be actually laying down what must happen, but far more to be there as a controlling influence that tries to ensure that whatever is done is sensible, and that better solutions have not been missed. Sometimes it may be just to ensure that people have not failed to see the wood for the trees, or frankly not just missed the "bleedin' obvious". This may sound less glamorous, but that certainly doesn’t make it less important, particularly as the funding issues are likely to always be with us.

As CaRT evolves, (if it ever manages to launch now!), it will face a whole series of ever changing challenges, but Council members elected at the outset will serve for four years, and will need to be able to think on their feet, and adapt readily to whatever gets thrown at them next. Trying to lay down now "what I will change if elected", in my view misunderstands the role. Electors need to choose those they believe have the knowledge, skills and commitment to handle their interests for the next four years, not just be those who endorse one particular set of requirements now.

Like you I do not find the “everything BW has got wrong in that past” attitude that still seems so prevalent helpful either. If this is to succeed, we must be looking forward, and trying to unite, not looking backwards, and expecting “more of the same”, as some seem only to keen to dwell on.


Andy Tidy said...

I am 100% in agreement with you. The Council is the last line of defence - a role which is not really understood by all. Not as dynamic as the Trustees or the Local Partnerships, but an essential back stop.
Alan - rest assured you have my second preference vote!
Oh - I joined the Boaters Manifesto Facebook group with some trepidaton but the nuisance factor seems to have gone and I received a warm welcome even though my views of BW are not quite in tune with the general group consensus.

Unknown said...

Thank you Andy, you and Alan(who shall get my second preference vote) have certainly put everything into perspective.
Well said