Further evidence of the improper relationship between BW and hire boat companies has come to light. The annual return of Drifters Leisure Ltd shows that BW held shares in the company. CRT Head of Boating Sally Ash has been a director of Drifters since 2004. The company acts as a broker for hire boat holidays throughout the country. Of the 192 £1 shares, BW held 10. The rest are held by hire boat companies or those closely connected with the hire boat industry. A recent email from Edward Helps, a director of Drifters, stated that Sally Ash was nominated as a director of Drifters by BW at the company’s request. Mr Helps is the Managing Director of ABC Leisure. This is incontrovertible evidence that BW has been in the pocket of hire boat companies for many years. It is contrary to the Civil Service Code of Conduct for civil servants to behave like this; according to the code, they should conduct themselves in an impartial way and not favour any one group over another. This is part of their contract of employment, and contravention of it is therefore a disciplinary offence. All BW employees were civil servants until the transfer to CRT. No wonder DEFRA was so keen to get rid of BW.
This justifies many people’s suspicions that BW unduly favoured hire boat companies against the interests of other boaters, in particular the interests of liveaboards without home moorings. For example, in early 2008 hire boat company Wyvern Shipping circulated a petition for “continuous cruisers” to pay a higher licence fee. This idea was taken up by Sally Ash who published a consultation document in September 2008 proposing to add £150 to the licence fees of boats without home moorings. Earlier in the year Ms Ash had received a letter from APCO, the hire boat trade body, threatening a drop in BW’s licence income if BW increased the cost of hire boat licences.
The methodology is clear. Manufacture a witch-hunt against a specific group of boaters, preferably a less powerful minority, so that the majority of boaters will support increases in licence fees for that minority, and put pressure on the minority to pay BW more, for example by harassing them to the extent that they rent moorings to escape the harassment. Thus avoiding an increase in the cost of hire boat licences.
It is not clear at the time of writing whether the BW shares in Drifters have been transferred to CRT or have reverted to the company, but a list of shareholders will be publicly available from the Companies House web site when the company submits its next annual return. The Drifters 2011 annual return and 2010 accounts are available from Companies House for £1 each.