Boater reports from new K and A Partnership Board

Liveaboard boater Andrew Harry was recently selected to be a member of the new Kennet and Avon Waterway Partnership Board. This Board is a pilot for the establishment of local community partnership boards to run waterways locally when (and if) BW becomes a charity. He has sent us this report:

We have now had two meetings of the new Partnership Board. I have been quite impressed by how Mike Rodd and James Young have brought it all together. The Board does genuinely seem to consist of a truly representative bunch of people who have a wide range of interests, and some considerable experience, in most aspects of the life on our waterways. The first big task is to read through the DEFRA consultation document which has just been issued and will, I am sure, grab a lot of people’s attention until the end of June when responses must be submitted. It may be a great opportunity to be part of shaping the future of how the canal, and wider waterways, are run and the pilot Board may well prove to be a benchmark for the formation of other local partnerships around the country in how it forges working alliances with the new charitable concern the “New Waterways Charity”.

The Board has most certainly taken the aspirations within the consultation to heart and at the last meeting I was delighted that it was agreed that the K&A local mooring strategy steering group will indeed be submitting its proposals through the Board and not direct to BW. Its members have all worked hard to be near to consensus. It will be interesting to see what their view will be on the definition of both “place” and “bona fide for navigation”. If this can be widely accepted as a community standard then wouldn’t it be nice if this could genuinely be used to inform the forthcoming revision of BW’s Mooring Guidance for Continuous Cruisers (starting on 11 May 2011) and referred to first when disputes arise, rather than the immediate default of adversarial and costly legal process?

The waterways belong to everyone and the New Waterways Charity (NWC) will act as steward of it for us all. Let’s hope we see a genuine transition from public body to charity that achieves the anticipated bottom-up structure but keeps some of the safeguards inherent within governmental organisations. Given the emphasis on local democracy I will be focusing on certain themes when reviewing the consultation document. Firstly, representation: how is this really going to work in practice and how do we all want it to? What role do we have to play? Will unaffiliated boaters be accepted as having a distinct identity and a seat at the table? Secondly, accountability: how will the NWC be truly accountable to local communities over and above those safeguards inherent through the Charities Commission. Yes the trustees will have to publish an annual report and a statement of accounts, but this remains a public resource managed for local communities and perhaps that doesn’t go far enough? The NWC could adopt the Nolan principles for public service as a demonstration of good faith? And how will the local partnerships be practically involved in decision making that truly translates local communities’ wishes? Finally, transparency: it is easy to state this will be the case but in practice if the structure provides for private activity of any sort then that would certainly be exploited. The NWC could simply remain subject to requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act? A simple but effective safeguard.

All in all this is a great opportunity for boaters to not only be heard, but acknowledged as a local community in their own right and a genuine voice in the management of the waterways. As an unaffiliated boater myself I would like to feel genuinely included in the NWC’s agenda and not as is often the case feeling like some fugitive from justice. Having been invited to be part of the K&A Partnership Board all I can say is “So far, so good!”

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