Meg Lee Chin

Are the Canal and River Trust's charitable obligations getting in the way of their responsibility to maintain the canals?

The rationale behind the Canal and River Trust (CRT) as the replacement to British Waterways was that as a charitable trust they could reap the advantages of extra sources of charitable income along with a voluntary workforce. But the CRT appear to be spending more pretending to be a charity than the proceeds are worth. Hence they may be failing as a charity with Richard Parry sparing no expense continuing the ruse.

Surely the cost of hiring one person to drive a boat up and down is cheaper than the enormous efforts they put into persuading us to form voluntary armies to clean the canals? The CRT have acquired expensive cleaning boats which sit mostly stationary wasting precious space. What are they waiting for? Do they want us to clean them so they can say they are a "charity" with a ""voluntary work force? Everywhere we look the CRT seem to be appealing for more volunteers.

Parry's meeting in Birmingham was a costly presentation aimed at recruiting volunteers. A new widebeam boat purports to offer educational services to the community but with the subject of (you guessed it!)... volunteers a part of that "education". We see young people with clipboards fundraising up and down the towpath asking for donations from the public. But the takings barely justify the efforts. As as a community we never asked for an educational boat or highly orchestrated PR events. What we have been asking for are reasonable facilities such as drinking water and sewage which any UK citizen would expect.

But instead of investing into facilities which would encourage boaters to spread, Parry has chosen to invest in ever stricter enforcement and an expanding PR machine. According to their Operating Plan of 2012-2015 CRT are currently spending only 85% of the minimum amount required just to maintain the canal in a "steady state". In other words the canals are deteriorating.

Why is Parry not maintaining the canal (the job he was entrusted with)? These financial anomalies can be seen in everything they touch. Perhaps the answer can be found mirrored in the wider politics of our Capital. The Londonwide tide so far has been to remove churches, post offices, community centres and every spare inch of property to be converted to luxury accommodation. Why should the canals be any different?

The CRT are a Tory pilot program. According to BBC's Adam Porter "ministers will be watching the charity's progress to see whether other public bodies could be turned into charities". Hence Parry is under enormous pressure to make the CRT look like a charity meanwhile we boaters have to suffer stronger enforcement and cramped conditons while Parry figures out how to convince somebody to donate a few mooring rings, waterpoints and trash/sewage facilities.

As boaters we share similarities with indigenous minority groups and as such we are protected by law. Parry's obligation to the British public is to maintain the canal for navigation. Part of this is to ensure the indigenous population does not interfere with navigation. This can be easily and legally accomplished by providing facilities to encourage boater spread, NOT by culling the indigenous population of travelling boat dwellers .

The CRT as a charitable trust enjoy both the financial benefits of a charity plus the freedom of a private company. But we boaters receive no charity no do we enjoy the benefit of the choice coming from the open marketplace. This raises perhaps some of the most important questions we face as a community;

Is there a way we can work to help Parry achieve his aims while at the same time securing the future for ourselves and those who follow us?

Or is this charitable trust a trojan horse created by the Tories which if not killed off now will have us all volunteering to mop up our own blood after surgery?

This is something we all need to think about...Is this Charity eating itself?