Tuesday 24th July

Trust directors' pay down 30% - but is that enough?

The final three years of British Waterways were characterised, for some at least, by disquiet over the pay given to the directors. Narrowboatworld has been the most vocal in its criticism, but far from alone. When he was leader of the Opposition, back in spring 2009, David Cameron famously said:

The salaries of [BW's] top four employees – Robin Evans, Nigel Johnson, James Froomberg and Phillip Ridal – add up to £900,000. That’s thirty nurses. In the age of austerity we’ve got to ask ourselves what we really value in the public sector: and I know what the answer is. It’s not the fat cats but the frontline workers.

He then, of course, proceeded to do absolutely nothing about it when in Government. But the Canal & River Trust's new trustees - that is, the (unpaid) great and good who "steer" the charity - did promise that they would look at the issue, and today they made their announcement. To summarise:

  • Two directors to go: Jim Stirling (Technical Director) is taking redundancy, with his responsibilities being subsumed by Vince Moran; Nigel Johnson (Legal Director) is retiring in late 2014.
  • Performance related pay "will be awarded only when there has been exceptional performance and payments to all directors will no longer be the norm", which you would have thought should be the case anyway, but hey. It'll be capped at 15%, down from 30% or 40% (with the exception of the Property Director).
  • Directors' pay will be £125,000-£160,000; the Chief Executive (currently Robin Evans) will get £175,000-£200,000.
  • No pay rises this year for directors.

The trustees say this adds up to a 30% cut in the total cost of directors' pay. So will it keep people happy?

My hunch is that it won't satisfy everyone. Partly because some people are never satisfied, but also because this is still a very substantial pay package. The Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations publishes an annual pay survey, and in its 2011/2012 report, the highest reported salary was £167,000. Robin Evans will be on £195,000, instantly making him the highest paid chief executive in ACEVO's rankings.

The argument for substantial salaries is that these are not easy jobs, and that's certainly true. Those defending the £195,000 salary will point to David Higgins at Network Rail, who earns £560,000. But essentially that's danger money. The £560,000 is intended to ensure, first, that there isn't another Ladbroke Grove, Southall, Potters Bar or Grayrigg (and that long list tells you that it is quite likely); and second, that the Government isn't booted out of office by angry commuters delayed every day by rails cracking in the heat. The canals are much less risky. Yes, they can breach, but unless your asset management is really skewiff (and the Trust's isn't), all that happens is that you flood a few fields near the Mon & Brec or Shropshire Union. And there are riskier charities, too: Barnardo's pays £150,000, and I'd say "providing counselling, fostering, adoption and training services for more than 100,000 children" (with all the potential for an abuse scandal), with almost three times the number of employees of the Canal & River Trust, is no easier than running the canals.

But the trustees evidently believe that they need to offer these salaries to attract the top people, and they've clearly calculated that although this new settlement won't keep Narrowboatworld happy, it will neutralise the issue for the wider public. David Cameron is less likely to make the C&RT directors the target of another speech: and for a charity whose success will be based on public support, that's essential.

Money shot by Toban Black at Flickr, CC-BY-NC. Text edited to reflect correction from Dave Mayall on Barnardo's (thanks!).

Monday 23rd July
Friday 20th July

Friday video: the Norfolk Broads in the 1930s

Three-minute trailer for a film relating a holiday from Herbert Woods' boatyard on the Broads. Love the soundtrack!

Thursday 19th July
Tuesday 17th July
Monday 16th July
Sunday 15th July
Friday 13th July

Friday video: the backwater that is YouTube

Every big corporation needs a "social media strategy" and paragraph 5 of that is "upload some videos to YouTube". Only trouble is, no-one appears to be watching them. There's been a bit of a burst this week to mark the launch of the Canal & River Trust... all languishing with a few dozen views. Perhaps the most interesting is this interview with John Dodwell, one of the Trustees, put together by the RYA of all people.

There's a whole Canal & River Trust channel, including an appeal by Hugh Dennis (he's funnier on the Now Show, it has to be said) and the Prince of Wales speaking Welsh. But perhaps the most entertaining video of the week is this advert for Le Boat. Just one question... that Anglo-Welsh hireboat isn't really on the Norfolk Broads, is it?

The Kennet & Avon's newest branch?

To Melksham and beyond! Or to Melksham, anyway.

For boaters, the Wilts & Berks Canal has often looked like one of those "it'll be interesting in 50 years" restorations, with little sign of anything cruisable in the near future. That could be about to change.

The "Wiltshire Swindon & Oxfordshire Canal Partnership" - because that's where the canal goes these days - has just submitted a planning application to restore the southernmost stretch of the canal. Effectively, it'd become the Kennet & Avon Melksham Arm. Two new locks will take the canal down to the River Avon (yes, the Bristol one in its upper reaches), and from there the navigation will continue to a new set of town centre moorings.

It's a simple, achievable plan and deserves to succeed. Funding won't be trivial, especially in light of the Cotswold Canals' current travails, but housing development and a new marina could go some way towards paying for it. Like several small Wiltshire towns, Melksham has seen better days, and the return of the canal could be the fillip it needs.

The plan of the restored canal shows the exact scheme, and there's plenty more documents here for those who like wading through planning applications.

Thursday 12th July

C&RT launch day roundup

Quick summary of today's news:

  • News coverage: Guardian, Channel 4, HuffPo (Richard Benyon guest piece). Robin Evans was on the Today programme, there was coverage on BBC Breakfast, etc.
  • Official press releases: Cabinet Office says "this is the Big Society in action", DEFRA says "we have got the new charity off to the best possible start", and the Trust itself says, of course, it's "very excited".
  • Regional launch events all round Britain. Caroline Spelman (DEFRA Secretary of State) was with Tony Hales, Clive Henderson et al at Camden Lock; Prince Charles gave a recorded message. Good live tweeting from Andrew at WW. Richard Benyon (Waterway Minister) was at Tring. Various C&RT trustees and directors at Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and so on.
  • A commemorative poem (really!) by Ian McMillan.
  • Local appeals launched for 50 small projects around the waterways. Almost all wildlife-based, but there's also one to restore the Montgomery, a couple of towpath ones such as this in Chester, and - hallelujah - cutting back the trees on the Mon & Brec.

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