'Desperate' Government sell off plans resisted
The UK’s inland waterways network could fall into dereliction if rumoured Government plans to sell off millions of pounds of assets go ahead.
The Inland Waterways Association (IWA), a national charity that campaigns for the maintenance and protetion of the national canal network, is urging the British public to sign an online e-Petition against the threat of a Government sell-off of British Waterways’ valuable property portfolio.
A statement on the IWA website: ‘The waterways are a national treasure. A thriving 4000 mile linear national park; a nature reserve accessible to all – an amenity that is part of the local scenery, and which can be walked and cycled along for leisure by millions – it belongs to everyone. We need all of the UK to know about this and to respond on line.’
There have been no official announcements but there is speculation that the Government intends to include the British Waterways’ property portfolio as a component of the £16bn asset sale brought about by bailing out the banks since 2008.
British Waterways (BW) has an annual shortfall of £30m in the £125m needed to operate and maintain the network. In 2010/11, the Government grant reduces by 17% making it a £40m funding gap.
BW plans to turn itself into a third sector “trust” organisation. The property portfolio provides BW with about £45m in revenue. With good management, this revenue could grow over time to get the cost of running the waterways off the Government’s balance sheet.
The Operational Efficiency Review as recently as April recognised that BW had achieved significant growth in its canal-side property portfolio. The proceeds from the sale would make an insignificant contribution towards reducing the national debt – less than a day’s borrowing this year.
The IWA commented: ‘BW will lose autonomy and ability to prioritise investment. Last time this happened, in the 1940s, the system nearly closed.’
To bridge the gap in income from the sale of the property portfolio with grant-in-aid the Government would have to nearly double the grant it makes available to British Waterways annually.
IWA has orchestrated a political lobby in both the Commons and latterly the Lords to pressurise Government, and have briefed radio and national TV, using an array of reasons to support the argument that a sale would be in no-one’s interest.
A spokesman commented: ‘We stand the best chance of preventing this sale if the Government can be persuaded not to do so, during this period of Ministerial silence. Whilst no announcements have been made, it is easier for Government to back away as it involves no public reversal of policy.’