CANAL COL­UMNS

Canal Boat - - This Month - STEVE HAY­WOOD Fol­low me on Twit­ter @ Cut­dreamer

Steve asks who will rep­re­sent us; Kevin won­ders if there’s enough money to go around

I’ve never met Vaughan Welch, can­di­date for one of the four places up for grabs as boaters’ rep­re­sen­ta­tive in the elec­tions for the coun­cil of the Canal & River Trust. Nei­ther, de­spite my ef­forts, have I ever spo­ken to him. He’s a man of long and dis­tin­guished ser­vice to the IWA, chair of its Restora­tion Com­mit­tee, mem­ber of its Nav­i­ga­tion Com­mit­tee and a host of other com­mit­tees.

He does, how­ever, have some bizarre ideas, es­pe­cially re­gard­ing live­aboards. He once said, with­out any ev­i­dence, that less than 180 of the 4,500 boats that con­tin­u­ously cruise the wa­ter­ways ac­tu­ally com­ply with the terms of the Bri­tish Wa­ter­ways 1995 Act re­quir­ing them to move ev­ery 14 days.

In­deed, a few years back he en­cour­aged IWA mem­bers to re­port boaters who they thought were bend­ing the rules. Or maybe he didn’t say that. He later ex­plained that a per­sonal cri­sis had pre­cip­i­tated a ‘mis­un­der­stand­ing’ so that when he said ‘I would en­cour­age you to re­port, with sub­stan­ti­at­ing ev­i­dence if you have it, to CRT all those that are ob­vi­ously bend­ing the rules’ he didn’t mean that at all. What he really meant, was that he loved all boaters and that fairies lived at the bot­tom of his gar­den. One way or an­other his po­si­tion was so ex­treme that the IWA had to dis­tance it­self from him.

He got elected to the CRT coun­cil as an IWA trus­tee in the ‘hi­jacked’ elec­tions of 2012 dur­ing which the IWA used its clout to en­sure that boaters’ rep­re­sen­ta­tives all came from within its own ranks. Af­ter the furore this caused among non-IWA boaters who felt them­selves dis­en­fran­chised by this neat bit of po­lit­i­cal ger­ry­man­der­ing, the IWA ne­go­ti­ated with CRT to pre­vent the same thing ever hap­pen­ing again.

The con­clu­sion was an agree­ment be­tween the two that in re­turn for a per­ma­nent seat on the coun­cil, the IWA would en­sure that its trus­tees would never again stand as boaters’ rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

Imag­ine, then, my sur­prise to see Vaughan Welch’s name among those stand­ing for CRT coun­cil... this time as a boaters’ rep­re­sen­ta­tive. A brief glance at the IWA web­site con­firmed that he’d re­signed as a trus­tee – or maybe his al­lot­ted du­ra­tion as a trus­tee had ex­pired. One way or an­other he was free to stand – a de­ci­sion which, while not against the let­ter of the IWA’s agree­ment with CRT, is bang against the spirit of it.

I was sure he would have a sat­is­fac­tory ex­pla­na­tion for his be­hav­iour which dis­cred­its both him, the IWA and CRT. So I called him. Well, I would have – ex­cept I hadn’t got his num­ber. So in­stead I called IWA boss Les Etheridge who didn’t want to give me the num­ber un­til Vaughan Welch gave him per­mis­sion.

Un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances this may be a rea­son­able strat­egy. In of­fices, for in­stance. In shops and places of work. But Vaughan Welch is a boaters’ rep­re­sen­ta­tive on C&RT Coun­cil, a man charged with rep­re­sent­ing boaters’ views – MY views. A man more­over seek­ing to ex­tend his man­date who you’d have thought would have wel­comed the chance to talk pub­licly about some im­por­tant is­sues of his can­di­da­ture.

Ex­traor­di­nar­ily, an em­bar­rassed Les Etheridge had to re­port to me that, no, this boaters’ rep­re­sen­ta­tive DIDN’T want his num­ber given out to a boater, even one who was a jour­nal­ist, too. In­stead Vaughan un­der­took to ring me, even though as any con­tin­u­ous cruiser could tell him, the no­madic na­ture of our lives is not con­ducive to re­li­able com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

How­ever, true to his word, he DID call. Ex­cept of course the in­evitable hap­pened. I was on the tiller where I couldn’t hear the phone. Or in a com­mu­ni­ca­tions black hole where I was un­able to re­ceive a sig­nal. I came back to dis­cover a long and to­tally in­audi­ble an­swer­phone mes­sage. When I did a call back on the num­ber it had been blocked.

Now, there’s been a lot of crit­i­cism in the wa­ter­ways press and on news­groups about the per­for­mance of boaters’ rep­re­sen­ta­tives on the coun­cil this last few years. They have been ac­cused of treat­ing the job as a sinecure, or be­ing a set of nod­ding yes-men for boater-un­friendly CRT poli­cies. With an elec­tion pend­ing, I wouldn’t have the temer­ity to sug­gest who you vote for, or in­deed whether you vote at all.

It might be worth con­sid­er­ing though how you’d ever get in touch with your rep­re­sen­ta­tives if ever you wanted them to rep­re­sent you.

‘There’s been a lot of crit­i­cism about the per­for­mance of boaters’ rep­re­sen­ta­tives on the coun­cil this last few years’

The ques­tion is, will some­one be at the end of the phone for boaters?

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