Sunday, 18 January 2015

Off with his head

In the days when British Waterways ran the canals little notice was taken of public opinion. In the early days they just got on with the jobs:in  later years they seemed bent on   profligacy, incompetence and playing monopoly with developers.  But what the public thought was ignored: they allegedly hid the truth, disguised the numbers and told porkies whilst the top management were paid ever larger "performance" bonuses despite the performance criteria not being achieved.
Two years ago BW morphed into C&RT - the Canal & Rivers Trust, and they do care about public opinion.  some would argue that they are casting their net too wide, concerned at impressing everyone in the country at the expense of those who use the waterways most and contribute the most financially - the boaters and boating businesses. However we have seen changes in the management with several high-level people leaving including Sally Ash who was particularly reviled by the boating world. Other dissenters have been moved aside in structural reorganisation.The latest announcement of this kind is that Phil Spencer, Head of Business Boating, is leaving and the post advertised.

You may recall the national news picking up a story two months ago about the floating book shop in Paddington......

The Guardian

Save Word on the Water, the wonderful floating bookshop

What could be better than a fabulous canal-boat bookshop, with poetry and live music on its roof? Not another coffee shop courtesy of a gigantic corporation, that’s for sure
 Fielding was limping along the canal towpath last week to visit his favourite boat, the floating bookshop Word on the Water. It is stuffed with reasonably priced books, his favourite music drifts out, poetry and live acoustic music performances are staged on its roof. Fabulous. He often shops there. But probably not for much longer. Our rivers and canals are getting a bit crowded. Now that there’s barely an affordable shack to live in on land, people are taking to the water, run by the Canal and River Trust. Worse luck.
CaRT is tightening things up. Costs are rising and at some moorings you can now only stay for seven days, which is tricky for a bookshop, and after three years of cruising, the owners were struggling, so they asked if they could stay permanently in the Paddington Basin. CaRT invited them to hand in a bid and proposal for a trading mooring. They’d be up against other small businesses, thought Jon Privett, co-owner of Word on the Water. Wrong. Guess who won? Another gigantic corporation – British Land, “Creating places people prefer”, owners of 32.8 million sq ft and £12bn of property, including most of the Paddington Central development. They plan to have a floating coffee shop. To go with the other 13 coffee shops in the area.
Fielding is enraged. “I don’t want more sodding coffee. I want books. Yet again, something I like is being taken away. Is there no bloody legal apparatus to deal with this sort of thing? A man selling books on a boat, people love it, along comes a mega-rich toad …”

The man responsible for this public relations fiasco was the Head of Business Boating - Phil Spencer. He is not the only one to leave following the floating bookshop scandal. His direct report, senior business boating manager, Suzie Mercer, whose responsibilities include the London area has already left.
The point about coffee shops is interesting as just behind Word on the Water, when I visited, was a floating coffee shopTo get a fuller picture  of provisions for latte junkies this link will take you to a map where all the red dots are cafes 
(These trading boats are located where Paddington Underground is marked on this map).

There is a more fundamental point to be considered in this story.  These boats have Roving Trading Licences .  This means they are required to adhere to the mooring restrictions as any other boat, which involves moving on in accordance with the general or specific regulations.  Due to the overcrowding in London caused by the constant arrival of people bringing boats into the city to live on, in contravention of the mooring  regulations, Word on the Water has found it difficult to  find anywhere to sell their books. C&RT granted them temporary permission to remain on this mooring whilst they sought a permanent tenant.  Inadvertently the bookshop has connived with C&RT to remove two visitor mooring from Paddington Basin and convert them to commercial use.
Whilst I think C&RT has not been fair with Word on the Water  we have to question whether C&RT should be reducing the available visitor moorings in London.

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