Robin Evans: 'I Think It Will Work For Us - And For Others'

Interview by Third Sector

Robin Evans, chief executive of the Canal and River Trust, is close to launching it as an independent organisation after three years of preparation – and he’s sure it’s the right move.

“We’ve never felt that being part of government was the right place for the canals,” he says. “Government is the best place for you if you’ve got a crisis, but not if you just want to keep something running from day to day.”

But he emphasises that it will mostly be business as usual after the spin-out of British Waterways in England and Wales. “More than 95 per cent of what we do will remain exactly the same,” he says. “We’re running exactly the same waterways and they’ve got exactly the same water in them.”

The big change, he says, is that the organisation will be more outward-focused: “Everyone we meet is a potential supporter who can donate time or money. Previously we had users. The people on the towpath contributed nothing except potholes.

“Before, when they had problems they came to us, and when we had problems we went to the government. We held out our hands and it gave us some tax money.”

It has taken a lot of work to get various stakeholders onside, he says. But the secure agreement with the government over future funding has helped persuade them: “For the boaters there was a lot of security in government. Now the waterways are their responsibility. It’s taken longer than I thought, but they’re beginning to see the positives.

“Employees here also needed persuading. Our people had an image of charity as folk who weren’t very rich going round with buckets. Charities to them were needy, they weren’t a good place to be. But when we talked about being a trust they changed their minds. I hadn’t appreciated that they saw things that way.”

Nor was the government easy to convince. “Every time you meet someone new they suck their teeth and go ‘hmm’ and tell you that something can’t be done,” he says. “We were told by HM Revenue & Customs it would cost £80m to transfer out. We’ve now got a letter saying it’s a tax-exempt transaction.”

He now hopes that other organisations will follow in the trust’s wake. “I would advise them to consider this process,” he says. “It worked for Historic Royal Palaces. I think it will work for us. And it will work for others too.”

via Analysis: the Canal and River Trust casts off from the moorings of state.

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