British Waterways announces cost saving measures

15th February 2011

British Waterways (BW), which faces a tough three years ahead as a result of the general economic climate, reductions in commercial income, increased pension costs and cuts in government grant, is today announcing a number of cost reduction measures.

On top of a freeze on most recruitment, planned consolidation of offices and the outsourcing of certain activities, British Waterways intends to freeze all pay in 2011/12. Funding for the programme of day-to-day maintenance on the nation’s canals and rivers will be maintained as a priority; however spending on major repairs will reduce, where it is safe to do so, for the next three years. The most pressing repair projects will be prioritised.

BW has also entered into formal discussions with trade union representatives and staff on plans to reduce its office-based payroll by around £3.5m per annum, with a possible reduction of around 60 posts. Expressions of voluntary redundancy from office-based staff and reduced working hours from affected areas are being sought to reduce the need for compulsory redundancies. Whilst today’s announcement doesn’t impact numbers of bank staff, BW is looking at operational efficiencies including further outsourcing of vegetation works and a review of bank staff allowances. The organisational structure put in place in 2009 will remain unchanged.

In Scotland the pressure on public spending is equally challenging. With a view to avoiding compulsory redundancies, BW Scotland is exploring a number of cost savings for the year ahead, including considering voluntary redundancy in management and office based teams and accommodating voluntary flexible and reduced working.

Robin Evans, BW chief executive, comments: “We knew the next three years were going to be difficult and, in preparation, we have already done a lot to control our costs. However the impact of the financial climate on our commercial income, the pressures on our pension scheme, and now a cut in our public funding mean that we have to reconsider our plans. This means making the difficult decision to reduce numbers of staff and spend less on major waterway repairs.

“We are now in a 90-day consultation and, although difficult decisions about redundancy cause uncertainty, I am committed to making changes as quickly as possible wherever possible.

“While British Waterways, as with everyone else in the public sector, is facing up to a very challenging funding climate, we are in a stronger position than many when looking to the future. As we make the transition into civil society next year, the new waterway charity will be able to look forward to a guaranteed long-term contract from government, new income streams from voluntary sources and tax relief, and increased commercial income when the property market recovers. We cannot underestimate the challenge over the next few years, but there is also a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Following an investment of £22.6m on major works in 2010/11, BW’s current forecast spend on major works is £15.5m in 2011/12, £10.2m in 2012/13 and £17.7m in 2013/14.

British Waterways cares for the nation’s 200-year old network of canals, rivers and docks, which attract over 13 million people each year for walking, cycling, angling, boating or simply the peace and quiet. The Government has backed British Waterways’ plans in England and Wales for its canals and rivers to leave state control to become a ‘national trust’ for the waterways. It is hoped that this exciting new charity, which is targeted to be up and running by April 2012, will attract new investment and give local people a greater role in how their waterways are run.

More information be found on British Waterways’ website at  www.britishwaterways.co.uk

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