Lords express concern about abolishing IWAC

One of the targeted victims of the Coalition’s quango cull is the Inland Waterways Advisory Council (IWAC) which has produced a number of worthwhile studies in support of the inland waterways over the past several years.

As part of the same cull, the government has decided it wants to turn British Waterways into a charity and both actions are part of the Public Bodies Bill currently being debated in the House of Lords.

DEFRA’s  recent announcement that British Waterways funding would be cut by £9.8 million has caused wide spread concern amongst waterway insiders who wonder how the dramatically reduced level of funding will effect the viability of the new charity.

Labour peer, Lord Berkeley, expressed similar concern in a Lords’ debate on the Bill this week, :

“We have not been and we probably will not be told where it will get its funding from,” he complained, “and it struggles hard to find funding at the moment.”

The noble Lord also argued that an independent body like the IWAC would be needed to guide the new waterway charity (NWC) through its initial stages: “I hope there will be a transition period of several years after the charity is established before this body is abolished,” he said.

In making this point he seemed unaware that the NWC would have a powerful Council that will comprise of perhaps 50 members representing various stakeholder groups and local authorities. Given their expertise, it seems likely that the existing members of IWAC will be amongst the candidates for this Council.

Another Labour peer, Lord Faulkner of Worcester tabled an amendment which aimed to remove IWAC from the list of bodies to be abolished.  He made the point: “This is not the most controversial proposal in the Bill, but I believe that the 14 members of the IWAC, all of whom are volunteers and unpaid, its part-time chair, John Edmonds, and the two support staff deserve at the very least an expression of public thanks and recognition for what they have achieved”. Lord Faulkner withdrew the amendment when Lord Henley (Cons),  a spokesperson for Defra, made the point that an upcoming consultation would discuss the timing of when IWAC would be abolished.

On agreeing to withdraw the amendment, Lord Faulkner observed: “This is one of those areas where it would have been better if the consultation had happened before the Bill rather than the other way round”.

With an income of around £200m, British Waterways will be one of the sector’s largest charities. Around 90 per cent of British waterways are covered by the organisation.

To read the whole debate click here

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