Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340
WEDNESDAY 15 NOVEMBER 2000
340. And if the concerns you express in your
document came into being, in particular the concern about expanded
use of contractors, or the concern about assets being transferred
from British Waterways to the Waterways Trust, what effect do
you think that would have on employment and on conditions of employment?
(Mr Sealey) Experience from other sectors would tend
to indicate that if you bring in contractors employment overall
would tend to decrease, in our industry. In terms and conditions,
again, there tends to be an indication that if you do bring in
contractorsthe real concern, I think, partly, about contractors
is the factor that the lack of investment in the past, the problem
of contractors is because of past problems, and the concern is
that the use of contractors will almost become identified as being
the norm. Well, we would not want to see that, we would prefer
to see a situation where the people that are doing the work within
British Waterways are people employed by British Waterways.
341. And what would your concern be about asset
(Mr Sealey) Again, why do you have to transfer assets
over, on things. I think you have to ask those people who are
suggesting the movement of assets over from British Waterways
to the British Waterways Trust, for example, what potential they
would see that they would gain from that. As an organisation,
we do not see any advantage from that.
342. Could I ask about the relationship between
the present structure of inland waterways, where three-quarters
of the mileage is in the hands of British Waterways, Environment
Agency and another organisation, the name escapes me at the moment,
and about 1,600 kilometres is in the hands of 30 other, small
organisations. Do you see the necessary investment and development
of particularly freight potential being realised with that sort
(Mr Milson) I think it well could be, because you
have got moreif you have one body dealing with the whole
issue, they would have a better view of the possibilities of freight,
and the rest of it. If you have got loads of different organisations,
they have all got their own little way of doing things, for want
of a better word. Personally, I would think, and the Union point
of view, it would be better under one body; that way you could
have best practices brought in then, and things might work better.
343. Do you want to add to that, Mr Sealey?
(Mr Sealey) Yes. I would agree that bringing it under
the control of one body would make much more economic and rational
sense. If we are talking about integration and integrated transport
then the actual structure needs to be integrated as well.
344. That leads me to my second question, which
I suspect you have partly responded to, and that is, do you think
there is a case, therefore, for a review of the legislation covering
British Waterways, which is now 30 years old? And, if I might,
if the answer to that is yes, what in your opinion should be the
objectives of that review?
(Mr Sealey) The answer would be yes, it is the time
to do that. One of the things is, maybe, and I think it was touched
on earlier by one of the earlier witnesses, about the possibly
contradictory roles between British Waterways and the Environment
Agency, where there can be seen possible areas of conflict, where
the Environment Agency may act as both gamekeeper and poacher
in situations. And it may be better that it acts as a referee
to the body to oversee all the environmental issues, and leave
British Waterways to be in control of the infrastructure and running
it, and there is a clear distinction between the two roles and
the two bodies.
345. Could I briefly bring you back to contractors
and maintenance work; is it a trend that is increasing, British
Waterways Board using more contractors now than they did in the
(Mr Milson) Yes.
346. Can you give a figure on that?
(Mr Milson) They have just brought in this Omnibus
Agreement, which is bringing in three big contractors to do work.
The main fear of our members is the fact of core jobs going, that
is the fear. British Waterways always have used contractors, they
have always had to and they always will have to; there are jobs
that the workforce cannot do. There are jobs the workforce used
to do, which went out to contractors in the eighties and have
not come back, even though BW have done an extensive programme
on training. And we have very good, skilled people out there,
through a multi-skilled training programme, they are very skilled;
quite a lot of them, I have to say, are not being put to the right
use in using those skills.
347. I am trying to get a feel as to what the
core strength of the workforce was, say, five years ago, and what
is the core strength of the workforce now?
(Mr Sealey) From the Report and Accounts, there has
been a slight increase in employment within British Waterways.
But, I think, in our submission, on page 4, the last paragraph,
and the beginning of page 5, we actually give some details of
the money that would be spent, being spent recently, on contractors,
compared with that of staff, which would give you some idea of
the increase in the use of contractors over the past few years.
348. What mechanism do you think should be there
so that your members can be more effectively involved in the decision
about the inland waterways?
(Mr Milson) I think, actually, it needs for our membership
to be involved in some of these organisations, these committees,
that are making decisions for the future. I am not up to date,
actually, on all these committees.
349. Are you saying that, in fact, you do not
have an input, as a workforce, at various levels; is that what
you are saying?
(Mr Milson) No. We have a very good input within BWB
itself. We do not have the input outside of BWB.
350. So are you saying that, if you had membership
on some of these other committees, you would have a way of taking
part in what they were deciding?
(Mr Milson) Yes.
351. In your memorandum to the Committee, you
conclude that there is only limited expansion for freight transport
within the existing infrastructure. The original document `Waterways
for Tomorrow' did not really put much emphasis on coastal shipping
and short sea shipping; do you see that as a natural resource
that could be tapped into for moving freight around?
(Mr Milson) I am not an expert, actually, on coastal
shipping, but I do know that it is increasing. And if you go back
years they used to have a (back-up ?) system, where the ship came
in, the mother ship, it broke up into barges, and that never really
actually caught on, for whatever reason. But that is the type
of thing that could come back, which could encourage coastal movement
of cargo, it could come up rivers then; it depends on sizes, obviously,
but we believe there is a lot of potential there, especially if
you start looking in Europe at some of the things they do.
352. If that was the case, do you think there
would be potential for increased jobs, if that was tapped into?
(Mr Milson) Yes.
353. On that very question, Mr Milson, how realistic
is that? London Docks were a hive of activity until containerisation
arose, and now everything gets offloaded at Tilbury, but it does
not get sent up the river from there, it gets put onto lorries
for distribution. Where do you see what you have just said working,
meaning more opportunities to offload from ocean freight onto
barges and carry that cargo inland on waterways; is that realistic?
(Mr Milson) It could be realistic; but we believe
the potential is there for it. At the moment, one of the main
cargo things is really waste, aggregates, coal, it is not perishable
goods, or anything like that. But when I started on the river
there were 200 barges a tide came in, then along came containerisation
and there were no barges; it just seems amazing that all that
cargo has disappeared. Timber could be brought; there used to
be wharves. You have got a shortage now of actual riverside land
for these industries. But we believe there are places, there are
committees in London, on the river, and so on, which will give
you more information, actually, on that than I can.
354. But can you be economically competitive?
For example, London boroughs, who have produced masses of waste,
almost all of them now send that by road, having eschewed the
opportunity of using the river for that purpose. Literally, wharves
along the river in London have closed because they have not been
financially viable. So how do you see the viability of that enterprise?
I can understand its usefulness and worthiness, and all that jazz,
but how are you going to kid people to do it?
(Mr Milson) I do not know.
355. Mr Sealey, do you have any ideas?
(Mr Sealey) I think you have to draw a distinction
between two types of transport. We have here what could be argued,
to use the phrase, non-time-critical transport structures, which
are different from most of transport, which these days through
supply chains is considered very time-critical. You could actually,
with waste, if you had the centres where it could come into, say,
in London, a centre where all the containers could come into and
then go onto barges down the river; within the document itself,
on page 42, the `Waterways for Tomorrow', they quote the Lee example,
and say that could get 45,000 lorry trips off the road a year.
So it is a question of bringing the various bodies together, and
there has to be a will there for them to want to do it, but it
could be integrated so that a lot of movements could be taken
off the road and put onto the waterways.
356. Just on this question of maintenance, you
have said in your evidence that you are worried that the maintenance
is going to outside contractors, but really is enough money being
spent on the maintenance of the canal system?
(Mr Milson) No. I would say no.
357. Now what is the problem; is there a risk
that we are going to get landslips and bits of canals that are
out of use for lengthy periods, or is it much smaller jobs that
just deteriorate over a period of time?
(Mr Milson) I believe there is an awful lot of big
work to be done, which is the backlog of engineering, there is
a lot of health and safety work that needs to be done; but there
is also a lot of small jobs, which our people have always done,
and I would not say they are overly expensive to do, but we can
see a lot of those disappearing to contractors, and that is one
of the things that worry us.
358. In the exceptionally wet weather that we
have had, is there a risk of more landslips along some parts of
(Mr Milson) I cannot really answer that, but I would
presume yes; it has been total devastation in some places, has
it not, it has been very bad.
359. Are there enough employees regularly walking
the canals to check that the way in which the canal holds the
water is still satisfactory?
(Mr Milson) We could always do with more employees.
I think British Waterways are a little bit low on the ground on
canal banks staff, actually, because it is first sight is prevention;
if people get to these things quick enough and see these things
quick enough, it is very preventable, it is good value for money.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed, gentlemen;
you have been very helpful. And I am very grateful to everybody
who has given evidence, and who has stayed the course. Thank you.