Memorandum by the Transport and General
Workers' Union (IW 05)
WATERWAYS FOR TOMORROW
The Transport and General Workers' Union represents
the majority of the manual workforce in British Waterways. We
also represent substantial numbers of workers in the employment
of other employers in the waterborne transport industry and related
Our membership working in the industry prides
themselves on their commitment to the industry, and the positive
role they have had in the improvements and innovations, which
have taken place in the industry, and wants to continue being
fully involved in the future success of the waterways.
Our response will focus on four main areas,
the Potential for Increasing Commercial
partnership with the people; and
The response to this document has been obtained
through the Union's delegate democracy system drawing on the considerable
experience of our lay officials working within the industry, the
people who know the industry from the bottom upwards.
In this section we will outline our views of
the limited potential for increasing commercial freight transport
with the existing infrastructure.
2.1 Freight, a Historic Review
The original purpose of the waterway network
was to link major centres of production and population. With the
construction of the canal system between the mid 18th and early
19th Century the waterways played a leading role in serving the
country's transport needs during the Industrial Revolution. The
infrastructure reflected the industrial organisation of that time.
This infrastructure has remained much the same since 1905 when
the New Junction Canal on the Leeds and Liverpool was the last
major expansion of the canal system, while the industrial structure
of this country has changed dramatically.
Even though the waterways were able to move
goods cheaply they lost out to the railways, the infrastructure
of which reflected the changing nature of British industry. The
railways replaced waterways as the main method of transporting
goods in bulk, although even they were eventually replaced by
road haulage as the dominant form of transport for freight.
After the Second World War the waterways came
under the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive of the British
Transport Commission. But it failed to achieve a consistent and
constructive national canal policy. It classified waterways into
three types. The first were the waterways with a commercial potential,
and meriting investment and the second group were those with little
commercial potential and barely justifying maintenance. The third
group, were those with no commercial future, and were probably
best abandoned. Between 1948 and 1953 the mileage of waterways
open for traffic fell from 1,953 to 1,751.
In the 1950s there was a dramatic rise in the
number of licences issued for pleasure crafts, increasing from
1,500 in 1950, to 4,070 in 1952. This marked the beginning of
the huge post-war expansion in canal cruising holidays, the importance
of which the Executive failed to appreciate. It gave advice on
routes and the location of boat hiring firms but did not become
Looking back on the period, the problem of the
canals was one which the politicians and civil servants had failed
to tackle ever since the Ministry of Transport was created in
1919 (Bonavia 1987: 113). The Commission and the Executive were
subject to conflicting pressures. The Act expected a revival of
the waterways under state ownership. On the other hand, the financial
duty of the Commission, to break even, made the canals something
of an embarrassment. The solution of getting rid of the worst
loss-makers was therefore attractive but hardly consistent with
the hopes of canal traffic revival.
It was only in the 1960s that steps were taken
to save the canal system by developing the existing network, in
the main for recreational use, rather than expanding the system.
2.2 The Future of Freight
We welcome the recommendation in Waterways
for Tomorrow: p 43 that "The Government wishes to encourage
the transfer from road to water-borne transport where this is
practical, economic and environmentally desirable".
According to the 1999-2000 British Waterways
Annual Report and Accounts 3.5 million tonnes of freight are carried
on our waterways each year, enough to save over 200,000 lorry
journeys. However, the DETR in its document Waterways for Tomorrow:
41 points out that unlike continental Europe, much of the
country's inland waterways system is unsuited to carrying significant
volumes of freight. This is due to both the size limitation of
the existing canal infrastructure, and that canals do not exist
where existing users of bulk materials operate.
However, waterborne transport is best suited
for cargoes of bulk materials, and we agree with the Royal Commission
on Environmental Pollution's Report Transport and the Environment:
p168 that "it is desirable that maximum use should be
made of freight-carrying waterways for cargoes of that nature".
However, we believe that it is unlikey that that there will be
anything other than a marginal increase in freight traffic on
the existing waterway system.
Real growth in freight traffic can only be achieved
if new infrastructure is created, which reflects today's trading
pattern with Europe, through the main East Coast ports. In 1998
41.4 per cent of foreign and coastwise road goods vehicles went
through Dover, Felixstowe and London. At the same time 40 per
cent of all foreign and domestic non-oil traffic went through
London, Felixstowe, Grimsby and Immingham, and Tees and Hartlepool
(Maritime Statistics 1998: 83).
If the canal network is to develop it has to
emulate the rise of the road network, in providing a flexible
infrastructure which meets the future needs of the manufacturing
and service industries. To achieve this purpose our membership
would want to be fully involved in the inland waterways freight
We would want to see full consultation and the
involvement of those working in the sector at all levels, and
in all the proposed forums through their trade unions. The changes,
which need to take place, must have the support and understanding
of those working in the industry if they are to succeed.
3. LEISURE AND
The Union and its membership in the waterborne
industries welcome the announcement by the Government about the
future of British Waterways and its recognition that the waterways
are a valued public asset. One of our members has described the
British Waterways canals as "a 2,000 mile national park".
This we feel not only demonstrates the kind of commitment that
our members have to the industry but also the unique combination
of roles that the waterways have to balance.
The increase in the grant to British Waterways
so that the serious public safety maintenance backlog should be
eliminated over a seven year period was welcomed by our members.
This will enable British Waterways to reduce the backlog of urgent
maintenance from £90 million to £40 million. However,
some of this money is being used to bring in contractors to alleviate
the backlog. We appreciate that it is not possible for the existing
British Waterways staff to undertake all these urgent work programmes.
However, the workforce is concerned about its future job security,
and has fears that they could be deprived of the opportunity to
utilise their skills they have gained through training and working
in the industry if the use of contractors is increased on a permanent
These concerns can be understood by looking
at British Waterways Report and Accounts for 1999-2000
page 38. In the financial year 1999-2000 overall expenditure on
major repairs and renovations increased by 102 per cent, while
staff costs increased by 8 per cent. The waterways, which are
not fully navigable, were the main beneficiaries of this increase
in spending. Spending on repairs and renovations in this sector
increased by nearly 600 per cent from £5,715,000 to £39,783,000,
while staff costs increased by 67 per cent from £3,611,000
to £6,014,000. These waterways account for 11 per cent of
the total waterways controlled by British Waterways.
There is also considerable disquiet amongst
our members that contractors have been brought in without proper
consultation with them or their representatives. In a situation
of rapid change it is important that full and meaningful consultation
and involvement mechanisms are established and used, and that
the workforce and its representatives are fully involved in the
consultation process. Without this it is unlikely that the considerable
contribution that the workforce can contribute to the change process
can be fully drawn upon.
3.2 Partnership with the people
Our members recognise that the main user of
the waterways is the general public and as a public corporation
British Waterways is there to manage the inland waterways, docks
and estates on behalf of the nation. There is however concern
that the introduction of a membership scheme would change the
relationship between those providing the front line services and
those who would subscribe to the membership scheme and feel that
they have certain rights above those of the general public. We
feel that there should be more detailed consideration given to
this scheme taking into account these concerns.
In regard to 4.23 about the introduction of
improved consultation procedures at local and national level to
represent a wider range of users more effectively we would like
to see this extended to those who work in the industry. Consideration
should be given to the establishment of a national forum, which
would include all the stakeholders in the waterways.
3.3 The Waterways Trust
We welcome the Waterways Trust initial task
of securing the future of the waterways museums at Ellesmere Port,
Gloucester Docks, and Stoke Bruerne. However, there is some concern
about the wider remit of its involvement in restoration and development
projects. There are concerns about the possibility of British
Waterways handing over to the Trust restoration projects which
could be done by its own workforce, and even ownership of certain
assets transferred to the Trust. This would be of especial concern
if existing employees of British Waterways were to become employees
of the Trust. We would like to see more detailed consideration
given to the role of the Waterways Trust and assurances given
that the assets would not be transferred to Trust.
The membership of the TGWU welcomes the commitment
to waterborne industry in the Water for Tomorrow. However,
we believe there is only limited expansion for freight transport
within the existing infrastructure. Expansion of waterborne freight
transport will only come about by expanding the canal infrastructure.
Moreover, we have serious concerns about the
use of contractors becoming a permanent feature of the industry,
and the effect that this could have on the existing workforce.
The Partnership with the People scheme, we feel,
would change the relationship between those people who are members
of the scheme and our members who provide the front line services,
and we would like to see further consideration given to this scheme.
There are concerns that the Waterways Trust
could permanently take over assets and employees from British
Waterways, and we would like assurances that this would not be
the case. As we feel that this could have serious consequences
within the industry.
BONAVIA, Michael R (1987) "The Nationalisation
of British Transport: The Early History of the British Transport
Commission, 1948-53" New York: St. Martin's Press.
BRITISH WATERWAYS BOARD (2000) "Annual
Report and Accounts 1999-2000" Watford: British Waterways.
DEPARTMENT OF THE ENVIRONMENT, TRANSPORT AND
THE REGIONS (1998) "Transport Statistics Report: Maritime
Statistics 1998" London: HMSO.
THE ROYAL COMMISSION ON ENVIRONMENTAL POLLUTION
(1995) "Eighteenth Report: Transport and the Environment."
Oxford University Press.