Once again we find ourselves engulfed in arguments relating to the lock houses and lock keeping staff. A little over two years ago the EA abandoned their proposals to sell off lock-side cottages following vociferous opposition from many sides. Many of us thought, perhaps naively, that the decision not to proceed in that direction secured the long term future of resident lock keepers. The latest decision to not sell, but rent, lock side properties appears to be simply a different route to the same original end.
The current financial climate, and the pressures from government on all parts of the public sector to reduce costs, accompanied by swinging cuts in grant aid funding, leaves the EA Thames management team between a rock and a hard place.
Even before the latest developments the EA Thames operation was insufficiently funded to deliver the world class river management that most users would like to enjoy.
It is beyond all reasonable doubt that without a significant and early increase in funding – from whatever source – users can only expect even further reductions in service.
The EA, together with its Thames management team and the WWG share a great responsibility for ensuring the future of the river. The EA will no doubt concentrate on identifying what actions are needed to preserve the fabric of the river whilst delivering a level of service that can be achieved within the available resources. River users will either have to accept this or assist in finding some way of helping to ensure that funding is available to provide the additional levels of service that they want. Opposition to rises in licence fees without identifying other sources of revenue is not helpful. However, it would appear that the EA needs to do far more to take urgent and immediate advantage of its additional revenue opportunities arising from the TWO to ensure that those that do pay are not continuing to subsidise those that are intent on avoiding doing so. Identifying and delivering other sources of revenue must also be a key priority.
EA senior management – regional and national – needs to recognise central government’s responsibility to make significant contribution to the cost of maintaining the river as a national asset enjoyed by millions of visitors every year.
Motor Boaters, through their licence fee payments, are, currently, by far the largest single group of contributors to revenue and they, reasonably, expect others to bear their share of the burden.
We would like to see the river managed according to a lock-centric model. A resident lock keeper at every lock providing both service to river users and reassurance to local residents and visitors. How close we can get to realising that objective depends entirely on a single issue – the availability of funding. The shortfall is not that great – just a few million pounds out of a current EA budget of over £1 billion – and there are many opportunities for increasing revenue to be explored.
This article first published October 2011.