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Wigan flight


StevieN

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Just a thought...

With all the stoppages, especially the current one I'm reading about, would it not be easier and less hassle all round  to close the flight completely for 6 months or more to inspect, repair and maintain each lock rather than create frustration and bottle necks during the season on one cil repair?

 

A planned stoppage would mean boaters could plan accordingly.  These "sticking plaster" repairs cause more hassle than they're supposed to relieve.

Canal and River Trust's policy appears to be reactive rather than proactive.

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Yes. But welcome to the new world order where CRT are too busy with the box of sticking plasters to plan ahead for anything. They have fallen down the rabbit hole of waiting for stuff to fail rather than doing “stitch in time saves nine” preventative maintenance. Once down that hole it is difficult to clamber out again.

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12 minutes ago, nicknorman said:

Yes. But welcome to the new world order where CRT are too busy with the box of sticking plasters to plan ahead for anything. They have fallen down the rabbit hole of waiting for stuff to fail rather than doing “stitch in time saves nine” preventative maintenance. Once down that hole it is difficult to clamber out again.

They've fallen down that hole because they don't have enough money to do the required maintenance to keep stoppages under control.

 

They haven't had for years but the situation has been getting worse recently -- and will get even worse in future -- as the maintenance backlog gets ever bigger, and they spend more and more time and money on emergency repairs. It's a similar situation to potholes on the roads, or school buildings, or council-owned properties -- the basic cause is the same in all cases.

 

How do you suggest CART could have avoided falling down this rabbit hole, and how can they get out of it?

Edited by IanD
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18 minutes ago, beerbeerbeerbeerbeer said:

read StevieN’s post again, he has made a reasonable suggestion to avoid the rabbit hole

 

 

I did read it, and it sounds like a great idea. The problem is that it involves spending a large sum of money now (that CART don't have) to avoid spending even more in future. Undoubtedly a great investment, if only you can do it.

 

If this was feasible, all the infrastructure problems I mentioned (potholes, schools, council buildings...) could be solved by spending large sums of money to fix them now, and it would be cheaper in the long run. But that only works if you've got (or can borrow) the large sums of money, or are allowed to by your paymasters. Which is not the case for CART or local councils (or many other share-price/accounting-obsessed businesses), hence the mess they're in.

 

It needs joined-up thinking and recognising that penny-pinching now costs more in the long run, and allowing finances to look bad now to look better in future. Unfortunately with the myopic focus on current budgets this doesn't happen, politicians would rather not get slagged off for spending money now to see the benefit in many years time when they might not even be in power -- and CART are not in control of this anyway... 😞 

 

In other words it needs a rational government willing to borrow/spend/invest now to make bigger savings in the long term. Any suggestions about where we can get one of these from?

Edited by IanD
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But this sort of work happens on other structures like the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and the Anderton Boat Lift where both are out of action for periods to undertake maintenance.

 

The key is budgeting.

 

Filling pot holes is a relatively straight forward process, whereas maintaining 250 year old structures takes a bit more forward thinking - something it appears some at CRT seem to lack.

There's money in reserves - millions of it, I'd suggest now is the time to spend it and undertake the necessary work before the system falls apart.

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34 minutes ago, StevieN said:

But this sort of work happens on other structures like the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and the Anderton Boat Lift where both are out of action for periods to undertake maintenance.

 

The key is budgeting.

 

Filling pot holes is a relatively straight forward process, whereas maintaining 250 year old structures takes a bit more forward thinking - something it appears some at CRT seem to lack.

There's money in reserves - millions of it, I'd suggest now is the time to spend it and undertake the necessary work before the system falls apart.

 

Of course the key is budgeting, and that's my entire point -- when you have a fixed income and can't borrow to invest (like CART) it's difficult to suddenly spend large sums like renewing an entire flight of locks, because the expenditure all comes in a short time, so you have to decide what else *not* to spend the money on instead. And which locks do you close and rebuild first (and then next) -- Wigan, Bosley, Marple, Tardebigge, Cheshire...?

 

If there really is millions "in reserve" which could be spent on maintenance (are there?), then the question is why CART aren't doing this anyway -- do they have to keep that money in reserve for other reasons?

 

I'm afraid your idea is rather idealistic, it ignores the real way that all organisations do budgeting where there are cost constraints -- when there are costly things you absolutely have to do like fixing a broken lock *right now* the first thing to suffer as a result is longer-term investment that can be delayed, even if you know it really should be done.

 

And it's especially difficult to get out of a big maintenance backlog like CART have -- probably several hundred million quid by now -- because the money has to come from *somewhere* over the catch-up period of a few years, and this is impossible out of either current expenditure or reserves.

 

It's why CART keep having stoppages, it's why roads are full of potholes (patching instead of resurfacing), it's why council-owned properties are falling to bits -- it's years of under-investment coming back to bite... 😞 

Edited by IanD
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1 hour ago, IanD said:

They've fallen down that hole because they don't have enough money to do the required maintenance to keep stoppages under control.

 

They haven't had for years but the situation has been getting worse recently -- and will get even worse in future -- as the maintenance backlog gets ever bigger, and they spend more and more time and money on emergency repairs. It's a similar situation to potholes on the roads, or school buildings, or council-owned properties -- the basic cause is the same in all cases.

 

How do you suggest CART could have avoided falling down this rabbit hole, and how can they get out of it?

I honestly believe that if there were 1 or 2 deaths on CRT property and it was caused by CRT structure. The whole system would be forced to close. Why, Because the Health and Safety Executive would come in and ask for CRT maintenance records (are there any) but more importantly would ask to see CRT inspection records to see when hazard spotting was last done. Again is there any record. 

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They will eventually fill in the rabbit hole and sell it to a developer. Then we will all be ex-boaters and the forum will be full of 'Wasn't it great when..........'

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28 minutes ago, nicknorman said:


I would say they fell down the hole because from the outset of CRT, the strategy was to outsource as much as possible. Nearly all own plant sold off, many employees with decades of experience “retired”. Nearly everything transferred to external profit making companies who lacked employees experienced in the waterways. Unless you are pretty incompetent at running a business I can’t see how paying for someone else to do the work, and for their employees to make a profit, could be better value than doing it in house with people who know what they are doing.

 

The whole outsourcing model routinely turns out to be a bad idea in practice, probably only benefitting some accoutant-produced documents relating to “virtual money” to make some KPIs look good in the short term.

 

A more sensible approach would be to keep most of it in house and use contractors to deal with the demand peaks.

 

Indeed, when I was working for BT I led a team to investigate the feasibility of outsourcing critical power maintenance.

 

The exchange batteries had been specified to last for one hour, as the large number of direct employees, many living locally could respond in that time . No contractor tendered could guarantee to respond to all of the telephone exchanges within this time, so I also presented the bean counters with the cost of quadrupling the battery capacity at over 6,000 TE's. They decided that retaining direct labour was the better option.

 

Now that Voice Over Internet Protocol is being rolled out, the network is moving mainly to street cabinets which no longer have battery back up so BT are again looking to contract out the maintenance.

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3 hours ago, nicknorman said:


I would say they fell down the hole because from the outset of CRT, the strategy was to outsource as much as possible. Nearly all own plant sold off, many employees with decades of experience “retired”. Nearly everything transferred to external profit making companies who lacked employees experienced in the waterways. Unless you are pretty incompetent at running a business I can’t see how paying for someone else to do the work, and for their employers to make a profit, could be better value than doing it in house with people who know what they are doing.

 

The whole outsourcing model routinely turns out to be a bad idea in practice, probably only benefitting some accoutant-produced documents relating to “virtual money” to make some KPIs look good in the short term.

 

A more sensible approach would be to keep most of it in house and use contractors to deal with the demand peaks.

There's always the debate about the costs of inhouse labour vs. outsourcing, and usually if demand is peaky outsourcing is the better option because you can't fire half your employees when there isn't much to be done and rehire them when there is -- and the contractors deal with expensive things like equipment purchase, which can be defrayed across other projects. Maybe a hybrid system would have been better, or maybe not, we'll never know.

 

In reality the problem from the outset of CRT was that there was already a big maintenance backlog, and it's been growing ever since due to insufficient funding to meet demands., and this wouldn't change whether the labour force was inhouse or contracted out. IIRC the estimate for BW was £100M in 2005, which would correspond to at least £170M today allowing for inflation -- probably nearer £200M because labour and materials and equipment costs have gone up faster than the RPI. On top of this there's the increased backlog since then which is why the system has been gradually deteriorating (more rapidly recently), so I'd very surprised if this wasn't a similar amount, which would make the backlog twice as bad as in 2005 -- which again doesn't sound unreasonable given the current state of the canals.

 

That's a £400M maintenance backlog to get back to a proper maintenance state -- if we want to get this back in 5 years that's £80M/year (ignoring inflation), or £40M/year over 10 years. On top of that there's still the fact that the funding needs increasing to stop this happening again, my guesstimate is that this would need at least £20M/year -- sounds a lot, but it's only 8% of CART's budget. The other way to look at this is that CART are about 2 years of maintenance behind, which again doesn't sound unreasonable -- if anything that's rather shorter than you might have expected given the current state of the canals.

 

So to get the canals back to a good state in 5 years would need an extra £100M per year, which is probably about 50% of CART's maintenance budget (£200M out of £250M total income?) -- doesn't sound unreasonable given the years this has been building up and the fact that it's still getting worse, you don't fix long-standing problems like that with a few million quid from the "reserves". Spread it out over 10 years and it's only £60M/year (and £20M/year thereafter), which is less desirable (a long time to wait) but more feasible.

 

The problem is that once you're in a hole like this it's impossible to get out without big changes in either expenditure or funding, small boater-pleasing tweaks here and there (executive salaries, blue signs, spending reserves...) aren't going to make even a tiny dent in the problem. Companies get round this -- if they ever do, as opposed to going bust -- by either massive cuts in costs/spending, putting prices up/increasing sales, massive borrowing, or being bought out and often loaded with debt.

 

Most of these options aren't available to CART; the desirable one is to increase income (currently £250M/year) by at least 25% (for a 10-year catchup plan), which could mean something like doubling average license fees plus a 50% increase in the DEFRA grant -- and it keeping up with inflation, not staying flat and then shrinking as currently proposed. The less desirable -- and probably impossible -- one is to decrease costs by at least 25%, which would presumably mean shutting down a quarter of the canals (about 500 miles) -- and this simply can't happen without Acts of Parliament, not to mention a massive outcry. Not to mention it wouldn't be free... 😞 

 

It doesn't help that any license fee increases are met with screams of protest from the NBTA and their friends in the press, and that pleas to the government for more funding -- or at least keeping up with inflation -- have fallen on deaf ears.

 

It's difficult to see any way out of this morass that doesn't involve big changes to the canal system or the way it's funded -- a more sympathetic government would help (though canals are hardly their top priority, these numbers are small change in the UK PLC big picture), and I fear much bigger license fee rises (and brought in more quickly) are going to happen. Possibly some closures, though these are going to be legally very difficult and likely to be strongly resisted.

 

It's all a big stinking mess, and mostly not CART's fault... 😞 

Edited by IanD
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5 hours ago, StevieN said:

Just a thought...

With all the stoppages, especially the current one I'm reading about, would it not be easier and less hassle all round  to close the flight completely for 6 months or more to inspect, repair and maintain each lock rather than create frustration and bottle necks during the season on one cil repair?

 

A planned stoppage would mean boaters could plan accordingly.  These "sticking plaster" repairs cause more hassle than they're supposed to relieve.

Canal and River Trust's policy appears to be reactive rather than proactive.

Sometimes I wonder if the Wigan Flight was the Honey Pot and Tourist Trap that somewhere like Devizes is and where CRT seems quite capable of keeping things in good order, would things be better?


or is the the Devizes flight now in decline too?


 

 

 

 

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The fallacy that outsourcing increaes efficiency is rooted in the same star-struck thinking as that which says bunging everything online does. It would cost a fortune if done properly, so never is - see the latest London Hospitals fiasco. The next wonder is going to be getting AI to run it all instead of people, which will lead to all sorts of chaos.

Outsourcing is about getting expert technical work done on the cheap. Unfortunately, you get what you pay for. And most of CRT's day to day maintenence is now done by unpaid volunteers...

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14 minutes ago, Arthur Marshall said:

The fallacy that outsourcing increaes efficiency is rooted in the same star-struck thinking as that which says bunging everything online does. It would cost a fortune if done properly, so never is - see the latest London Hospitals fiasco. The next wonder is going to be getting AI to run it all instead of people, which will lead to all sorts of chaos.

Outsourcing is about getting expert technical work done on the cheap. Unfortunately, you get what you pay for. And most of CRT's day to day maintenence is now done by unpaid volunteers...

 

It's not a fallacy, sometimes it does increase efficiency and reduce costs (personal experience) -- and other times it doesn't (also personal experience). As so often the devil is in the details, sometimes it's the right thing to do and other times it's not. As far as people ideologically in favour of it (e.g. Tories) it's always good, for people ideologically opposed to it (e.g. certain CWDF posters) it's always bad. Neither is correct...

 

Outsourcing is usually about getting rid of an inflexible expensive inhouse workforce/equipment and replacing it with a flexible (and hopefully cheaper) external one, which may or may not have more expertise (I know of both cases) -- nothing to do with technical, the same applies to manual or project/managerial work. The idea is to save money, and sometimes it does -- and sometimes it proves to be a fiasco. Exactly the same applies to moving things online, if done properly it works, if done badly it doesn't. AI is bound to go the same way, when it works it'll be great and when it doesn't it'll be terrible.

 

Saying any of these is always bad is simply untrue -- it might have been in CART's case or might not have been, we've got no way of telling because both the structure/financing of CART and the switch to outsourcing happened about the same time... 😉 

Edited by IanD
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3 minutes ago, IanD said:

 

It's not a fallacy, sometimes it does increase efficiency and reduce costs (personal experience) -- and other times it doesn't (also personal experience). As so often the devil is in the details, sometimes it's the right thing to do and other times it's not. As far as people ideologically in favour of it (e.g. Tories) it's always good, for people ideologically opposed to it (e.g. certain CWDF posters) it's always bad. Neither is correct...

 

Saying it's always bad is simply untrue -- it might have been in CART's case or might not have been, we've got no way of telling because both the structure/financing of CART and the switch to outsourcing happened about the same time... 😉 

I suppose who it makes more efficient. Certainly the running of the organisation, rarely the provision of whatever the organisation is supposed to be providing. What it always means is that in any form of crisis, you have no expertise on hand. That's when it becomes supremely inefficient and occasionally terminally so. And there is always a crisis, sooner or later, often because of the outsourcing.

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44 minutes ago, Arthur Marshall said:

I suppose who it makes more efficient. Certainly the running of the organisation, rarely the provision of whatever the organisation is supposed to be providing. What it always means is that in any form of crisis, you have no expertise on hand. That's when it becomes supremely inefficient and occasionally terminally so. And there is always a crisis, sooner or later, often because of the outsourcing.

Nope, not true -- at least, not always. I've been involved in cases where an external provider has been both better and more responsive at providing a service/products than an internal one, including expert response to crises. And also the reverse...

 

You keep speaking in generalisations as if they're certainties -- do you actually have any direct factual experience of all this, or is it just your opinion?

Edited by IanD
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1 hour ago, IanD said:

...

Most of these options aren't available to CART; the desirable one is to increase income (currently £250M/year) by at least 25% (for a 10-year catchup plan), which could mean something like doubling average license fees plus a 50% increase in the DEFRA grant -- and it keeping up with inflation, not staying flat and then shrinking as currently proposed. .

They've introduced/increased mooring fees at popular locations - Llangollen, Liverpool, I wonder how long it'll be before boaters are charged to use locks/structures/facilities? I can envisage the amount of resistance that would cause, but would it ever be a consideration if grants and government funding stagnated whilst costs increased...

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14 minutes ago, StevieN said:

They've introduced/increased mooring fees at popular locations - Llangollen, Liverpool, I wonder how long it'll be before boaters are charged to use locks/structures/facilities? I can envisage the amount of resistance that would cause, but would it ever be a consideration if grants and government funding stagnated whilst costs increased...

I'm afraid that's already happened... 😞 

 

The problem with charging to use things like locks generally is how to enforce it and collect the money, there's no practical way to do this without employing lots of people which would probably cost more than the money collected -- it's the old chugger problem again. It works at a few small popular locations like Llangollen and maybe there will be more of these, but there's no way it will work as a widespread solution across the network.

 

A license fee is easy and cheap to administer and collect (because they already do it), and adding/changing charges depending on information CART already have (e.g. CC or not, boat width, maybe boat age) is also cheap and simple to do -- and it also doesn't need any legal changes (which could be challenged) to the existing licensing framework.

 

Given CARTs parlous financial situation I was surprised at how small the changes they made to the license fee structure were (+25% CC, widebeam +25% increased to +50%) and how slowly they're being phased in (5% per year for each) -- not forgetting this is on top of an above-inflation rise for all boaters. This will all do very little to bring more money in to CART when they need it (soon!), I'd have expected bigger rises and brought in more quickly (e.g. double the rise and over 2 years) -- but that would undoubtedly have caused an NBTA meltdown... 😞 

Edited by IanD
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4 hours ago, IanD said:

There's always the debate about the costs of inhouse labour vs. outsourcing, and usually if demand is peaky outsourcing is the better option because you can't fire half your employees when there isn't much to be done and rehire them when there is -- and the contractors deal with expensive things like equipment purchase, which can be defrayed across other projects. Maybe a hybrid system would have been better, or maybe not, we'll never know.

 

In reality the problem from the outset of CRT was that there was already a big maintenance backlog, and it's been growing ever since due to insufficient funding to meet demands., and this wouldn't change whether the labour force was inhouse or contracted out. IIRC the estimate for BW was £100M in 2005, which would correspond to at least £170M today allowing for inflation -- probably nearer £200M because labour and materials and equipment costs have gone up faster than the RPI. On top of this there's the increased backlog since then which is why the system has been gradually deteriorating (more rapidly recently), so I'd very surprised if this wasn't a similar amount, which would make the backlog twice as bad as in 2005 -- which again doesn't sound unreasonable given the current state of the canals.

 

That's a £400M maintenance backlog to get back to a proper maintenance state -- if we want to get this back in 5 years that's £80M/year (ignoring inflation), or £40M/year over 10 years. On top of that there's still the fact that the funding needs increasing to stop this happening again, my guesstimate is that this would need at least £20M/year -- sounds a lot, but it's only 8% of CART's budget. The other way to look at this is that CART are about 2 years of maintenance behind, which again doesn't sound unreasonable -- if anything that's rather shorter than you might have expected given the current state of the canals.

 

So to get the canals back to a good state in 5 years would need an extra £100M per year, which is probably about 50% of CART's maintenance budget (£200M out of £250M total income?) -- doesn't sound unreasonable given the years this has been building up and the fact that it's still getting worse, you don't fix long-standing problems like that with a few million quid from the "reserves". Spread it out over 10 years and it's only £60M/year (and £20M/year thereafter), which is less desirable (a long time to wait) but more feasible.

 

The problem is that once you're in a hole like this it's impossible to get out without big changes in either expenditure or funding, small boater-pleasing tweaks here and there (executive salaries, blue signs, spending reserves...) aren't going to make even a tiny dent in the problem. Companies get round this -- if they ever do, as opposed to going bust -- by either massive cuts in costs/spending, putting prices up/increasing sales, massive borrowing, or being bought out and often loaded with debt.

 

Most of these options aren't available to CART; the desirable one is to increase income (currently £250M/year) by at least 25% (for a 10-year catchup plan), which could mean something like doubling average license fees plus a 50% increase in the DEFRA grant -- and it keeping up with inflation, not staying flat and then shrinking as currently proposed. The less desirable -- and probably impossible -- one is to decrease costs by at least 25%, which would presumably mean shutting down a quarter of the canals (about 500 miles) -- and this simply can't happen without Acts of Parliament, not to mention a massive outcry. Not to mention it wouldn't be free... 😞 

 

It doesn't help that any license fee increases are met with screams of protest from the NBTA and their friends in the press, and that pleas to the government for more funding -- or at least keeping up with inflation -- have fallen on deaf ears.

 

It's difficult to see any way out of this morass that doesn't involve big changes to the canal system or the way it's funded -- a more sympathetic government would help (though canals are hardly their top priority, these numbers are small change in the UK PLC big picture), and I fear much bigger license fee rises (and brought in more quickly) are going to happen. Possibly some closures, though these are going to be legally very difficult and likely to be strongly resisted.

 

It's all a big stinking mess, and mostly not CART's fault... 😞 

Phew if I knew all that I wouldn't want a new boat. It's all dome and gloom. 🤔

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