Faced with the growing pressures of maintaining ageing waterways and the increased threat of climate change, we are raising money for vital maintenance from a number of sources to help protect and preserve the network. This includes income from boat licences, government funding, investments, donations, and other income streams.
To help meet the costs of caring for its canals, rivers, and reservoirs, we need to secure more funds. Income from boat licence fees currently makes up 11% of our annual income and will need to rise by more than the rate of inflation to continue to fund essential work to the network. We are consulting on the most effective and equitable way possible to apply these increases.
We are asking you for your views on whether increases should apply evenly to all boaters using the current boat licence fee structure, or whether it is fairer to apply higher increases to certain boaters in a way that reflects how they use the waterways and the higher costs of meeting their needs.
The consultation is being sent out to all boat licence holders in February by email, text message, or post, depending on what contact information they have given us, and will run until 6 April 2023. The consultation is being run by the independent firm DJS Research, who will be sending out the questionnaire, collating the responses and preparing a report on the consultation findings. Responses will be anonymised.
Richard Parry, our chief executive, said: “These are challenging times for our ageing waterways. Faced with soaring costs and the highest levels of inflation in over 40 years, we must address the budget shortfall to safeguard navigation. Our network is old and vulnerable, especially to the extreme weather events that are becoming more common, and the income from licences is an important contribution to ensure the ongoing maintenance and repair of the historic canals and river navigations in our care.
“We continue to secure as much income as we can through our commercial and charitable activities, control costs where possible, and focus our resources on those priority works which are required to support navigation. Nevertheless, with our government grant frozen and therefore declining in real terms since 2021, and currently undecided after 2027, the income we receive from boat licences is more critical than ever.
“While we do not underestimate the impact on boaters of any licence fee increase, unless we can increase income from all sources at a level above inflation, it will not be possible to secure a sustainable future for our waterways. We are calling on boaters to help decide how we can increase their contribution in the most effective and equitable way possible.”
We are facing dual pressures on income and expenditure
We generate much of its income through a combination of a government grant and investments. Over the past year we has seen an increase in pressure on its finances with rapid inflation and external, global factors affecting supply chains and increasing costs and availability of materials.
In 2021/22, our income was £214.6 million from all sources, with £24 million coming from boat licences and a further £20.5 million from moorings and other boating income. Currently, we receive £52.6 million each year in the form of a government grant. The value of this grant is fixed until 2027, meaning that, with inflation, each year its value is eroding – it is set to reduce in real terms by around 29% by 2027. We await a decision by the government over the future value of the grant.
Since the Trust was formed, we have grown other sources of income to keep the network running. Our annual income from investments has increased from £41.9 million in 2013/14 to £51.4 million in 2021/22 (higher growth than the market average), and its income from services to electricity, IT, and other utility companies and water development has grown from £24.7 million in 2013/14 to £37.7 million in 2021/22. Fundraising income is forecasted to grow by 10% each year and commercial income to grow at least in line with inflation.
Since we were formed, its expenditure on maintaining the waterway network has risen by 50% from £94.2 million in 2013/14 to £141 million in 2021/22.
We are seeing large increases in our expenditure on vital reservoir safety works, which are mandatory under the UK Reservoirs Act. Reservoirs are currently the largest component in our infrastructure spend, and this will continue until all our high-risk reservoirs (the oldest in the country) have been brought up to modern standards. This ongoing investment will minimise any threat to public safety and safeguard the vital canal water supply that the reservoirs provide.
Increased costs, uncertainty over the future of the government grant, the need for sustained investment in high-risk assets, and day-to-day maintenance all amount to an underlying gap between future income and rising future expenses. We must start to fill this gap to safeguard the future of the waterways.