'GOOD SERVICE IN DIFFICULT TIMES' SAYS EA BOSS


  The departing Harbourmaster of the non-tidal Thames has promised river users a good service this summer despite budget cuts.

Matt Carter, who has been promoted to London Manager for the Environment Agency, also thanked staff for their efforts during “difficult times.”   

His comments come as the budget for the current financial year is being cut by an estimated £1 million – following several years of similar cuts as government grants have regularly been reduced.


Speaking to River Thames News Mr Carter said: “We have come through some difficult times and have done the very best we can to maintain the navigation in good condition for boating and for river users given the reductions we have had to face.

“Our staff, our lock-keepers, make a great effort and go to great lengths to provide the best service we possibly can offer given the circumstances.”

He also cited the volunteer scheme as an example of how efforts were being made to maintain the service. Last year 195 volunteers helped at locks, on river patrols and other tasks. This year’s target is more than 200.

“We started the volunteer programme three years ago not to replace staff at all but to supplement staff. Staff have taken well to them and the volunteers told us at a recent meeting they do not want to replace permanent staff. It is purely about adding value to the service.”

Season

"From our customer surveys, boaters aren't always clear about what they get for their boat registration fee.  Often customers believe it just pays for lock service, when in fact it pays for much more than that, including for example vital lock maintenance and repairs and the upkeep of the lock houses - which together cost over £1M each year.

"Their registration fee also pays for our enforcement work across the whole river, management approval of over 200 river events - issuing harbourmaster notices etc, providing advice to river users and boating organisations, input to planning applications and consultations, and more.  I think it excellent value for money."

His comments follow a meeting between the EA and boating organisations who objected to the levels of lock service proposed for the summer – and the fact that no paid seasonal staff are being employed.

Mr Carter, who has been harbourmaster for the past three years, said: “We have a statutory duty to maintain the locks. We do not have a legal duty to provide a lock service although we are determined to offer the best service we can. And I am confident boaters will get a good level of service this year despite fewer seasonal staff.”

As an example he cited the long Easter weekend where a member of staff was on duty at 41 of the 45 locks every day.

Changes in working practices saved tens of thousands of pounds. A survey of moorings and structures along the entire length of the river is virtually complete and clamping down on licences should bring in an estimated £200,000.

With commercial income, boat registrations and moorings licences plus new ways of working he believes there is a potential for getting the Thames into a more financially self-sustainable position within four to five years.

He said: "It has been a very enoyable job and I am very optimistic about the future of the Thames," His succssor has yet to be announced.

Story dated April 28th 2014.

 

   
 
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