HC Deb 21 December 1988 vol 144 cc259-60W
Mr. Fishburn

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what progress has been made in implementing the recommendations in the Monopolies and Mergers Commission's report published in May 1987 on the maintenance of the British Waterways Board's waterways; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Moynihan

The British Waterways Board is continuing to make good progress in implementing the commission's recommendations and I am placing copies of its second response in the Library of the House.

Improvements in the board's management, structural organisation, information systems, resource allocation, and procedures for project appraisal are being implemented as part of a major four year programme of change to develop a more commercial approach to the waterway business with the optimum balance between in-house work and contracting out. I welcome these changes and the commitment with which board members and staff are carrying them through.

The board has also taken action this year to divest itself of its remaining non-waterway-based freight operations while continuing to promote the use of suitable waterways for private freight transport. Leisure market prospects are being reviewed and means of quantifying the public service role of the BWB network explored. The board's property portfolio is being exploited in line with existing objectives and the scope for further potential has been identified in a study by independent consultants which the board commissioned earlier this year.

I am looking forward to seeing a fully worked up business plan on the basis of the board's current work and to consider the outcome of the property study before deciding on appropriate levels of grant for future years and on the possible changes in financial framework to which the board refers in its response. I shall continue to keep under review the question of the board's ownership of and statutory responsibilities for public road bridges over canals.

The board will aim to produce a final report on the implementation of the commission's recommendations by May 1990 in the light of which I shall make a further statement.