HL Deb 24 July 1990 vol 521 cc1434-5WA
Lord Brougham and Vaux

asked Her Majesty's Government:

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.

Lord Strathclyde

The British Waterways Board (BWB) has made good progress in implementing the commission's recommendations, almost all of which it accepted. I am placing copies of BWB's third and final response in the Library of the House.

A major four-year programme of change is under way in the board, aimed at establishing a more commercial approach to the waterways business and an optimum balance between in-house work and contracting out. Improvements in the board's management and structural organisations have been achieved. New information and resource allocation systems, and procedures for project appraisal, have also been introduced, together with a more accurate assessment of the extent of major arrears of maintenance. I welcome all these changes and recognise the commitment of both board members and staff to implementing them. The board now hopes to eliminate the high priority arrears, currently estimated at £55 million, over the next five years.

The Government announced their endorsement of BWB's integrated business strategy in February this year. This strategy builds on the programme of change under way within BWB to make it a more commercial organisation, responsive to waterway users. It also provides for the continued development of the board's land and property holdings, in partnership with the private sector, as an integral part of its management of the waterways. It will enable increased income to be used to enhance the waterways and their environment; reduce outstanding maintenance; and at the same time, reduce dependence on the Exchequer.

The board, under its Chairman, Mr. David Ingman, believes that it can take advantage of the growth in leisure and tourism, and the development of property, in making BWB into a business. The new structure, with its six regions and 28 waterway managers, can make decisions quickly. In this way, BWB is responsive both to commercial opportunities and to its network's users. I will continue to keep under review the question of the board's statutory responsibilities for public road bridges over canals.