Restricted licence holders can vote in CRT Council election following NBTA complaint – vote by 14th February

CRT has relented from its decision to bar boaters on restricted 6-month licences from voting in the 2020 CRT Council election following a complaint by the NBTA. Make sure you check your postal address and/or your email as soon as possible, as CRT is not extending the election, which means everyone needs to vote before midnight on Friday February 14th 2020.

Tom Deards, CRT’s Head of Legal and Governance Services, said yesterday:
“… in recognition of the fact that we did allow those boaters with restricted licences to vote in the 2015 elections, we are happy to extend the invitation on this occasion and we will be sending out voting instructions to all relevant licence holders in the next few days to enable them to vote prior to the deadline…”

However CRT has refused to apologise for disenfranchising Bargee Travellers on restricted licences, and claimed in its response to the complaint that there had been no breach of CRT’s constitutional documents or due processes. This is despite the fact that in the 2015 CRT Council elections, Chief Executive Richard Parry assured the NBTA that boaters on restricted licences would be able to vote, and the then Head of Governance Roger Hanbury apologised and extended the election in November 2015 to include them when Mr Parry’s assurance was not translated into action.

The text of the NBTA’s complaint of 1st February 2020 and CRT’s response are below.

CRT’s response to the complaint:

I have been passed your letter of complaint dated 1 February.

The Trust’s Articles of Association are clear that it is for the Appointments Committee to identify the constituencies to elect Council members. The Rules simply confirm the outline of the constituencies from which elected members may come from. You will note that each of these constituencies is broadly defined in a similar way which the Appointments Committee have then used to form the basis of the precise definitions of constituencies for election purposes, as they are fully entitled to do.

The detail of each constituency was set out by the Appointments Committee in a fully transparent way through the Election Regulations, as presented to Council on 19 September.

Therefore, we do not accept that there has been any breach of the Trust’s constitutional documents or due processes. For these reasons, we are not prepared to extend the Council election timeframe or provide an apology.

However, in recognition of the fact that we did allow those boaters with restricted licences to vote in the 2015 elections, we are happy to extend the invitation on this occasion and we will be sending out voting instructions to all relevant licence holders in the next few days to enable them to vote prior to the deadline of [14th] February.

If you are not satisfied with the Trust’s dealing of this complaint please address this in writing to customer.feedback@canalrivertrust.org.uk and it will be reviewed by an independent manager in accordance with our customer services policy.”

Kind regards

Tom Deards
Head of Legal & Governance Services
Canal & River Trust

The NBTA’s complaint, sent to CRT Chief Executive Richard Parry:

Dear Mr Parry,

Formal Complaint: Disenfranchisement of Bargee Travellers in CRT Council election 2020

This is a formal complaint in line with Canal & River Trust’s complaints procedure. We are not satisfied with Canal & River Trust’s (CRT) decision to exclude the holders of 6-month licences from voting, nominating candidates and standing for election in the CRT Council elections that are currently taking place. In excluding these licence holders, CRT has acted in breach of Articles 27.2 and 29.3 of its Articles of Association as amended on 19th September 2019 and in breach of Rules 1.3.1 and 1.17 of its Rules adopted by the CRT Council on 19th September 2019.

In excluding the holders of 6-month licences from voting, standing for election and nominating candidates, the CRT 2019/20 Council Electoral Regulations (with effect from 06 January 2020) are inconsistent with the CRT Articles of Association and with the Rules adopted by the CRT Council on 19th September 2019. By implication the CRT 2019/20 Council Electoral Regulations are also inconsistent with company law.

As you well know, a significant percentage of boaters whose boats are licensed under Section 17(3)(c)(ii) of the British Waterways Act 1995 have had their licence renewals restricted to 6 months.

In discussions between CRT and National Bargee Travellers Association (NBTA), and in the course of casework by the NBTA, we have noted that CRT staff have frequently asserted that the restriction of a licence renewal to 6 months is not intended to act as a punishment or sanction. However, the disenfranchisement of boaters on restricted licences is indeed a punishment and is seen as such by our members.

The effect of disenfranchising a section of the Bargee Traveller community means that the election rules skew the candidate list and the election itself in a way that fails to provide a fair reflection of the diversity of the beneficiaries of CRT and other stakeholder bodies or electorates interested in CRT’s affairs, contrary to Article 29.3 of the Articles of Association. The holders of restricted licences do not therefore have fair representation in the CRT Council.

No justification or explanation for excluding these licence holders has been given, and neither have any of these licence holders been given an opportunity to contribute and make representations to the process of deciding the 2019/20 Council Electoral Regulations. Indeed, in a meeting on 11th December 2019 between the NBTA and CRT Head of Customer Service Support Jon Horsfall and CRT National Leisure Boating Manager Matthew Symonds, both CRT representatives flatly refused to discuss extending the franchise to include boaters whose licence renewals were restricted to 6 months and did not offer any explanation for the decision to exclude them from the election.

The Regulations are therefore in breach of Article 27.2 of the Articles of Association in that CRT has failed to adopt an open and transparent process to decide upon appropriate constituencies which shall be invited to nominate or elect persons to serve on the Council in accordance with Article 27.2.1.

Rule 1.3.1 of the CRT Rules states that 4 members of the CRT Council are to be elected from the Trust’s database of holders of relevant consents as defined in the British Waterways Act 1995 (‘licences’) (including roving traders) on the basis of one vote per licence. The Rules therefore do not permit CRT to exclude certain holders of relevant consents, such as those whose licences are of less than 12 months’ duration, from standing, nominating candidates and voting in the CRT Council election. The Rules plainly do not state that the 4 Council members are to be elected from the Trust’s database of holders of 12-month relevant consents (‘licences’).

The decision to disenfranchise those whose licence renewal is restricted to 6 months against their will contravenes Rule 1.17 in that it is inconsistent with both the CRT Articles of Association and with the CRT Rules. Indeed, we would argue that the exclusion of all holders of licences of less than 12 months duration, whether by choice or not, contravenes the CRT Articles of Association and is inconsistent with CRT Rules.

We wish to remind you that on 14th September 2015 you provided an assurance to the NBTA that boaters without a home moorings who had been forced to take a ‘restricted’ 3 or 6 month licence would be included in the 2015 CRT Council election and that following a complaint by the NBTA, on 7th December 2015 the then Head of Governance Roger Hanbury said “We have checked our actions following the agreement with Richard Parry to include restricted licence holders in the election …. We will also extend the deadline for voting in the elections from 11th December to 17th December …. we apologise for this error.. Our clear intention is to include the restricted licence holders in the election”. This correspondence is attached.

To remedy our complaint, please take the following action:

1. Extend the CRT Council election by a period of one month and facilitate the immediate enfranchisement and voting of all boaters who hold 6-month, 3-month and 1-month licences.

2. Provide a public apology to all those who have been disenfranchised.

3. Alternatively please explain why a 1, 3 or 6-month licence is not a relevant consent as defined in the British Waterways Act 1995, and why it is not a relevant consent as defined in the CRT Rules as the criterion for voting in the CRT Council election, and further, please explain why the holders of 1,3 and 6-month licences are not included in the Trust’s database of holders of relevant consents.

4. Explain why restricted 6-month licence holders were included in the 2015 CRT Council election following a complaint but are excluded from participation in the 2020 CRT Council election.

See also http://www.bargee-traveller.org.uk/make-sure-you-can-vote-in-crt-council-elections-2020/