Tag Archives: business plan

Pollboy Lock

I mentioned some time ago that, according to its Business Plan 2015, Waterways Ireland was considering automating Pollboy Lock, on the River Suck to Ballinasloe, in order to save costs. Like other offshoots from the main Shannon Navigation [Killaloe to Lough Key], the Suck is relatively little used.

According to the Connacht Tribune, the automation is to proceed and the lockkeeper is to be reassigned. It seems that some local councillors and “business interests” — who do not, as far as I know, contribute to Waterways Ireland’s income — regret the loss of an ambassador for the town. The keeper, Mr Coyne, was indeed extremely helpful to visiting boaters.

However, he could help only those who arrived at his lock: he could do nothing to attract more boating visitors to the town. That is not in the least a criticism of him, but rather a suggestion that councillors and business interests might perhaps have done, or yet do, more to attract visitors and increase the usage of the splendid harbour in Ballinasloe. Perhaps they might even appoint and pay a town ambassador?

A Sinn Féin councillor quoted in the article seems not to be entirely familliar with the duties of lockkeepers. Furthermore, he does not take account of the fact that the Shannon–Erne Waterway succeeds without lockkeepers — or that it was proposed that the Clones Sheugh [not-the-Ulster-Canal] operate in the same way. Surely a Sinn Féin councillor is not suggesting that, without keepers, the Sheugh might not be the enormous success that his party purports to believe it would be?

PS: the Tribune also has a piece about rubbish at Castle Harbour, Portumna.

 

Re-invention or re-creation?

I realise that many folk visit this website in order to find out what is hip and trendy, cool and with-it, in all sorts of fields, from beer to boating, casual dining to cost-benefit analysis. So, in order to keep readers down wid da kidz in da hood [as the young folk say], I’ve been checking out the latest, baddest [which means ‘goodest’, I gather, or what in the old days we would have called ‘best’], grooviest developments on tinterweb. It’s a thing called FaceTweet, and those cool dudes at Waterways Ireland have one of them. Hep to the jive, daddy-o [which means ‘How perfectly splendid, old boy’.]

As far as I can see, FaceTweet is in general intended for folk whose attention span renders them unable to read more than a single paragraph of continuous prose. But brevity is sometimes the soul of wit and good goods come in small parcels [sentiments for whose veracity I have not found peer-reviewed evidence]. And I was interested in Waterways Ireland’s self-description on the page:

Waterways Ireland is the Recreation Authority for over 1000km of Ireland’s Inland navigable waterways.

That phrase, Recreation Authority, does not occur in Waterways Ireland’s Business Plan 2015 [as approved by the North South Ministerial Council on 18 December 2014 and screwed up by the Council shortly afterwards] or in its Corporate Plan 2014–2016 [ditto]. Nor, according to its own search engine, is the phrase used on Waterways Ireland’s proper website [the search engine rather bafflingly reports “We don’t have any refiners to show you”].

Yet the concept of Waterways Ireland as a Recreation Authority is almost entirely in tune with the thinking underlying both of the plans and it is the neatest encapsulation I have yet seen of what WI is about.

I put in ‘almost’ there because the Corporate Plan‘s Executive Summary includes this:

Central to our vision for the future is the development of recreational, heritage and environmental opportunities that link people, history and nature, providing both local communities and visitors with compelling reasons to spend more time in the waterways environment.

While I’m all — well, somewhat — in favour of heritage and environment, the words seem to sit uneasily in that sentence: added as a form of ritual obeisance to the shade of Michael D Higgins, who ripped the rivers and canals from the sheltering embrace of the Office of Public Works engineers and proclaimed the waterways to be heritage artefacts. Heritage is no longer of great interest to TPTB and most people’s experience of it [whatever it is] is as entertainment or recreation; much the same applies to environment, which — for most people — is of interest only as providing a scenic background for more interesting activities.

So both heritage and environment can be subsumed under the heading of recreation, leaving Waterways Ireland with a neat, well-focused description of itself, a subheading for its title, and one that matches its Mission and Vision.

Mind you, it’s not entirely clear what a recreation authority is — Google finds relatively few [129000] instances of the term’s use, most of them in the Americas — but that might be no harm.

Waterways Ireland — the recreation authority

Hep to the jive, daddy-o: I like it.

 

Shagging the Shannon to shovel the sheugh

On 24 February 2015, the Irish Times published an article headed

First stage of Ulster Canal restoration due to begin in April
Some €2m will be spent on a section of the Shannon-Erne waterway

It ended with these sentences:

The €2 million will be drawn from the funds of Waterways Ireland, a north-south implementation body. It will carry out the dredging of a 2km section of the Erne river and the construction of a new navigation arch at Derrykerrib Bridge to accommodate boat traffic, with a target completion date of April 2016.

It may be that the Irish Times doesn’t know very much about waterways. If it did, it might have been aware that, on 18 December 2014, the North South Ministerial Council approved Waterways Ireland’s Business Plan 2015, which included this Action:

3.6 Progress the restoration of the Ulster Canal on an incremental basis. €1,000

So on 18 December 2014 the North South Ministerial Council — which for all practical waterways purposes consists of Heather Humphreys, the southern minister for waterways and other stuff, and Carál Ní Chuilín, her northern counterpart — approved the allocation of €1,000 to the Ulster Canal in Waterways Ireland’s 2015 plan. Yet, just over two months later, they expect Waterways Ireland to spend about €2 million on the blasted thing, about €1.5 million of it in 2015.

The southern government’s party of treasure-seekers seems to have disappeared entirely: at any rate it doesn’t seem to have found any money. And the two ministers’ departments have presided over successive years of cuts in Waterways Ireland’s current and capital budgets, cuts whose effect has been worsened by the woefully inadequate provision for an ever-increasing pensions bill. Waterways Ireland’s Corporate Plan 2014–2016 shows a cumulative increase of €984,000 in pension costs over the period of the plan, which wipes out a lot of savings in other areas.

I suppose that curiosity is a weakness in journalism. Were it not so, two questions might have struck the Irish Times:

  • how is Waterways Ireland to come up with €2 million out of an ever-decreasing budget?
  • why has Waterways Ireland’s Business Plan been so violently disrupted only two months after it was approved? The €2 million is half WI’s total capital budget spending in for the republic in 2015; it will be recalled that the republic, in a fit of more than usually nitwitted arrogance, undertook to pay for a canal to Clones, which is what the powers-that-be are pretending Saunderson’s Sheugh is.

I can answer the first question, at least for 2015, during which WI expects to spend €1,416,000:

  • €166,000 will come from Heather Humphreys’s department
  • €900,000 will (WI hopes) come from the sale of property assets
  • €150,000 will come from the postponement of an IT programme
  • €220,000 will come from the postponement of non-navigation works on the Shannon
  • €90,000 will come from postponing development of the Barrow Blueway.

I don’t know what property assets WI can sell to bring in the requsite amount. It seems that damage to everyday navigation has been avoided, but the Shannon and the Barrow are to suffer to pay for dredging a river that merely provides a small extension of the Erne navigation.

As for the second question, I suspect that Sinn Féin put a gun to someone’s head: “We’re fed up waiting for our sheugh. Start digging or the baby gets it.” The baby might have been Heather Humphreys’s Dáil seat or it might have been something more important. And the gun was, I suspect, a message accompanying the “business case” prepared by the northern department and sent to the southern. [I have asked both departments for copies and other information.]

Arthur Aughey, then lecturer in politics at the University of Ulster, wrote in Magill magazine in February 2001:

Puritanical republicans grieve at the thought that the hunger strikers [of 1981] died to achieve the Waterways Ireland Implementation Board.

I suspect that the less puritanical republicans, those who operate in the devolved institutions of Northern Ireland, are now demanding that the southern government deliver, through the “Waterways Ireland Implementation Board”, what nitwitted previous governments promised. It’s a pity that Sinn Féin and those previous governments couldn’t have come up with a more sensible list of waterways and other infrastructural projects.

 

Jim Allister and WI’s business plans

I noted here that Jim Allister, Traditional Unionist Voice MLA, had been asking questions about the “regularity” and “legality” of certain amounts granted to Waterways Ireland and the cross-border Language Body by the NI Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. His two questions to the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure were answered last week.

AQW 35466/11-15: To ask the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, in light of the Comptroller and Auditor General qualifying her Department’s Resource Accounts for 2013/14, whether she accepts that grant payments of over £8m made by her Department’s North/South Bodies were irregular; and if she will seek approval from the Department of Finance and Personnel for all such payments in accordance with the statutory requirements of the North/South Co-operation (Implementation Bodies) (Northern Ireland) Order 1999. [Priority Written]

Answer: The accounts for both agencies of the North South Language Body and Waterways Ireland for the 2013 and 2014 years have not yet been completed and audited.

My Department’s Accounting Officer reported that during the 2013/14 year, DCAL incurred irregular spend in respect of grants to the Language Body and Waterways Ireland as the business plans for these respective periods have not been approved. Draft business plans were in place against which the performance and budget of the bodies were monitored, and Corporate Plans for the period 2011- 13 for Waterways Ireland and both agencies of the Language Body, which were approved by Sponsor Department Ministers; both Finance Ministers and the NSMC Ministers were in place.

That’s a lesson in how to avoid answering the questions you were asked.

AQW 35541/11-15: To ask the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure whether she will place into the Assembly Library, a copy of the documentation received from the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP), or otherwise recording DFP approval, which verifies the claim by her Department’s Accounting Officer in the Resource Accounts 2013/14 that DFP approval of grants to North/South Bodies was given for the amount of the grant at estimates or efficiency stage negotiations. [Priority Written]

Answer: The 2013/14 Main Estimate is published on the Department of Finance and Personnel’s website (http://www.dfpni.gov.uk/main-estimates-2013-14.pdf). My Department included within the 2013/14 Main Estimate on specific lines entitled “Language Body” and “Waterways Ireland” an estimate of the grants (before any efficiency savings were applied) my Department intended to allocate to the North South Bodies during 2013/14.

Estimates are prepared by departments and examined by DFP Supply to ensure that they meet Assembly propriety requirements and are consistent with the Executive’s expenditure plans.

After approval by DFP Supply the Estimates are presented and recommended (as required by Section 63 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998) to the Assembly by the DFP Minister who moves the Supply Resolution/s summing up the requests for Supply for each body.

On the basis of legal advice, the Department considers that the process and published Main Estimate document shows approval by DFP for the grants allocated to the North South bodies. DFP did not approve the final business plan which has resulted in the grants being deemed irregular.

It would be nice to see that legal advice.

Last week’s Phoenix magazine had an article headed “Flanagan falls flat on face” [not online] about severe constipation in the business of the Northern Ireland Executive. It includes this paragraph:

The DUP have plunged the [NI] institutions into a blast freezer since May when unionist ultra Jim Allister, staunch opponent of the GFA [Good Friday Agreement], got 75000 votes in the Euro elections. His party won thirteen council seats the same day. That sent a high voltage chock through the party. They stopped doing business with Sinn Féin, fearful of losing votes in next year’s British election.

But the WI/Language Body business plans problem surely began before May 2014.

NSMC

The joint communiqué from last week’s North/South Ministerial Council Inland Waterways meeting is now available here. There was an exciting bit:

SECTORAL PRIORITIES

2. Ministers had a discussion on various priorities within their remit and noted that these will be contained in a report to be considered at a future NSMC Institutional meeting as part of the ongoing review into sectoral priorities.

Hmm … what’s cooking there? I do wonder why the NSMC bothers publishing content-free stuff like this. We may have to ask the US NSA to bug the meetings. Oh, hang on ….

Here’s a good bit, though:

PRESENTATION BY WATERWAYS IRELAND

3. Waterways Ireland delivered a presentation to Ministers entitled “Ireland’s Inland Waterways – Building a Tourism Destination”. The presentation provided an overview of the progress being made by Waterways Ireland in placing the waterways and the waterway experience at the centre of the tourism offering both in Ireland and internationally.

Now that is useful and important work. But, as I have pointed out elsewhere [including to Waterways Ireland], the WI draft Corporate Plan 2014–2016 said nothing about tourism. Some years ago, I thought that it was a mistake to have a Marketing & Communications Strategy and a Lakelands tourism initiative that seemed to exist outside the corporate planning process; I am still of the same mind.

I have asked Waterways Ireland for a copy of the presentation, and for a copy of the Strategic Development Plan for the Grand Canal Dock, Spencer Dock and Plot 8 that was mentioned in WI’s progress report. That report also covered:

  • continuing maintenance
  • public consultation on canal bye-laws
  • a Built Heritage Study and a GIS-based navigation guide for the Lower Bann
  • an environmental award for  work in restoring, protecting and promoting the heritage assets that are Spencer Dock and Grand Canal Dock
  • towpath development and work on the cycleway from Ashtown to Castleknock on the Royal
  • donating two barges for “recreational and community use”
  • “partnerships to utilise three unused navigation property for community and recreational use”, which I don’t know anything about.

The important part was this:

BUSINESS PLAN AND BUDGETS 2013 AND 2014 AND CORPORATE PLAN 2014-2016

5. Ministers noted the position with the 2013 Business Plan and budget. They also noted that Waterways Ireland has undertaken a public consultation on the draft Corporate Plan 2014-2016, the preparation of a draft 2014 Business Plan by Waterways Ireland and that the plans will be reviewed after the public consultation is analysed. They also noted that Sponsor Departments will continue to work together with Waterways Ireland to finalise the Business Plans and Budgets for 2014 and the Corporate Plans for 2014-2016 that will be brought forward for approval at a future NSMC meeting.

I read that as showing that the north-south deadlock continues. The 2012 accounts have still not been published and the plans for 2014 won’t be approved until (at the earliest) three quarters of the way through the year.

The NSMC heard something about the Clones Sheugh but has decided not to tell the citizenry anything about it. It agreed to some property disposals and decided to meet again in October. But there was one odd item:

SPECIAL EU PROGRAMMES BODY BUSINESS PLAN AND BUDGET 2014 AND CORPORATE PLAN 2014-16

8. Ministers approved the Special EU Programmes Body Business Plan and Budget 2014 and Corporate Plan 2014-16.

The oddity is that the SEUPB is a separate body and usually gets its own meeting and communiqué. The last six meetings (before this one) have been attended by NI folk from Finance & Personnel and RoI folk from Public Expenditure & Reform (or, before that, Finance).

So who let spending ministers into the sweetshop? And why? Suspicious-minded folk might think that there is a plan to  nick a lot of Euroloot for the Clones Sheugh to get the Irish government off the hook persuade the Europeans of the benefits of investing in the reconstruction of a small portion of the Ulster Canal. We note that, on the previous day, Jimmy Deenihan gave a longer than usual reply to the standard question about the Sheugh, including this:

The Inter-Agency Group has met four times, last meeting on 9 December 2013. The Group continues to examine leveraged funding opportunities for the project. This includes the exploration of EU funding which may be potentially available in the next round of structural funds covering the period 2014–2020.

I have a better idea. Vladimir? There are oppressed Russians in Clones ….

 

 

 

Modern management

I’ve just read the minutes (they call ’em joint communiqués, to be posh) of all the North South Ministerial Council Inland Waterways meetings since northsouthery got going again in 2007.

After a bit of catching up in the first couple of years, the NSMC has usually managed to “note” WI’s Annual Reports and Accounts about six months after the end of the year to which they refer: the accounts for 2008 were noted in 7 months, 2009 in 5, 2010 in 7, 2011 in 7 and 2012 in 6. But “noting” doesn’t mean approving: various other bods, including two Comptrollers and Auditors General, then have to look at them, so the citizenry doesn’t get to see the accounts for many months afterwards: the report and accounts for 2012 are still not available.

Nothing to see there, then: both WI and the NSMC appear to be doing their bit as fast as could reasonably be expected. But what is odd is the delay in noting or approving plans and budgets. Knowing litle of management science, I had the naive idea that managers would be working to approved plans and budgets from the start of the year, but WI usually doesn’t get approval until the year is almost over. I do not know why that is.

WI’s business plan for 2008 was approved in October 2007, which is reasonable, although it seems to have been revised in July 2008. But the plans for 2009 and 2010 were not approved until 11 months into the year, that for 2011 until 10 months and that for 2012 until June 2013, six months after the end of the year. I realise that forecasting is difficult, but retrospective planning is surely less than useful.

The same delays apply to the budgets for 2010, 2011 and 2012. So the June 2013 meeting of the NSMC approved or noted:

  • the business plan for 2012 (which had ended six months earlier)
  • the budget for 2012
  • the annual report for 2012
  • the draft accounts for 2012.

I do hope that someone checked to ensure that all the documents accorded with one another: it would be really embarrassing if they didn’t. But as a management exercise this seems to be somewhat less than useful.

The same meeting also

… noted progress on the development of the 2013 Business Plan and budget. Following approval by Sponsor Departments and Finance Ministers the plan will be brought forward for approval at a future NSMC meeting.

It is good to know that, six months into the year, there was progress on the business plan and budget for that year. The minutes of the November meeting don’t mention the 2013 business plan and budget (but do, I am pleased to note, mention the 2014 versions), but there was a disturbing item of information on the previous day, 19 November 2013. Brendan Howlin, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, replied to a written question from Gerry Adams [SF, Louth], saying inter alia

The 2013 Budget allocation to the Body are subject to on-going discussion by the two Sponsor Departments.

This is November; 88% of the year has passed and the Irish budget for 2013 was approved long ago — yet WI still hasn’t been told its budget for 2013. WTF is going on?

I note that the same applies to the other north-south body or bodies that share the [RoI] Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the [NI] Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure as sponsors. An Foras Teanga, which includes Foras na Gaeilge and Tha Boord o Ulstèr-Scotch, likewise still has its 2013 budget under discussion by the two departments.

I have asked DAHG about this, and will no doubt receive a full and frank reply in due course. In the meantime, I can only speculate. Is it possible that one minister wants to spend very much more or less on waterways than the other does? As the total current expenditure is fixed at 85%/15%, it seems to me that one side might very well come up with a figure that the other didn’t like.

Is it possible that DCAL, run by Mr Adams’s party colleague Carál Ní Chuilín, is more keen on cross-border bodies than is DAHG, run by Fine Gael minister Jimmy Deenihan? Or are both of them struggling to find savings to pay for the Clones Sheugh, or at least as a deposit for the SEUPB?

Or could it simply be that WI is having great difficulty in cutting its expenditure to fit within the limits imposed by the RoI budget?