Saturday, 24 October 2015

Presidential task force to tackle tolls

The Broads Authority has announced the creation of a Tolls Task Force charged with shaking up the Broads tolls regime.

Originally, the "Select Committee" was to be open to any Member interested in formulating a new, fairer, tolls system. Quickly realising that this could result in the wrong ideas being put forward, however, the Presidential team instead selected their own personal task force, charged with moving the deck chairs for the 4th time in as many years. "We don't want anyone coming up with any harebrained or potty ideas" commented one senior source.

In appointing the task force, it was felt important to be as inclusive as possible, and therefore 6 people were carefully selected according to height, hair colour and shoe size to ensure fair representation, and to include those both with and without any relevant knowledge. “We think it's particularly important to have a couple of people who don't know anything at all about the subject” said the source, “to ensure that we have a statistically significant range of opinions to ignore."

The tolls issue raises its head every year, as private and hire boat toll payers are pitched into an argument about who should pay more and how big the multiplier should be. Last year, not satisfied with the range of free expertise already available to it, the Authority decided to ‘invest’ £60,000 in a stakeholder survey designed to find out what toll payers really thought about the Authority and tolls. The results of this academically rigorous project were quite startling and the Authority learned many previously unknown and surprising facts about its stakeholders:
  • Most boat owners are relatively well off and tend not to come from deprived households
  • More people live close to their boats than far away
  • Satisfaction with the Authority varies in inverse proportion to the level of engagement with it
  • Some people think that tolls are good value, whilst others don't
  • Those paying the lowest tolls think that they get the best value
  • Most toll payers want more dredging and mooring maintenance
  • Private boat owners think that hire boats should pay more in tolls, whilst hire boat owners don't
  • Sailors often dislike hire boats and hire boat users do not understand sailors
  • Everyone hates anglers and water skiers
The data continues to be analysed by officers in the hope that some useful nugget of information may be gleaned which could actually be used to justify the expense of carrying out the work.

Meanwhile, Members of the Navigation Committee were, this week, given a range of choices on increasing tolls for 2016 and debated a number of sacrificial projects costing a total of £60,000 out of the £3.1 million annual tolls budget. Attempts to consider a reduction in the overall operations budget, to which tolls contribute steadily more each year, were strongly resisted, however. Eventually it was agreed to reduce the multiplier for hire boats (even though it was thought that they can claim all their tolls back from the Government as a tax rebate) and to increase tolls by the price of a round of drinks. This would ensure that owners of small boats would only have to find the equivalent of a couple of pints of cheap lager and a packet of pork scratchings, whilst the owners of gin palaces would forego the cost of one crate of Prosecco and a bowl of hummus.

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