Concern that Audlem is to lose its canal lengthsman

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(The website link that was here no longer works) Audlem is to lose its dedicated village-based canal worker, James Stretch, in favour of a general team of contractors. British Waterways have decided to cut back on staff and use teams that will be called out when maintenance work is required.

Audlem Online reported last year that the cuts in British Waterways budget by Defra is largely the result of the chaos at the Rural Payments Agency. This is the organisation that pays out EU subsidies and money owed to farmers. This resulted in a huge fine on the UK Government by the European Union. The fine meant other Defra budgets had to be cut, including the funds for the maintenance of the canal system.

James Stretch, aged 39, who has lived all his life in Audlem and worked as the Audlem waterways operative for five years is reported in this week's Market Drayton Advertiser as saying: "British Waterways told me I will not be doing what I'm doing from now on. I am not very happy about the situation. Local knowledge and ownership is going to be lost: locals can do a far better job than an outside contractor with no interest in the local area."

The situation was reported at Audlem Parish Council's April meeting. Chairman Richard Furber said: "I have discovered that after battling to keep the lengthsman for many years they have decided to quietly get rid of him."

Parish Councillor Geoff Stretch, Jim's father, said: "James is upset about the situation. He has done a lot of work on the canal and people have commented on it. I don't think he knows what's going on at the moment."

British Waterways Wales & Border Counties Acting General Manager David Balladacchino said: "The locks at Audlem are a hugely important site for us and look fantastic every year — but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't look at different ways of doing things."

Audlem Online will be campaigning to keep the village's dedicated lengthsman for the canal, which is a vital local attraction. We plan to run a Vote Poll, starting tomorrow and will publish further details on the rural payments debacle at Defra that led to pressure on the British Waterways budget. Curiously, the then Secretary of State Margaret Beckett with responsibility for Defra was subsequently promoted to Foreign Secretary. Unfortunately, others like James Stretch, find their future less certain.


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