Distracted from the primary tasli
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at's what RHA I inks of Professor Foster's report. By Eric Russell
IN THE VIEW of the Foster Committee, a licensing system should have only three objectives: road safety, the protection of the environment and the prevention of damage to the roads.
Stating that improvements in the quality and efficiency of the road freight industry should not be a licensing objective, the Committee declined to recommend changes in the licensing system that would secure such improvements.
This attitude is surprising because improvements in quality and efficiency as well as changes in the licensing system were mentioned specifically in the Committee's terms of reference.
The Committee may have become distracted from its primary task, possibly through determination to sustain its views about the limited objectives of a licensing system and, possibly, through its preoccupation with the need, as the Committee saw it, for the licensing system to be used in conjunction with the powers of the local planning authorities in order to protect the environment.
There is surely an obvious need, and obvious scope for, improvements in the conditions of an industry remarkable for its high incidences of bankruptcies and liquidations and of operators leaving the industry and remarkable, too, for its low profitability. These symptoms of instability are considered by Foster as inevitable in the present state of the economy and not indicative of conditions which are "unstable to any dangerous degree".
It is a view which seems to ignore trade and industry's dependence on hauliers for the movement of 54 per cent of all road goods and the doubts surrounding their ability to continue to provide services on this scale and at the present level of efficiency.
Unless reputable hauliers can earn sufficient margins to maintain standards and replace their fleets in the face of the rapidly rising costs of these assets, they will be replaced by those who Foster points out are "tempted into illegal operations to stay in business".
A brief examination was made of the competition between the licensed operators of goods vehicles of 3.5 metric tonnes and above, and the unlicensed operators of vehicles below that weight That the competition is unfair is admitted by the Foster Committee but its reaction was to recommend, as an immediate remedy, the progressive application of the plating and testing scheme to the lighter vehicles and to make the grudging admission that it may ultimately be necessary to re-consider the inclusion of light goods vehicles in operators' licensing.
The difficulties experienced by hauliers through any of the problems mentioned above do not, in Foster's view, call for any change in the licensing system. The opportunity to improve conditions in the professional road haulage industry, as well as the quality of services to customers, has not been siezed.
Instead, there is a determination to sustain the consistency of the Committee's arguments, even though it is undeniable that licensing controls which avoid the operation of an excessive number of road goods vehicles would meet one of the desiderata postulated by the Foster Committee, namely the protection of the environment.
In its long-term view of the possible effects of the work of lorries on the environment, the Committee advises the Government to study the likely escalation in goods traffic and to limit the number of goods vehicles by raising the level of excise duties.
The RHA opposes that advice. These duties should be determined by acceptable evaluations of vehicles track costs. Moreover, such economic disciplines are unlikely to reduce the number of vehicles. They would simply raise the costs of haulage and have their eventual impact on the prices of all goods.
The Foster Committee examines the present uncertainties of the situation created on the one hand by the unsatisfactory statutory definition of an operating centre — the base or centre from which the vehicles are, or are intended to be, normally used — and on the other hand the even less satisfactory definition by the Transport Tribunal, in the case of Cash and McCall — a place from which an operator gives his orders which govern the manner in which goods are to be carried by his vehicles on roads.
The Committee's proposed definition of an operating centre is a place where vehicles are garaged or parked, or a place where they are maintained, or a place where they are brought for administrative purposes. Thus an operator may have three operating centres, at each of which a different. function is carried out.
It looks very much as though the Committee, unable to decide which of the three places in question should be the operating centre, or in its overzealous concern for the environmental effects of lorries, has settled on all three.
In so doing, it had little regard to the complications this will raise both for operators and for Licensing Authorities in respect of the suitability of each of the three possible centres and of the possible need for the employment of a transport manager at all three, But what gives rise to the greatest concern about the Foster Committee's recommendations are those which require Licensing Authorities virtually to usurp the functions of planning authorities and which will cause many public inquiries into licence applications to become inquiries on a scale and of a kind often experienced at inquiries relating to the development of land and the building of roads.
In respect of applications for the grant, variation and, presumably, the renewal of licences, the Committee recommends that Licensing Authorities should ensure the environmental suitability of operating centres and should solicit the views of local planning and highway authorities, of, occupiers of property in the vicinity and, indeed, of any persons offended by the activities of vehicles.
Hauliers will have to fight lone battles against the environ mental "hordes". Few of them will be able to embark upon a
licence application witho incurring the considerable E pense of legal representatio by persons specially e perienced in -planning law".
There is no justification f changes to be made in tl licensing system in order strengthen planning contrc over the use of haulage depot Adequate controls are alreal available to the planning ai. horities. They have powers refuse planning permission an in addition, to discontinue modify premises' establishE use.
The fact that these procel ures, as Foster states, "tal time", provides no real ju tification for enabling plannir authorities to exercise the powers more easily and speedi through objections to applici tions for operators' licences.
If it is desirable for the use land to be regulated more easil than the present relevant la, allows, then it is that law whic shduld be amended so that it effects, including the rights t landowners' compensatior should apply equally to all con mercial undertakings, whethE or not they are subject to licensing system.
An inevitable conse quence of planning author ities' failure or inability to usi their powers described abovi will be that they will use thi occasion of hauliers' applica ions for the renewal or rariation of licences to lodge 'objections, the successful iursuit of which could have he effect of dispossessing iauliers of their depots in :ircumstances and on Irounds beyond the contem'lotion of the law from which he powers of those authorties were originally derived.
The Report recommends that Acensing Authorities should be impowered to impose, in resoect of operating centres, conlitions covering the number, ype and size of vehicles aperated, the places where they ;hould be parked, the times luring which the vehicles may oe operated and the routes used o obtain access to the operating :entre.
These procedures would :onfer unnecessary and unde.irable powers considerably in ixcess of those relating to the issessment of the stlitability of in operating centre in general erms as provided in the Road -raffic Act 1974.
Having suggested a number if obstacles to hauliers' acquisiion of depots and to the coninuation of the use of depots, he Foster Committee looked at he environmental impact of lorles' movements.
Local authontes are to be en:ouraged to use their powers to nake regulations restricting the iccess of heavy goods vehicles o narrow roads in conservation areas and persistent offences against such regulations would oe a ground for an objection to m operator's licence by a local authority and by other persons vhom Licensing Authorities accept as being affected by such offences.
The first objection to this 'ecommendation is that it would ncrease the number and type of objectors to an extent that would oe as absurd as it would be infair, and that it would probably impose upon applicants a ormidable task in meeting objections inspired and coordinated by anti-lorry groups.
It must be rememberd, that these offences Nould be committed by irivers in circumstances over Nhich the employer would lave no control and that it would be quite inequitable For those offences, particularly since they could be cited by persons other than local authorities, to form the grounds of an objection and to place in jeopardy the renewal of an operator's licence.
In its enquiries into those aspects of the licensing system which refer to an applicant's financial standing, the Foster Committee accepts the RHA's proposal regarding the issue of probationary licences for periods sufficient to cover one financial year in order to allow a set of accounts to be drawn up.
It proposes that applicants should outline the financial arrangements they expect to make and provide evidence of working capital or the availability of loans. But the RHA opposes a proposal that the requirement to meet financial criteria should apply both to applicants for standard licences and applicants for restricted licences.
The establishment of qualitative tests of a financial nature beyond those relating merely to the resources required for the satisfactory maintenance of vehicles must surely be for the purpose of ensuring that an operator of goods vehicles has the means of providing reliable haulage services.
That purpose is irrelevant to an own-account operator, the quality or reliability of whose haulage operations will affect nobody but himself.
Adhering to its insistence that the licensing system should be based mainly on the limited objectives it has selected, the Foster Committee finds that there should be no distinction between the levels of competence required of professional hauliers and own-account operators, and considers that the distinction between standard and restricted licences should be abolished.
The RNA opposes this recommendation. Own-account operators require levels of competence and financial standing sufficient to ensure the safe operation of road goods vehicles. In the case, however, of professional hauliers, they have, in addition to those duties to the public, special duties to their customers to provide services that are reliable and efficient.
That is why it is necessary to require of such hauliers levels of competence and financial standing that are specially relevant to hire or reward work.
Radical changes are recommended by the Foster Committee in the conduct of the work of traffic area offices and in the role of the Licensing Authority who, it notes, is both prosecutor and judge.
It advocates the appointment in each traffic area of a Registrar who would take decisions about public inquiries into licensing applications and, in respect of disciplinary action, act as the prosecutor, leaving the Licensing Authority to act solely as a judge.
The RNA does not accept that Licensing Authorities are inhibited in the conduct of their present roles and it opposes the concept of a Licensing Authority acting remotely in a strictly judicial capacity. The present deep involvement of Licensing Authorities in the administration of the licensing system enables them to acquire an intimate knowledge of the industry and of the difficulties experienced by operators in the conduct of their business, If Licensing Authorities were to be placed in positions which made them judicially remote and denied them the close insight into the in dustry, the licensing system would, in the view of the RHA, be applied less effec tively and less reasonably than it has been for so many years.
Enforcement of the licensing system and of the various regulations which support it has, understandably, engaged the attention of the Foster Com mittee. The Association sup ports recommendations regarding the fitting of conspicuous licensing plates to motor vehicles and trailers, the vigilance of enforcement aut horities at night as well as during the day, and the impounding of vehicles which are operated illegally.
Nevertheless, it questions the justification for such proposals as the establishment of the right of traffic wardens to stop goods vehicles (the security risk to loads would require the support of the police authorities for such action) and the requirement that operators who persistently over load their vehicles should fit load indicators. The reliability of these instruments, as the Committee admits, is in considerable doubt.
Because the movements of abnormal loads are carried out by hauliers who are subject to operators' licensing, plating and testing and the supervision of the police, the Foster Committee summarily disposes of proposals that these operations should be governed by a supplementary licensing system and carried out by persons specially qualified to organise them.
The RHA continues to hold the view that the special skills and the special equipment required to move goods under the Special Types Order VR1 pro cedure justifies further and deeper investigation of its proposals.
Rejecting the need even for the holding of a special certificate of professional competence by persons responsible for the movement of hazardous goods in bulk, the Foster Committee recommends merely that Licensing Authorities should be notified by the Health and Safety Executive of successful prosecutions for offences under regulations on the movement of hazardous loads.
The RHA considers that this is a very negative attitude towards dangers which could, to a very large extent, be avoided if there were special certificates of competence required to be held by operators or their managers before they commence work in moving these bulk loads.
The RHA notes with satisfaction the Foster Committee's acceptance of its view that the repute of an applicant should be determined by reference to offences of dishonesty and against property and that Licensing Authorities should be notified of the bankruptcy of an applicant, the designated CPC holder of a majority shareholder.
Proposals regarding the licensing of firms which hire out vehicles and their responsibility for the condition and roadworthiness of those vehicles during the first 48 hours of the hire are fully supported by the RHA.
There is support, too, for the rejection of the concept of quantity licensing. Whilst the RHA views with concern the intermittent over-capacity in the industry, it appreciates that quantity controls would be unnecessarily bureaucratic and could be applied arbitrarily.
Excess capacity, however, provides such constant threats to the efficiency and stability of the hire or reward sector that stricter qualitative controls are urgently and obviously necessary to reduce it.
In its disagreement with several of the Foster Committee's recommendations, the RHA has not overlooked either the immense trouble the Committee took in carrying out its inquiry or the value of its Report. The Report provides a helpfully brief historic sketch of the investigations of its predecessors, Salter and Geddes, perceptive descriptions of conditions in the road haulage industry today and useful statistical information throughout the chapters of the Report and in its appendices.