SHOULD THE ARMY REPAIR ITS OWN VEHICLES?
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By "The Inspector."
ARECENT issue of The Commercial Motor, it will be recalled, included in its pages an article setting out the case for State-operated repair workshops for the Government's mechanical transport. This left one with the impression that it was from the pen either of an R.A.S.C. officer or of some other Government official. [The article was based upon information secured from official quarters, and therefore, in a, large measure, reflected the official view.—ED.—CM,] The suggestion or "feeler," whichever it may be, certainly calls for some reply.
The principal criticism for such a scheme, which at once suggests itself, is that it has been amply proved. beyond contradiction, that no Government controlled organization can reasonably be expected to be efficient in a business sense. And, with all respect to our " regular " military defenders, organization of a civilian character that is to depend on military planning and development is certain to be a great deal less than satisfactory. State control stands condemned in all its many phases, with hardily a solitary exception ; it stands condemned as the result of hard practical experience during the last six or seven years. It is always slow, it is always wasteful, and never highly efficient. Its directors have to make no profit, so they have no incentive to economy. The present mild wave of agitation for decreased expenditure -will be found to have left all Government Dfficials quite -cold, once they have lost, all fear of listurbance to. their careers. No Government official an be sacked, be he civil servant or Army or Navy Dfficer or private, for any reason short of blatant misdemeanour. The inefficients 'are always certain of employment. The efficients are never sure of adequate reward. Do -we -have to look any further for the reasons for the failure of ,a11 Government controlled enterprises ?
The case for civilian control stands proved on the score of efficiency, and there can be hardly any effective argument in the other direction. The writer of the article under notice made no claim on this score it should be noted. We must meet him on his own ground. lie claims, for instance, that, just as big users find it more economical to undertake their own overhauls, so should the Government reap corresponding advantage. For an effective comparison to be made it would be necessary for corresponding overhead charges to be included, and for it to be remembered that the Government need make no profit. Speaking from some knowledge of workshops controlled by regular 'colonels and other military grades, I have no hesitation in asserting that, neglecting the question of profit, State-managed workshops sub iidized by army-pay conditions -are certain to -compare ineffectually. , Then, with regard to organization, no Army workshop can be schemed on lines that are comparable with those controlling ordinary commercial undertakings. Choice of staff is 'very limited, the best managers, foremen, and mechanics will never be attracted -to an Army life. An Army-controlled organization with partly civilian staff has been tried, and is, at the best, a badly-botched arrangement. Your Army officer will not be taken into civilian work
shops to learn his business, if such business is to be of a competitive nature. If he is not to be trained in business and commercial methods, -he will be the usual hopeless failure in that -direction; it is a foregone eon elusion.
Then, our author makes great play with the opportunity that State-owned workshops will give for the training of a, highly technical personnel, so that the country may have its war-time craftsmen to hand in case of war. If and when another big war comes, there will be no difficulty in securing all the highlyskilled help from the workshops of the country at the shortest possible notice. We should not be disturbed at the thoughOof a civilian storekeeper finding himself incapable of mastering -army stores methods or being unfamiliar with other than one type of vehicle spares., No such difficulty wouldexist, and, after all, storekeeping is one small branch of workshop organization that might well be lookea after by the R.A.S.C. nucleus regulars. A better method by far for training Army personnel would be to arrange for their schooling in the established factories of the country, where they would become accustomed to the latest methods and a proper commercial outlook.
In the writer's opinion, the proper coufse to steer is to establish a few, a very few, military technical centres which should be capable of acting as nuclei for war-time expansions, and to employ the existing facilities of the country by contract methods for the maintenance of machines. Such a scheme assists in maintaining that vast organization behind the. Army, without which no war-time arrangements would be able to exist for any reasonable time. The country will never approve any proposals for the maintenance of army workshops of any zilch size that they would be at all adequate for war-time purposes. There will always, in future, be need ,to marshal the civilian munitions capacity of the country behind the technical fighting units. The next war should find the Army prepared for such a need. And that can only be if large-capacity civilian workshop organizations, not wholly dependent for theirsize on State contracts, be kept in being in peace days. Where would the country be without Vickers and Beardmore and Armstrong and Wallsend and so on? There must be similar second lines of defence for mechanical transport maintenance.
I will not attempt. to labour the subject further, but to emphasize the fact that the country will not lightly consent to any considerable -expenditure on the lines suggested. At present, there is ample spare factory accommodation in this country, and vast.numhers of people wanting work. If Army transport needs overhauling, let contracts be placed on reasonable terms for civilian factories to overhaul them.
I cannot forbear quoting two little extracts from the article I have been-criticising. Says the writer: "So that renovations of Army vehicles can be conducted upon thorough engineering and business-like M.T. R.A.S.,C. officers should be kept employed." The italics are mine. And a-gain :—" It takes considerable time to inaugurate contracts as these have to go through two departments "—and that is typical of all Government control.