New Hope for the Haulier
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B.T.C. Chairman's Gesture to Independent Hauliers Forms Basis for Negotiation
THE conciliatory offer to the Road Haulage Association made by Sir Cyril Hurcomb, chairman of the British Transport Commission, at a function of the Worshipful Company of Carmen, is presumably to be regarded as the official answer to the Association's recent plea for co-operation between the State transport undertaking and hauliers remaining outside it.
The importance to the road transport industry of Sir Cyril's words cannot bc underrated, particularly as they, mark the first known occasion on which a -spokesman of the B.T.C. or the Road Transport Executive, has publicly acknowledged the fact that free hauliers have a vital part to play in the future of Britain's co-ordinated inland transport system. The statement should do much to allay the fears of hauliers that the Commission intended to disregard their interests and gradually to eliminate them by a process of attrition.
Sir Cyril ,appears to have chosen the function of the Worshipful Company of Carmen as the occasion for his utterance because Mr. B. G. Turner, the Master, is also chairman of the R.H.A. The statement might have carried even greater conviction had it been made at a conference of R.H.A. leaders called specifically for that purpose.
Hauliers at a Disadvantage Presumably the oblique approach was selected for reasons of diplomacy and to allow hauliers to make further overtures. They are, however, in a poor position to do so, because they do not know the precise intentions of the Commission or the Executive in relation to road and rail services.
The R.H.A. has already suggested several directions in which a co-operative policy might fruitfully be pursued, and Sir Cyril's statement is hardly an adequate substitute for a categorical reply to the Association's offer. It is, none the less, welcome, and foreshadows the establishment of tolerable relations between the nationalized transport system and independent operators.
It would be fatal to future harmony if the B.T.C. or the Executive were to create the impression that their elevated status would not permit them to make a direct approach to hauliers. In an article on pages 37-38 of this issue, a well-informed car respondent emphasizes the importance o f equality between the two partners in the operation of the country's transport system. Sir Cyril's statement offered new hope that this ideal might be achieved, although in certain respects it requires clarification. Acknowledging the large field left open to private hauliers,. Sir Cyril said that one of The Commission's tasks would be to see that the relationship between independent hauliers and the consolidated interests of the Commission was placed and maintained on a fair and proper basis.
Further Explanation Needed His next phrase, "With the necessary reservation that we cannot divert the intentions of Parliament, we intend that the fullest use will be made of the R.H.A.," requires further explanation. At the best of times it is not easy to define precisely the intentions of a second party, but in a case as complicated as the Transport Act, the task is doubly difficult. The Act merely lays down a broad pattern to be followed in the integration of inland transport, and the filling-in of the detail is left to the Commission. The most suitable design to be adopted within the general fabric is open to debate, but inevitably hauliers must accept the Commission's interpretation of Parliament's intentions.
• Sir Cyril suggested, however, that the Commission or the Executive would not ride roughshod over independent hauliers. After pointing out that use will be made of the experience of the R.H.A. in dealing with administrative problems, he said that in many matters it might be possible to pursue a common line. Even where that was not possible, neither the Commission nor the Executive would wish to proceed without giving hauliers the fullest opportunity of expressing their views. The aim of the State transport undertaking would be to devise a system of practical liaison with the industry outside, principally through' the R One of the conditions of co-operation, as expressed by Sir Cyril, appears to be that the should exercise a "wise and moderating influence" with its members. If these words mean that the Commission expects that, as partners in a great transport system, independent operators will not indulge in practices designed to destroy the profit-earning possibilities of the R.T.E., or withhold reasonable assistance, there can be no complaint against their use. If the implication were that the Association must discipline its members to accept, without -question, the will of the Commission regardless of the interests of free hauliers, the basis of co-operation would be false and no practical results could ever be achieved.
A Year of Brilliant Achievement
FIGURES just issued by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders tell a remarkable story of achievement by commercial-vehicle manufacturers in 1948, despite shortages of raw materials and discouragement from the Government in the form of a penal tax on profits. Production rose from 157,945 units in 1947 to 177,169 last year, manufacturers in all sections of the industry contributing to the advance. Recognition of the claims of the battery-electric is to be seen in an increase in production of 21 per cent. during the year, an achievement that doubtless could have been surpassed had supplies of steel been more freely available.
A similar story of successful and painstaking endeavour is revealed by export statistics. During last year, manufacturers of commercial vehicles of all kinds made a magnificent contribution to a reduction in the country's adverse balance of trade, by increasing the value of their exports from £25,408,923 to £38,983,141 and the number of units from 58,375 to 83,313. The statistics are not easy to interpret and care should be taken to avoid reaching hasty conclusions, but the rise in the average value per vehicle exported from £435 in 1947 to £468 in 1948 is disquieting. It could be explained by a change in the demand for certain types of vehicle, but the true reason is probably to be found in the steadily mounting cost of production, which has caused several manufacturers to raise their selling prices.
With the hardening of overseas markets, resistance to higher prices will increase and the progressive post-war decline in America's exports of commercial vehicles is only a temporary consolation to the British maker. When the dollarexchange position in world markets becomes easier, the comparatively high cost of British vehicles will again constitute a significant factor in competition.
The decline in the exports of road haulage tractors and trailers may be explained either by a shortage of steel for production or a fall in the demand from overseas, but it is far more than balanced by the remarkable increase in the value of exports of agricultural tractors and parts from £5,170,486 in 1947 to £20,583,018 in 1948.
Its record of achievement in the past year is one of which the British commercial vehicle industry may well be proud and is one that deserves recognition by the Government in the form of an increase in steel allocations. With encouragement, manufacturers may this year eclipse even their brilliant performances of 1948 and bring still closer the long-awaited day when Britain can cast off its unbecoming mantle of austerity.