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Tipper groups: what value?
As the executive officer of the Sand and Ballast Hauliers and Allied Trades Alliance, I was directed to attend the Buxton Conference 1970 on behalf of our members, who, in fact, also belong to the organization that sponsored the convention. The object of the exercise was to ascertain the true value of tipper groups as groups and the progress made.
Let me first say that as an annual event, this convention was wonderfully organized. But what was the true value to the tipper operator who took the trouble to attend? Mr Taylor-Harrington produced a very fine paper on the CAP Centre findings on haulage costs, and although much of which was above the heads of anyone present it nevertheless did let it be known that hauliers must increase their rates. However, SABHATA has been telling its members this for the past four years and any haulier who is still in business has been making periodical increases over the same period if he is any sort of businessman.
I feel this time could have been spent far better if Mr Taylor-Harrington had presented a simplified lesson on how to do cost analysis with a hand-out in booklet form; then many of the smaller men could have, at least, said they had benefited by attending.
Next came a speech from a member of the National Coal Board, who also was able to talk in millions. The point I take up I =se concerns his controversial opinions on cosh lgs and the danger of killing the goose that laid the golden egg--as one member commented. the NCB may have laid many eggs but none were ever golden! He also said that hauliers must think big and go big.
With all due respect, the NCB must surely make a large contribution to the haulage industry and if all their traffic was handed over to other national undertakings, a great many hauliers would go out of business and certain national undertakings who had participated in haulage for the NCB would incur large losses.
How much better it would be if instead of buying new and bigger lorries, the NCB concentrated their resources on modernizing their loading facilities to take the larger lorry without the abnormal delays in turnround that face hauliers at present. This would lead to high productivity and more competitive rates.
"Hauliers 1 Go big--very progressive I'm sure, but then we have more standing charges on premises and maintenance, more problems over access roads.
Let us give practical thought to coal hauling on a progressive basis; at present. I believe I'm right when I say the majority of road-borne deliveries are, in fact, oriented through coal factors, nothing more than parasites to the haulage industry. who have exploited the owner-driver and small business by offering Contract A licences and rates that have proved to be far below normal haulage ones. I can recall owner-drivers operating on contract A doing Wales to London at 38s per ton and having to run back empty on double log sheets in the hope of getting another load before the pit stopped loading at 4 p.m.—no time for maintenance, if they were lucky and got home by 7 p.m. they had a few hours' sleep before taking to the road again.
The answer is simply to stop the coal factor without his own transport from buying at the pit head price and to let the Coal Board arrange for the delivery at normal road haulage rates; this, in itself would give, in many cases, an immediate increase to the haulier of, approximately, 10 per cent after allowing a 2+ per cent to the NCB for handling charges. In short, get rid of the parasites and haulage can be progressive—let the coal people leave haulage to the specialists.
To be very militant about this, can one imagine the chaos facing the NCB if all the outside contractors stopped working for them? Neither BRS nor the railways could cope. because neither is equipped for such an emergency; within a week, the Coal Board's pits would be choked. With due respect, haulage costs money and if the NCB wants a job done, they must be prepared to pay.
At the Convention, we heard a great deal about tipper groups and I asked a lot of people questions from which I've made the following deductions: a group of tippers could carry out a motorway contract efficiently, provided all members signed a pledge and didn't accept any other work while that contract was in operation. But such contracts are usually very keenly priced and the moment another contract starts, over the grape-vine comes the news that there is more money to be earned and so off goes part of the group at the first opportunity to earn the bigger money. Also, as I understand it, the fact that a haulier belongs to a group, doesn't prevent him from tendering for the same job, regardless of the group's tender, so one could arrive at the point where any one member of the group, by offering an incentive discount, could cut out the group's tender completely if he were so minded.
Where then is the advantage of groups of this kind? My view is that only when adverse conditions are prevailing, could any advantage be gained—other than this it can only be a price-fixing arrangement with little or no value.
From my observations, a way of overcoming the problem of improving conditions for the tipper operating fraternity is grouping by way of take-over which would allow for more efficient operating by standardization of management systems—this, in itself, would be against the public interest unless it was limited to Size and area of operations.
Surely. the answer must be a joint consortium of all tipper operators under one flag, operating on a strict code of conduct and standardized rates, taking into account the various conditions of operating areas.
If this letter has offended anyone I am extremely sorry and apologize in advance, but let me just conclude by saying it was such down-to-earth thinking and acting that has, to my mind, placed SABHATA so far ahead in bringing common sense to the London tipping fraternity. I enjoyed the weekend at Buxton and I feel that anything that brings hauliers closer together can only do good.
T. H. THIR KELL, Secretary and executive officer, SABHATA, London, SW7.