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12th March 1971, Page 42
12th March 1971
Page 42
Page 42, 12th March 1971 — topic
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Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?

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Charter in perpetuity by Janus

WHETHER or not the politicians are really aware in advance of the kind of monster that their legislation will produce, they must pretend to care for it subsequently. The hybrid fathered by the Civil Service upon the Government might more profitably have been smothered at birth, but it would be unparliamentary to say so. Nobody would be prepared to serve on a committee, board or commission if at any time its very existence could be repudiated.

For better or for worse, the road transport industry must put up with its training board for some time to come. This at least was made clear by Mr Paul Bryan, Minister of State, Department of Employment, when he summed up the House of Commons debate on the Board's levy on January 21. There was room for improvement, he agreed, but the suggestions which he made were all on the assumption that the Board would continue on broadly the same lines as at present.

ALMOST as if taking his cue, the Board has announced a five-year plan, which as far as its clients, are concerned is virtually a charter in perpetuity. They may have hoped for somethipg more provisional. Details of the plan -gave not yet been published; and the Board has said that it will, "of course," be kept continually under review and "revised annually in the light of changing conditions and progress achieved". As a promise, this is comfortably imprecise.

In general, the Board's recent statement is a little blurred at the edges. The points it actually makes are clear enough. About 34,000 firms, with about 60,000 employees and with payrolls of less than £5,000, will have nothing to pay, not even the reduced amount that has been levied in the last year or two. Some of the interests—such as warehouse keeping and furniture removals, agricultural machinery and repairing, vehicle bodybuilding and repairing—not previously represented on the Board will be allowed to appoint members to the Board's industrial committees.

EACH of these committees will deal with the training needs of its own sector of the industry and will draft proposals on grants to meet those needs. The finance and general purposes committee will be responsible for ensuring that the grant scheme is "close-ended"—the quaint phrase is that of the Board—and that its total cost will be contained within the amount allotted for grant expenditure to each sector.

A system of "netting" levies against grant will begin in 1972. Once it is stabilized, the employer will make one grant claim each year and will meet it by the first instalment of his levy. The second instalment will be "netted" against specific grants. In this way a good deal of paper work will be saved to the extent that the Board will no longer be taking money with one hand merely to pay it back with the other. With some justice, the Board claims that the new arrangements will help to meet the wishes expressed by the industry in the course of consultation. What the statement keeps out of sight are the wishes that are clearly not going to be fulfilled. They have been expressed forcibly more than once, and the Board can hardly fail to be aware of their existence.

Although each sector of the industry is to have rather more control over the expenditure of its total grant, it is not clear--although this must be the assumption—whether this grant will coincide with the total of the levy for the sector, much less whether that sector will have any say in fixing the grant or the levy. The Board is carefully preserving its own rights, while redistributing those powers that it is prepared to delegate.

AULIERS in particular have complained that they pay in aggregate much more than they get back, whereas the situation is the opposite with the motor vehicle distribution and repair sector. The training needs of these two sectors, and of the passenger vehicle sector, are so different that the case is strong for varying the levy as well as the grant.

All three sectors would go further. They would like to be separated into sub-boards, with the RTITB continuing to have overall control. The Board's statement is silent on this point, which was put forward by Mr Marcus Fox, MP for Shipley, when he introduced the debate in Parliament. In his reply, Mr Bryan said that this was not possible under the Industrial Training Act, if it entailed putting each sub-board in charge of its own levy. He promised to look into a suggestion by Mr Leslie Huckfield, MP for Nuneaton, that a precedent had been set by another training board.

Even if progress could be made in this direction, many operators would still not be satisfied. They would be prepared to accept the existence of the Board, partly because there is no obvious way of getting rid of it but also because it has undoubtedly done a good deal of good. They would prefer to have as much control as possible over their own training.

IF they are able to make satisfactory training arrangements their only contribution to the Board would be a comparatively small amount to meet the cost of administration. This may well be the sort of arrangement that the more progressive operators envisaged when they were first told that a Board would be set up for their industry.

Much of the ill-will which now exists stems from the Board's over-ambitious beginnings. It built a huge empire apparently on the assumption that it had everything to do and that there was little or no training being undertaken. The assumption may even have been true, but it was somewhat tactless to propagate it.

As far as operators were concerned, the atmosphere was ideal for the right sort of encouragement. They were aware of the trials to come: vehicle testing, a sterner system of licensing, the heavy goods vehicle drivers' licence, even the transport manager's licence. They saw the need for more training than had satisfied them in the past.

COMPANIES that seized the opportunities provided by the Board for grants were already for the most part the same companies that had serious plans for training in any case. The less provident among the remainder resented what seemed to be the imposition of a new tax, payment of which removed farther than ever the chance of arranging training for themselves, although many of them rather hastily embarked on schemes likely to produce a grant.

Whether or not it is entirely true, the conviction has now become firmly established that, perhaps to avoid the reproach that it was holding funds which could be put to better use by the providers, the Board made grants in the early stages on a lavish scale. It thus achieved the worst of both worlds by earning a reputation for profligacy in its youth and subsequent resentment that its earlier extravagances could not be repeated.

WORSE still, after two or three years the Board had to confess to an

enormous loss. Even operators who had had the benefit saw no good reason for making reparation and those operators who had so far received little or nothing were even more indignant. If the Board is eve to win the goodwill of the industry, it still has a long passage to work.

From this point of view the latest moves are in the right direction. Firms are going to have rather more freedom than before to determine their own training. It looks like being a long time before even the most progressive of them will be allowed to break away from the Board's tutelage.

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