BRITISH " SPEDITEURS."
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A Proposal for their Establishment to which there are Objections. How Small Consignments Could Be Better Handled.
F. Bilbrough. By Granville
THE 'REPORTS of the recent committees of inquiry into the prospects of the principal trades after the war make very interesting reading for all who are concerned in the progress and expansion of British industry. Many of the suggestions and recommendations reveal the quickened pulse, which the war. has stirred out of its slow and too conservative beat. In every direction there appears to be a widened outlook and a desire to reconstruct our business methods and organization upon a more effective basis. It is profoundly to be hoped that this stimulus is not a mere spasm of the war, to be dropped scesoon as the prospects of peace are realized ; but that the revelatiOn of our unsatisfactory arrangements in many departments will lead to the consummation of requisite reforms. The future is with the new blood.
In no department is 'the call more marked than in the wide field relating to transport. Here, the various committees come forward with a number' of important recommendations. I will set these out , seriatim. .
Specific Reforms Recommended.
(a) The establishment of an inexpensive court of inquiry consisting of representatives of the railways, manufacturers, and organized labou-r, to investigate with expedition railway rates, to fix rates, and to deal with allied matters in mutual arrangements. Such an inquiry must inevitably cover a wide field and would involve the consideration of working costs, and wages a-s well.
(b) There is a recommendation that the Government take into hand at an early date the development of our canals, probably on the lines of the findingaof the canal inquiry of a few years ago. (c) It is demanded that there should, at least, be equality between the inward and outward shipping rate charges..
(d)-Where goods are imparted at a through rate, a declaration is called for as to the respective division of the rate between the shipping and the railway companies, a surcharge to be made equivalent to any preference in freight or carriage given to imported articles.
' (e) In respect of the arrangements at ports, more adequate rail and road facilities are demanded at the quays, with the provision of the most modern laboursaving machinery of all kinds to the fullest extent necessary and of ample warehouse room, whilst there should be an avoidance of the practice of wharfing along the quays, which leads to congestion. All of which applies 'with especial force to the premier ports of London and Liverpool. Other recommendations .deal with the pooling of wagons, the granting of lower rates for large consignments intended for export,and the withholding of bunkering facilities within the Empire to lines giving unfair preferences against British goods. Many of these recommendations deal with old is.sues, as between the trader' and the purveyors of transport One other recommendation, however, has an air of relative novelty. It-is •contained in the report of the committee inquiring into the prospects of shipping and shipbuilding after the 'war. In connection with its recommendation upon domestic organization, it declares as follows:— "It is for the merchants and manufacturers of this country to consider the means by which results, similar to those achieved by the Spediteure for German trade, and by the Express companies for Ameri.; can trade, may be obtained for British, trade. Experience has shown, however, that the system of for e34 warding agents is open to much abuse, and we should therefore prefer to see analogous functions exercised by the strong export associations which there is now a tendency to form." This reconunendation lacks nothing in the way 'of novelty and, as it would ultimately involve fundamental changes in our methods of transport if realized, it merits close consideration of the traders, as well as the authorities who are likely to weigh -the conclusions of the committee.
The growth of the " Spediteurs " in Germany is. one of the marked features of German transport history. They occupy a position somewhat analogous to that of our packed-parcel carriers, with the exception that, instead of confining...their attentions to trifling lots, the German system of tariffs enables them to deal with weights under ten tons to the mutual advantage of themselves and the trader. Under these tariffs, there are relatively high figures for small.' lots or "piece-goods," with materially lower rates, for halfwagon loads of five tons, whilst there are rates carrying a reduction of from 30 to 50 percent. upon the piece-good rates according to whether the traffie comes under wagon load scales or special tariffs I, H or III. Within this wide margin, the " Spediteur " can work with great advantage.
Where the " Spediteur " Comes In.
Many of the traders, perhaps the majority, are not in a position to send either 10 to 5-ton lots to a particular destination. As a matter of fact there is a wide variety of traffics in which such tonnages, are never forwarded. With such a trader there are presented the alternatives of handing the goods over to the State 'lines direct when the high rates apply, or handing them to the particular Spediteur " who specializes in that particular destination (for it ought to be said that, like shipping companies, most of these intermediaries work specific localities, either as °destinations or transhipping points). Generally, therefore, the trade makes• a contract with this carrier, sometimes in odd lots, but generally over a. fixed period, for the acceptance of all his traffic for those localities, when in less than wagon loads. It is an advantage to him because he is enabled to get a figure below the tariff exacted by the State line.
The " Spediteur " also secures a considerable profits in being able to make up full wagon loads, therefore getting the advantage of the special tariffs, with abatements of from 30 to 50 per cent. These ''Spediteure " have further marked advantages. Many of them have their own private siding connections with the railways, and are little different from miniature goods stations. The railways, of couese, charge certain siding fees with maintenance. and, I believe, 6d. per wagon for working in and out of the premises. As against these smaller items which have to be met, there is frequently to be set a reduction in the dartage that would he necessary if the goods had -to be taken to a more remote railway depot. This is a material consideration, as the rates for cartage in German towns run fairly high.
Another feature which tells in favour of the' "Spediteur "is the rarity of private .sidings to the premises of -independent firms. Such sidings are a feature of British railway activity, but in Germany there, are very few indeed and they are not encouraged. As illustrating the difference between the two countries, it is certain that 60 per cent. of traffic in England passes between sidings. In outlining these features of German trail-port conditions, it will be appreciated what an opportunity for
preferential treatment exists as between trader and. trader. It is always possible to give better terms to one man than to anosher, arid this form of exceptional treatment is estceediugly common. In no direction does it show itself so continually as in the remarkable terms granted to goods which come within the operation of the East African, Levant and other inclusive tariffs. Here (in conjunction with shipping interests) the home trader is continually sacrificed on the altar of foreign trade. This is a form of preference we combat on a small scale in this country, especially in regard to imported traffic ; but in England the rates are on the books and the extent and the range of such treatment can be measured and checked. In Germany, however, where every trader may be called upon to make a separate contract with the " Spediteur, ' there is no limit to the possibilities within the ample margin of the 30 pen cent.. or so.
How the " Spediteur " Holds His Position.
There is so much discontent with the methods of these intermediaries in German/ that the possibility Of disbanding them, or at any rate curtailing their activities, has frequently been discussed. They are. however, so integral a part of the transport system' that there is little chance of any radical alteration of the existing order of things. Further, they have the advantage, like our packed parcel carriers, of working within the actual railway rates and, therefore, being considerable advantages to the trader in the aggre gate. .s . Reference is also made to the Express' companies of America, which similarly operate in "sma-lls," owing to the policy of the American lines in refusing to deal with trivial consignments of (say) tinder 4 cwt. Bulking is consequently adopted. Here, also, we have the same principles, but on a considerably smaller scale.
Having outlined the methods of the "Spediteur,",we must ask ourselves to what extent it is Possible "for the merchants and manufacturers of this country to consider the means by which similar results may be obtained for British trade."
At the present time, the area for operation over here is not very marked. There are very few exceptional rates for class traffic, which (if one leaves out the abatement granted in lieu of risk and therefore not a calculable factor) are 10 per cent. lower than the ordinary rates. Where the same services are not rendered, of course, the reduction may be greater. But the actual abatement is oftener nearer 5 Per.cent than. 10, and this leaves very little margin for the creation of " §pediteurs," either in a private or in a public capacity.
As a matter of fact, the whole drift of transport 'practice in this country has been in the opposite direction and every alteration has had the effect of gradually squeezing out the important firms of intermediate carriers of which Pickfords is the chief remaining example. The methods by which this has been accomplished and the causes leading to it need not be discussed here, but it must he obvious that if the conditions in the past rendered their continuance impossible, there is little chance of their reintroduction under like circumstances. Nor, if it were desired, would the German model be commendable. Their basis is altogether irregular and its methods are typically German in eharacter. As the report of the inquiry into shipbuilding aptly puts it: "The Spediteur ' fulfilled an important function in placing German wares economically on foreign markets, but many of the evasions of conference agreements and much of the rate cutting attributed . to German steamship lines may be traced directly, or indirectly-, to their operations."
And these methods have always been endorsed by the German Governmentinasinuch as the privileged treatment of exports by the German State railways has always been "an integral part of German trade policy, which might iu Jiructice, and did in fact, give rise to discrimination in favour of the German flag."
Though conditions are not propitious in Britain at the moment they may be greatly modified by the adoption of national control. Already there is a demand in many" quarters for a system of rates which will give adequate compensation for the dispatch of large consignments of traffic and so develop a bulk policy, as against the existing small parceldelivery agency, which comprise e railway activity.
This demand is made in both the reports to which I call attention, and it is bound to come if transport conditions in Britain .are to offer -any competition with the lines of other countries. An adoption of such a policy would immediately raise the question of intermediaries acutely, because, where there was a margin in which to operate, there would always be people enterprising enough to take,advantago of it. There is another obidacle to hulking in this country, namely the insistence of the railways on the separate calculation of the charges on the different categories of goods according to their classification, or, alternatively, a levy on the total weight at the. figure applying to the., highest class. This would' always retard 'any movement towards bulking. Except in the case of certain chemicals, and dangerous or offensive goods, the German railways accept all manner of traffic at the wagon load, rates, and only insist upon three categories in respect of the exceptional tariffs I, II, and Ill. I can, forsee no modification in our arrangements in this respect, yet it materially affects the possibility of our successfully embarking upon such a policy on extensive lines.
Where, however, it is possible in the present and in the increasing opportunities of the future, one can appreciate the wisdom of the Committee's recommendation that "they would prefer to see analogous functions _ exercised by the strong export associations which there is aftendency to form."
Such associations would certainly be public and would largely defeat the dangerous consequences which inhere in the irregular arrangements and uncontrolled services of a public character.
The Opportunity of the Post Office.
In one important direction, however, the work done by the 'Spediteur " on the Continent might be performed with advantage over here by the Post Office. As I have often pointed out, there is a terrible wastage of labour Inroughsthe multiplication of agencies for dealing with small parcels, and often, too, in a very complex way. As a result, The pound is being covered twice, thrice, and more by collecting and delivering vehicles where one would suffice. Although the large proportion of "class" traffic travels in relatively small parcels, we find the Post Office limits its activities to 11 lb. Thus we have the railway parcels van collecting similar small lots. We have the packed-parcel carriers and, lastly, the goods services of the railway. .
What insuperable objections can there be to the creation of' a public, service which would take under its wing the full control of all the smaller parcels? There would be.,an avoidance of much unnecessary labour and expense, and itshould be possible to give an easy scale for their transit on a zone basis of, 25 or 50 miles.
In Germany such a scale is in operation for lots up to 100 kilos.. and, within certain areas, it is possible to send even more than this by a series of parcels and then keep well within the ordinary goods scale for "piece-goods." The business is managed by the postal authorities over there, and an extension of our parcel post arrangements might effect the introduction of the sa-me facilities in Britain.
Anyhow. it offers a promising field for reform, and twould secure a type of " Spechteur " to which no ob jection could be taken. B35