Margate Musings S.T By .R.
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Although Organization was Good and Social Functions Excellent, Many Operators Felt that Subjects for Discussion were Remote from Present-day Needs THE 1946 Margate Conference of the National Road Transport Federation will be set down as an outstanding success. Business sessions were well organized, although there was widespread criticism of the subjects chosen, and the social side was excellent. The latter was, in my opinion, more important than the business aspect, because it gave operators from all areas an opportunity of exchanging views and getting to know one -another.
A sense of unreality prevailed, especially during the Thursday-afternoon session when 'The Future of Road Transport" was being outlined. Many thought that to devote such a large proportion of the business sessions to the discussion of the future savoured of "fiddling while Rome burned."
Too Much In the Air ?
They felt that the organizers had not their feet on the ground. Why not, it was asked, discuss some of the things which are worrying operators in-day, such as the immediate plans to fight nationafiz' anon; how to combat the trickle of rate-cutting which seems likely to become a spate; the granting of increased tonnage to those who have been lucky enough to expand their businesses during the war?
It was pointed out, too, that these matters are closely related. A return to the rate-cutting conditions of 1939 is likely to be expedited by the increasing tonnage. The result must inevitably be the lowering of the efficiency of the industry, thus giving the advocates of nationalization an excuse for the implementation of their pernicious doctrine.
These were the things that were being said. I pass them on, not in any carping spirit, but because I was informed that this Conference was, in a sense, expeiimental. If that be so, then any criticism may reasonably be regarded as constructive. Whatever may be said of the subjects chosen, no one can cavil at the way they were handled. Each session was a gem.
The Facts In a Nutshell Full marks go to Mr. Roger Sewall for the clear explanation of the obligations that the haulier must accept under the plan for co-ordination of road and rail freight traffic. The haulier remains, as was demon s strated, the master of his fate. He states in his licence application the work he proposes to do and the areas he proposes to serve, and in that way himself limits his liabilities to carry.
It was interesting to learn from Mr. Sewell that the railways are revising their general-merchandise classification. He expressed the hope that it might be possible to correlate it with that recommended by the Fawkner Committee. He must have sensed the feeling of many of his audience in giving that grave warning about the rate-cutting in road transport "Rate-cutting," he said, "can quickly neutralize money spent on anti-nationalization propaganda."
Mr. Herbert Allen stressed the importance of regard for employees, in which recommendation he had many supporters. Mr. Nicholl's address was undoubtedly the best. He has apparently travelled a long way since the days of "The Book of the Fight." Instead of compulsory amalgamation, which, if I remember, was the principal theme of that publication, he now favours voluntary grouping, and recommends those who form groups to take such steps, by way of appointment of expert management staffs, to get themselves in position to take advantage quickly of current development in methods and machines. The point that road transport has an advantage in that the equipment it uses is shortlived, has probably not occurred to many operators.
Col. Jerrett and Mr. F. J. Speight found common ground, as may seem curious, in that they both stressed the importance of terminal facilities. The former referred to the need for greater use of machinery for loading and unloading,. In that connection, he pressed for standardization of van bodies and packages. There is a subiect for a debate by the Institute of Road Transport Engineers. It is undoubtedly one to which more importance will be attached in the future.
Bulwark Against Monopoly
Mr. Speight referred to the need for the provision of coach stations. Incidentally, he indirectly gave another answer to those favouring nationalization, who assert that the industry is tending towards monopoly via the road of absorption of small concerns by large ones. He stated that out of 4,500 operators in the passenger side of the industry, no fewer than 4,000 were operators of ten vehicles or fewer.
Mrs. H. M. Borrowdale, well as I know her, nevertheless surprised and fascinated me with the facile method of her delivery. Her address moved logically step by step from its introduction to its close. Yet she spoke without a note. She alone among those who contributed towards the business sessions achieved action of which she may be proud.
There are many who are inclined to deprecate the value of the petition, concerning which Mrs. Borrowdale was insistent. It should be remembered that every petitioner is a voter, and a million signatures to the petition means the risk of a million votes lost if nationalization goes through. Moreover, the work which is done by Mrs. Borrowdale and the women she so efficiently leads has a secondary effect. Besides obtaining signatures, they are educating the general public to the importance of road transport.
Star of the Brains Trust Mr. Quick-Smith was undoubtedly the outstanding figure in the Brains Trust. None can deny that his summing-up of the wages position—his clear and logical condemnation of the tendency to link wages with the cost of living, which has the inevitable vicious spiral effect of raising both and causing inflation—was masterly and clear. The plan he advocates, although he gives credit to America for it, of assessing wages on a points system and using that system for a common basis for all industries, is one which deserves wide publicity.
Repetition of the Conference is much to be desired. Personally, I would align myself with Mr. Duffield in expressing the wish that when it is held again Margate will be the venue.