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The Wiscombe Boy

29th November 1957
Page 45
Page 45, 29th November 1957 — The Wiscombe Boy
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Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?

JrACK the Giant Killer must be a favourite character in the mythology of newspaper readers, to judge from the amount of space that is invariably made available when a little man comes up against a large concern or institution. The Derek Wiscombe case was bound to inspire the journalists. The echoes are still reverberating, and it is unlikely that the last has been heard of the matter.

Press comments have shown little understanding of the road haulage licensing system, but they may have done a good deal of damage to the prestige of the road haulage industry, at a time when operators are in real need of public sympathy and support. They largely have themselves to blame, in that they have come to regard the system • as designed primarily for their benefit, and have failed to realize the effect of this assumption upon the outside public.

Admiration Expressed

The facts of the case appear to be-simple. In order to • carry on his business in Jarrow as a firewood merchant, and to take occasional loads of furniture, 17-year-old Derek applied for a B licence for one vehicle. Pickfords, and • three independent furniture removers in Jarrow, objected. The Northern Licensing Authority, Mr. J. A. T. Hanlon, heard the case in Newcastle upon Tyne earlier this month, and ruled against the applicant for lack of documentary evidence. Expressing admiration for Derek's enterprise, Mr. Hanlon suggested that he should carry on with his business, keep the necessary records, and make a further application.

Nothing is here for tears, it might be thought. The Authority has turned down an application for lack of supporting evidence. The rules of the game are set out in the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, as subsequently amended, and they apply equally to newcomers and to

established operators., .

The flaw in this line of argument is that, if the licensing system is a game, it has no popular appeal. The public are interested only in those little bits of byplay that happen to come to their attention. If an isolated case seems to be unfair, there is a public outcry that pays no regard to systems, or to the number of occasions when there is no possible cause for complaint. For the majority of people, had cases make bad law.

Odd Remarks

IC the popular Press is really the voice of the public, they are to a man in favour of Derek Wiscombe. Their minds are made up for them all the more firmly by the odd remarks attributed to some of the witnesses for the objectors. The representative of one of the independent operators is reported to have said: "This boy is the type that might well work right around the clock. In five years he might replace us in the town:" "While I hardly think he is a threat to Pickfords," said the spokesman for the nationalized undertaking, "one must remember that my firm was also started by an enterprising young man with a horse and cart."

It may be unfair to take these comments out of their context. On the other band, they may be reasonably typical, the inevitable consequence of a policy of blanket objections to every application. The witnesses may well have scraped the bottom of the barrel to find an excuse for their appearance in the traffic court. Whatever arguments they may use, it is hard to believe that the furniture removers of Jarrow, much less Pickfords, would be seriously hit by the part-time competition of one-vehicle Derek Wiscombe, unless, as a result of the publicity they have given him, the folk of his town feel more disposed than they would otherwise be to entrust their chattels to the lad who had his picture in all the papers.

It is possible that the operators concerned in the case may not achieve even their limited object. Sosfar as one can tell from reports, the application by Derek Wiscombe failed, not as a result of the objections, but because he had neglected to prepare the necessary evidence. It may well be that at the next attempt he will succeed, and half the newspapers in the country will be waiting to record the victory in triumphant headlines.

Completely Out of Touch What is evident from the fulminations in the Press is that transport operators, whether nationalized or not, have neglected to keep the public informed about the licensing system, and, worse still, have allowed themselves to drift completely out of touch with public opinion. The Crichel Down case, the setting up of the Monopolies Commission, and the wire-tapping controversy, are all examples of a general concern about the steady loss of freedom of the individual driven out of house and business by some large impersonal corporation or Government department.

The recent controversy will have done some good if it prompts operators to review their policy of indiscriminate objections. Although the 1933 Act can be used, and has been used, to prevent a man from starting a very limited service within a horse-and-cart radius, neither the Commission nor independent operators can seriously suggest that this was one of the conscious purposes of the legislators.

From time to time, the leaders of the road haulage industry have complained because the rank and file are less than assiduous in keeping a watch on forthcoming applications, and in lodging objections where their interests are affected. If the energy that operators are prepared to devote to the matter is thus limited, their efforts might with advantage be concentrated on the more ambitious applications. If only one of these succeeds, it can result in increased competition many times greater than that likely to be provided by Derek Wiscombe.

Public Reaction

The strength of public reaction may have surprised many hauliers. They have grumbled about the licensing system in the past, while acknowledging that on the whole it works to their benefit. They have forgotten that to many people it may look like a featherbed.

Distant political thunder is already a warning to hauliers that they must make an active bid for public opinion. As part of their programme, they may have to explain the licensing system and refute inevitable suggestions of a closed shop. Their efforts in this direction will be largely wasted if they do not take a common-sense attitude to applications for new licences', and even refrain from objections in cases where their action may too easily be regarded as breaking abutterfly upon a wheel.

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