The SNP and to some extent Scottish Labour are always bleating how it was Margaret Thatcher who deliberately destroyed their manufacturing industry as mostly located in the Fourth-Clyde belt. However, if you delve into unwritten history deeper its clear that the real culprit was the then EEC 8 Hour driving day as adopted by Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan probably to appease the T&G Transport & General Workers Union. The T&G didn’t care about the cut in driving hours as most respectable companies complied with their paid 50 hours minimum working week whether HGV drivers worked it or not.
What Killed Scottish Manufacturing Industry and the Traditional BR Goods Train ?
As a teenager during the mid 1970s I got friendly with the drivers and owner of a small local haulage contractor. During the school holidays I would ride ” shotgun ” all over the north of the UK as far as central Scotland. I got a job there as an apprentice HGV fitter, then after passing the motor vehicle technicians exams at tech went HGV driving myself.
Back in the 1970s the company I worked for did all the main transport for Serfco at Darwen. Their main job was recycling cast iron borings from the heavy engineering industry, customers included British Leyland Coventry engine plant, Vickers at Barrow and a few places up in central Scotland. That’s how I got right into the heart of Ravenscraig steel works, the cast iron borings were heated and pressed into ” piglets ” about the size of an egg.
The old UK driving hours regulations allowed 10 hours driving per day, spread over 12 and a half hours total time. It was therefore practical to get to the Forth-Clyde belt and back in the day from Manchester. Most of the Lancashire-Scotch traffic came home empty unless you had a quick easy back load handy, or would pick something up down country in the case of tippers.
Even though there were no tachographs at the time, the introduction of the EU 8 hour driving hours destroyed UK road transport efficiency. The new EU log books were easy to fiddle as you need not state your destination, however, in 1981 the tachographs were introduced. Industry in central Scotland was decimated when the tachographs eventually came in, mostly due to Dumfries & Galloway police paranoidly enforcing the 40 Mph HGV speed limit on the A74. Srathclyde had a spell at it also but could see the damage to the economy, it didn’t help rail freight either. Manchester-Glasgow road freight became impractical on a daily basis, costs increased not least because you had to pay the driver expenses for a night out.
Now there were lots of empty wagons in central Scotland who couldn’t get home for a load the next day so spent the rest of your day loading one to take back. Products like spuds and whiskey, basically anything not in a particular rush and you could use traditional railway stock. The yard of the haulage garage where I worked backed onto the Blackburn-Hellifield line so you couldn’t miss what was going on. The trains just got shorter and shorter, Scotch wagons were also taking stuff back in the other direction. The final nail in the coffin was the APT and the need to take the catch points out of the WCML so all partially brake fitted trains were withdrawn.
The result was even more wagon’s on the road and everyone had to buy new more powerful equipment, then they did it again in 1985, new 38 tonne weight limit when they should have gone straight to 44 tonne and allow a ” full ” 40 foot ISO container to be handled by road at either end of a rail journey.
Cheap transport is vital to the sustainability of the economy of any nation, yet politicians would appear to have been blind to this basic economic fact. Ken Clarke’s Road Fuel Tax Escalator decimated manufacturing industry everywhere except perhaps the south east. At least fuel duty was not increased in the recent ” emergency budget ” but further rises in the Labour pipeline were not withdrawn. Will the politicians ever learn ?
Collateral damage included the closure of the former GWR railway works at Swindon which maintained the BR slow freight train locomotive fleet !
At least John Major got the EU driving day up to 9 hours ( 4.5 continuous as opposed to 4 ) and 10 twice a week plus built the M74 all the way down to the M6 at Carlisle althoug that was somewhat offset by a safety-fascist campaign to fit speed-limiters to all HGVs. Said campaign was fronted by the then really popular late night TV James Whale Radio Show with film footage shot inside a Vauxhall car observing the speedo at indicated 50 through 50 limit motorway road works.
Of course their Leg-Iron car ( as with standard small speedo reading 10% fast ) then got passed by a HGV doing true 50 fitted with an accurate Tachograph ( annually tested to be within +/- 1% ). Whale then went on to portray that all HGV drivers were dangerous lunatics as did Bob Greaves of Granada Reports this time in a transit with a big speedo and likely to be more accurate like those originally fitted to the Mini but still not a tachograph. John Major was then forced to introduce 60 MPH speed limiters on all new trucks then the EU under Labour Niel Kinnock piled in and limited everything to 56MPH which still stands and explains the frequent congestion on our UK motorways today.
At least it will now be practical to use the A roads as upgraded again by the Tories more efficiently as David Cameron’s Transport Minister Claire Perry has got the A road speed limit for HGVs up to 50 Mph now. In fact HGVs will be able to go flat out on the EU limiter using the 10% plus 2 Mph plod rule particularly at night where before if you caught up an HGV in your car he had to slow to 40 in case you were Plod as you can’t tell in the mirrors. David Cameron also has the right idea on the EU viz stay in but repatriate powers over home legislation whereas Labour and the SNP would appear to be quite happy to continue with the current virtual EU Corporate-Nazi IV Reich as a drag on our economy !
Road Fuel Efficiency ! ( My brossen99 from 2009 )