14 AUGUST 1964, Page 23

Consuming Interest

Few Cheers for the AA


SOME weeks ago, when I reported the goings-on at this year's annual general meeting of the Automobile

Association, I asked readers for their views.

Not all the letters I re- ceived were hostile to the AA. One reader con- sidered the road patrol

. alone was worth the two guineas subscription. An- other thought that with the breakdown service, special routes, scouts and foreign touring assis- tance he got more than his money's worth from the AA each year. He does not expect democracy from the AA, any more than he expects it from the Gas Board. 'It's a service,' he wrote. 'We have enough card votes already and they seem to me inimical to true democracy'—an attitude that is unfortunately too prevalent • in the AA for my liking, and for that of some of my correspondents.

'Nothing irritates me more,' runs a typical letter, 'than the way in which the AA and the RAC persist in speaking for me without con- sulting me—and often in a manner with which I am. in complete disagreement.' This widespread resentment of the AA's claim to speak for Motorists generally on matters of public policy Was all the stronger because the AA fail to Speak up forcibly on those matters about which there is general agreement among motorists, such as guarantees, parking facilities and the price of. petrol. 'It is in the approach to civic and Political bodies that the AA shows needless weak- ness,' was the judgment of one disgruntled member.

However, the AA, it seems, cannot win. Even if. they had the guts to go into battle on such crucial motoring matters, they would be in danger of falling foul of some of their mpre Parochial subscribers. I was amazed (and, I must admit, slightly shocked) to discover from this correspondence that some members actually resent the public services performed by the AA because they benefit motorists in general and not just AA members in particular. 'I strongly Object to the fact that the AA provides services Which benefit the community as a whole, such as road signs, the use of patrolmen on point duty in place of the police, road and weather information which any member of the public can Obtain by using the telephone, and so on. I am all for these services, but why should I have to subsidise them? What good does it do me to be told that so many cars passed a given point on a fiank Holiday or that there is a queue of cars ten miles long on the Exeter by-pass?' This letter epitomised the views of several correspondents. Yet surely, in a Country as cramped and con- gested as ours, where we are all in the same snarl-up irrespective of badges on bonnets—any Outfit who keeps cars moving is a public benefactor. Anyhow, the custom of leaving Public duties to private' philanthropy—a sort of voluntary selective taxation—is a venerable Uritish institution, vide the life-boat service, the NSPCC, cancer research, etc. etc. And in these eases the people who pay are not the chief bene- ficiaries.

However, the AA could well take note of sonic specific suggestions of ways in which they could provide more services strictly for members, such as providing car parks for use by members only —and not only in London. Keeping a closer watch on traffic wardens? 'A few special officers to keep an eye on the wardens might help to reduce the patent unfairness of many convic- tions.' Why aren't the free booklets, maps, etc., more easily available to members? 'One can only find out about the existence of these when they are announced by a motoring correspondent. I have written to Fanum House about this, but the excuse is that it would be too expensive to inform members. Surely, though, a list of such brochures could be included with the Handbook or with the subscription reminder, a useful extra incentive to renew?'

Readers are particularly scathing about the AA's classification of hotels abroad. 'Anyone who uses AA hotels on the Continent needs his head examining.' A two-star hotel in France was found to be 'dirty, the service non est and the breakfast uneatable.' In Germany the AA's 'two stars are on a par with four stars elsewhere.' Another reader claims that the AA- backs the hotelkeeper against the AA member. 'In France, Germany, Italy and Spain official organisations insist that hotel charges should not exceed those published. But not the AA.' Hotel classification in Britain is thought no better—and the need is greater. 'There are many hotels that have pre- ferred not to receive the blessing of the AA.'

I am sending a copy of this issue -of the

Spectator to Lord Brentwood, chairman of the AA, in the hope that he will make use of our correspondence columns to reply to the points made by reader-members.

It's a long time since I gave up thinking of Woolworth's as the store where you bought a large variety of useful odds and ends for six- pence or a shilling. Indeed, it's a long time since Woolworth's gave up thinking of themselves that way.

I'm indebted to the Glasgow Consumer Group for showing just how much Woolworth's has changed. In the latest issue of their magazine (you can get it from Mrs. Joyce Hopwood, 46 Manchester Drive, Glasgow, W2) the group re- ports on a survey, of twenty-two items bought on the same day in fifteen Woolworth's branches in and around Glasgow. They found that prices varied enormously from one branch to another —the article is called 'The Multiple Store with Multiple Prices'—and were saddened and dis- appointed because 'the name has always been synonymous with variety and economy.'

.Among the twenty-two items, a teapot varied from Ss. 6d. to .6s.• 6d., an egg cup from 4d. to 7d., a yard of flex from 5d. to 8d., a baby's bib from 9d. to Is.. 3d., a tin-opener from Is. 9d. to 2s. 3d. and—a 100 per cent increase—salt cellars from 5d. to 10d. Not surprisingly, they also found that a 4-oz. tin of Nescafe varied from 4s. 3d. to .5s. 2d.—and all were marked `6d, off!' .

The Glasgow Group concludes: 'To the best pf our knowledge multiples like Boots and Marks and Spencer maintain stanclard prices. We see no, reason why Woolworth's, who must of necessity. buy enormous quantities of stock at a should not do likewise.' I shall be as interested as the group to hear what Woolworth's have to say.