16 JULY 1948, Page 1

Coal Without Profit Whcn an industry as big and as

important as British coal-minini gives, through the National Coal Board, an account of the most important year in its history, then the full significance of the story told will not be assessed in five minutes—except by those who have already made up their minds irrespective of the published facts. The sheer size of the Coal Board's Report and the great detail in which its accounts are presented make snap judgements additionally unsafe. But in addition it is not always easy to gather from the Report when its authors are giving a straightforward account of their work, when they are making excuses, and when they are complaining about the imperfect relations between the Board and the Government. The reader must beware of traps. When he reads that the deficit of £23,250,000 will not be passed on to the taxpayer, he must remember that the consumer of nationalised coal, or of products made with coal, must meet the cost of it in one way or another. If he does not have to subsidise the industry through taxes, then he will certainly have to pay prices high enough to cover the cost of production, and nothing the Coal Board says now can alter it. Again, when the Board claims that the increase in its costs is no higher than the general increase in costs for British industry it is conveniently forgetting that coal costs are an important part of all industrial costs, and that if coal costs were lower then industrial costs as a whole would also be lower. But it would be unfair to suggest that the Report as a whole is dishonest. The accounts are excellent. The complaint that the deficit would have been smaller if the Minister of Fuel had raised prices as much as the Board advised, is just. Moreover, if the price increase was postponed in .order to disguise the fact that what made it necessary was the introduction of the five-day week, then the Government and not the Coal Board must accept the responsibility. The Board must only be blamed for its own shortcomings. Assent to coal nationalisation was general ; it must be given a fair trial, and a fair trial cannot be carried out in one year. But it must be recognised that results in that first year are by commercial standards bad and by social standards doubtful. A private business which lost £23,250,000 in a year, or even paid no dividends and still lost over L9,000,000 on its operations would be bankrupt. A public enterprise which fails to encourage the faith of the public in the miners, or that of the miners in the public, or that of either in the Coal Board as at present organised, has certainly not succeeded yet.