A Government imposed increase of six shillings a ton on the price of coal produced a protest at an emergency meeting of Luton Chamber of Commerce, with concerns over the knock-on effect of the increase on other goods and on unemployment.
Its resolution, reported the Beds & Herts Tuesday Telegraph (July 15th, 1919), read: “that this Chamber protests against the increase of 6s a ton in the cost of coal, as involving a definite increase in the cost of the production of power, which will involve the closing down of important local works which are very large users of power, with consequent widespread unemployment; whilst it must further damage the prospects of our overseas trade, already seriously jeopardised.” The resolution was passed unanimously.
The situation was discussed from many points of view and at considerable length. The President (Mr C. P. Wood) reviewed the course of the mining industry during the war, and said that up till now there was no real sign of the resettlement of those concerned, with a corresponding return to something like pre-war output. His main point in reference to the position was that even the present increase could not with any confidence be said to represent finality.
Cheap coal and a plentiful supply were essential in this country, both for te comfort of the community and the trade of the nation; whilst a scarcity of fuel and high prices would be an absolute blow to national industry.
The situation was rendered more serious, seeing that the present increase came at a period when it was necessary to strain every nerve if this country was to secure its due share of international trade, for it must have a disastrous effect upon industry in general, and upon the mining, iron and cotton undertakings in particular.
The one thing which might have made possible large increases in wages and reduction of working hours was an enhanced output, and that had certainly not been apparent. So far as the Coal Commission was concerned, Mr Wood expressed the opinion that the interests of the consumer were not properly presented.
Mr Higgins (Vice President) said there could be no two opinions as to the disastrous effect of this further increase upon the trade and comfort of every individual. The point which had to be faced, however, was that increased wages and shortened hours could not be granted unless they were paid for. They had been granted in the coal industry and now the bill had to be met.
The urgent question, in his view, was whether this extra cost should be charged to the consumer or met from revenue in the form of a subsidy.
Alderman Wilkinson said he would, in the circumstances, be guilty of no breach of confidence if he informed the Chamber that a very important local undertaking, a large customer of the borough electricity works, was considering the advisability of temporarily closing down until matters became more stable. That was a most serious position, and one which had to be faced.
It was, of course, quite obvious, the speaker added, that the charges for power must be substantially raised.
A Telegraph representative who contacted Vauxhall Motors was told it was difficult to express a definite opinion to which the increased price of coal would affect the firm, but it would have an effect on the price of articles turned out, beyond question.
The Davis Gas Stove Co Ltd said the coal price increase would affect the firm very seriously indeed. It would put the price of iron up by £1 a ton, and also steel which was used in large quantity. Foundry coke would also be increased in price, as would also the various components bought and used from outside.
“It will hit us very hard indeed in two ways, because the consumer will have to pay more more his gas and more for his stoves. The result of that will be that the consumer will probably go without his gas stove. It may thus affect the question of employment.”
Messrs Vyse, Sons & Co Ltd: “This increase in the price of coal will, of necessity, affect the price of gas and electricity, which are the two factors mostly concerned in the manufacture of hats.”
Mr Stewart Hubbard: “The increased cost of coal will have a very serious effect upon the bleaching and dyeing industry – particularly in the case of those firms at present doing a large export trade. The fact that on the Continent the enormous increase in wages, coal etc does not obtain to the extent in which it does in this country will render the position of an exporting bleacher and dyer very difficult. For myself, an extra 6s a ton on coal alone will mean an additional expenditure of £1,200 a year.”