- Scottish Gas Board
The Scottish Gas Board was a state-owned utility providing gas for light and heat to industries and homes in
Scotland. The Board was established on May 1, 1949, and dissolved in 1973when it became a Region of the British Gas Corporation.
First-hand account of the problems of nationalising part of the British gas industry.
The first Chairman of the Board was
Sir Andrew Clowwho established the headquarters at 25 Drumsheugh Gardens and 12 Rothesay Terrace Edinburgh. He served until 30 April 1956. In the last of his quarterly letters to his senior management, he reflected on the experience of centralising the control of over two hundred independent undertakings. What follows is abstracted from that letter and includes remarks by way of explanation.
Functions of gas undertakings
Each undertaking performed the functions of coal gas production and distribution through underground pipes to domestic, commercial and industrial customers, sales promotion, finance, etc. Some works were too small to remain viable and one at
Wigtonwas closed. Studies were conducted to establish whether previously rival works could be integrated, both managerially and physically by linking their distribution systems.
Ownership of Scottish gas undertakings
Most of the larger gas undertakings had been owned by local authorities and employed many expert and talented engineers. However the same authorities were also owners of
electricity generating and supplycompanies (the main rivals of the gas industry). The local authorities had felt no need to promote competition.
World War IIthere was a chronic shortage of pipes (for mains replacement and extension to new customers), and other materials. Most gas pipes were made of cast iron and often leaked at the joints. Actual 'unaccounted for gas' (loss through leakage and other losses) was estimated as being as much as 25%. Refurbishment and replacement of pipes was a priority for safety reasons. Little preventive work was carried out; distribution engineering was usually initiated by the detection of a leak.
Many gas works had not been adequately maintained, the price of
coaland of coke oven gaswas rising, contractors were in short supply and the Scottish rating systemat that time was such that 'profits might prove as damaging as losses'.
Regarding gas tariffs, the Chairman wrote 'we must keep the allocation of charges between customers fairly close to our estimate of their individual costs and we do not have the freedom of private companies to discriminate between customers whose conditions are similar'. This was a reference to the notion that pricing of state owned produce should reflect cost as accurately as possible. This was in very sharp contrast to the free market concpet of charging 'what the traffic will bear' i.e. the highest price that still enables sufficient competitive advantage to retain that customer.
Losing market share
Gas was losing share of the industrial market in Scotland because of falling oil prices. One of the largest refinery sites in the country was located almost at the centre of the industrial belt.
Domestic customers were becoming ever more sensitive to the price of gas as electric heating, in various forms, was becoming relatively cheaper.
New house building after the war was on an unprecedented scale on mainly green-field sites beyond the reach of gas mains. Government rules about return on investment often made mains extension impossible. Again gas was losing out to electricity.
While the Chairman was confident about the technical expertise of the staff he had inherited, he recognised that, unlike the previous owners, it was necessary to promote gas sales by 'educational advertisement and display, canvassing and salesmanship' and by making 'more contact with domestic customers, local authorities and various personalities'. The industry had, hitherto, been managed mainly by professional engineers, whose aim was to produce and distribute gas as cheaply as possible, bearing in mind that, in the interest of safety, demand had to be met at all times.
A failure to supply for any reason had dire consequences. Not only might it entail prosecution for breach of statutory responsibilities; restoration of supply required, and still requires, every home to be visited too ensure that all gas taps are turned off, including the main supply to the premises; then the pipes have to be purged to ensure that any explosive mixture of gas and air is removed before the main is put under pressure again; finally, every household had to be visited again so that the supply is restored safely.
Consequently, the engineer manager was more concerned about ensuring continuity of supply and with balancing supply with demand on an hourly basis. The notion that in addition to performing tis delicate task, he would have to go out and 'sell' gas by making personal contact with potential customers was a strange idea indeed.
The Chairman admitted that 'the great amount of work that re-organisation has involved has also had some effect, especially in the bigger places, in leaving Managers too little time to move around and to have frequent and close contact with others at work, whether they are stokers or typists, or mainlayers or meter readers in whatever capacity they serve'. Customer contact not mentioned.
The Chairman remarked on the good relations the Board had with the trade unions and, although he welcomed increasing wages, he deplored the fact that wage negotiations were conducted at national level (by the
Gas Council) and that wage awards were 'above what the cost of living and our (Scottish) position justified'.
He regretted that he had to mark his going with a rise in gas prices mainly due to this (recent wage award).'
The Chairman concluded his account by remarking that '... a first class plant, first class gas and coke, a first class office and showroom, a first class financial system are all admirable. But these and many more gadgets in the machine will be of little value unless those using them add to their professional competence a sense of vocation and an anxiety to brighten up what Wordsworth calls 'the still, sad music of humanity'.
Undertakings in Scotland vested at nationalisation
The Board took over the following local authority and privately owned gas production and supply utilities:
AberdeenCorporation (County of the City of Aberdeen)
*The Aberfeldy Gas Light Company
*Aberlady and Gullane Gas Company
*Alyth Gas Light Company
*The Annan Gas Company
*The Armadale Gas Company
*Auchinleck Gas Light Company
*Auchterarder Gas Light Company
*Auchtermuchty Gas Company
*Ayr Gas Company
*Ayton Gas Company
*Banchory Gas Light Company
*Banff and Macduff District Gas Company
*Barrhead Gas Company
*The Bathgate Gas Company
*Beith Gas Light Company
*The Biggar Gas Company
*Blairgowrie Gas Light Company
*Bo'ness Gas Light Company
*The Brechin Gas Company
*Bridge of Weir Gas Company
*Broxburn Gas Company
*Buckhaven and Leven Gas Commissioners
*The Buckie Gas Light Company
*Busby and District Gas Company
*Callander Gas Company
*Cardenden Gas Company
*The Carluke Gas Company
*Castle-Douglas Gas Company
*Catrine Gas Company
Coatbridge BurghGas Company
*Coldstream Gas Company
*Coltness Iron Company
*F. B. Keillor (trading as Comrie Gas Light Company)
*Coupar Angus Gas Company
Cove and Kilcreggan BurghCorporation
*Cowdenbeath Gas Company
*Crieff Gas-Light Company
*Cullen District Gas Company
*Cumnock Gas Company
*Cupar Gas Company
*Dalbeattie Gas Light Company
*Dalkeith Gas Light Company
*Dalry Gas Light Company
Denny and Dunipace BurghCorporation
*Dollar Gas Company
*Dunblane Gas Company
DundeeCorporation (County of the City of Dundee)
*Dunlop Gas Light Company
*Dunning Gas Company
*Duns Gas Company
*Earlston Gas Company
*East Linton Gas Light Company
EdinburghCorporation (County of the City of Edinburgh)
*Eyemouth Gas Company
*Falkland Gas Undertaker
*Fauldhouse Gas Company
*Forres Gas Light Company
*Galashiels Gas Company
*Galston Gas Company
*The Girvan Gas Company
GlasgowCorporation (County of the City of Glasgow)
*The Gorebridge Gas Light Company
*Haddington Gas Company
*Hawick Gas Company Ltd.
*The Huntly Gas Company
*Innerleithen Gas Light Company
*The Inverkeithing Gas Light Company
*Inverurie Gas Company
*The Irvine & District Gas Company
*Jedburgh Gas Company
*Keith Gas Company
*The Kelso Gas Company
*Kelty Gas Company
*The Kennoway and Largo Gas Company
*Kettle and District Gas Company
*The Kilmacolm Gas Company
*Kilwinning Gas Company
*Kinghorn Gas-Light Company
*Kinross and Milnathorf Gas Light Company
*Kirkconnel Gas Company
*The Kirriemuir Gas Company
*W. & J. Knox Limited
Lanarkshire County Council
*The Langholm Gas and Electricity Supply Company
*Lasswade and Bonnyrigg Gas Light Company
*W. Watson (trading as Lauder Gas Company)
*Laurencekirk Lighting Society Limited
*The Lerwick Gas Company
*Leslie Gas Company
*The Lesmahagow Gas Light Company
*The Linlithgow Gas Company
*Loanhead Gas Company
*Lochgelly Gas Company
*Lochwinnoch Gas Light Company
*The Markinch Gas Light Company
*The Maybole Gas Light Company
*Melrose Gas Company
*Moffat Gas Light Company
*Montrose Gas Company
Motherwell and Wishaw BurghCorporation
*Muirkirk Gas-Light Company
*Musselburgh Gas Company
*The Nairn Gas Light Company
*The Neilston Gas Light Company
*Newburgh Gas Company
*The New Cumnock Gas Company
Newmilns and Greenholm BurghCorporation
*Newton-on-Ayr Gas Company
*The Newton-Stewart Gas Company
North Berwick BurghCorporation
*Oban & District Gas Company
*Penicuik and District Gas Company
*Pitlochry New Gas Light Company
*Polmont District Gas Company
Port Glasgow BurghCorporation
*The Prestonpans and District Gas Company
*St Andrews Gas Company
*The Saltcoats Gas Company
*Selkirk Gas Company
*The Skelmorlie and Wemyss Bay Gas and Electric Supply Company
*The Stane and Dykehead Gas Company
*The Stevenston Gas Company
*The Stewarton Gas Company
*Stirling Gas Light Company
*The Stonehaven Gas Company
*Stornoway Gas Light Company
*Stranraer Gas Company
*The Strathaven Gas Company
*The Strathmiglo Gas Company
*The Thurso and North of Scotland Gas Corporation
*Tranent Gas Company
*The Turriff Gas Company
*Vale of Leven Gas Company
*The trustees of the late R. G. E. Wemyss
*West Calder Gas Company
*West Kilbride Gas Light Company
*Wick Gas Company
*The Gas (Allocation of Undertakings to Area Boards and Gas Council) Order, 1949 (1949 No. 742)
*Letter from Sir Andrew Clow to senior managers on his retirement 28 April 1956.
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