A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

118 119 2 122 5


No. 43. 12th April 1943



The purpose of this note is to indicate the scale of the reduction in domestic consumption of fuel, particularly coal, in the first half of this winter, and the part played by publicity in achieving it.

Since only total figures of merchants' disposals of coal, and of the consumption of coal by gas and electricity public utility undertakings, are available, the figures should be treated only as a general indication of the effectiveness of publicity.

Industrial consumption of fuel is excluded because publicity about this was on a very small scale up to the end of 1942.

I. The decrease in deliveries and consumption

1. The decrease in domestic coal deliveries

(Only figures of merchants' disposals are available. In addition to these domestic consumption includes certain other deliveries, but these form a relatively small part of the total).

Merchants' deliveries of house coal, anthracite and other coal to all classes of domestic consumers fell from 19,208,600 tons in the six months ending 31st December 1941 to 17,840,900 tons in the corresponding period of 1942. This was a decrease of 1,367,700 tons or slightly over 7 per cent. The rate of decrease was rather greater in the last quarter of 1942 when deliveries fell by 820,800 tons, or just over 8 per cent.

The figures available suggest that deliveries to household premises are likely to have decreased to a still greater extent. Merchants' deliveries of house coal to domestic premises, hotels, schools etc. in the six months ending 31st December 1942 were about 15,860,000 tons. Although the actual figures for 1941 are not known, it is estimated that these deliveries in the corresponding period of that year were approximately 17,640,000 tons. On this basis, the decrease is about 1,780,000 tons or just over 10 per cent. This does not take account of deliveries of anthracite and boiler coal to domestic consumers but these are only a small proportion of the total and the greater part of them probably go to hotels, schools, etc. rather than to households.

The decrease in deliveries of house coal was much greater in December than in the preceding months, as the following table shows:

Merchants' deliveries of house coal to domestic premises, hotels, schools, etc. July to December 1941 and 1942 .

Month 1941 (estimates) 1942 Estimated decrease in 1942
Thousand tons Per cent.
July 2785.4 2668.1 117.3 4.2
August 2777.8 2470.6 307.2 11.1
September 2780.7 2493.3 287.4 10.3
October 2949.7 2710.1 239.6 8.1.
November 3016.7 2723.6 293.1 9.7
December 3331.1 2794.1 537.0 16.1

2. The decrease in domestic coal consumption

There is some indication that the decrease in domestic consumption of coal in the first part of winter 1942 compared with the corresponding period last winter may have been somewhat greater than the decrease in deliveries in these two periods.

Investigations carried out by the Wartime Social Survey at the end of September and the early part of December 1942 showed that the average coal stock in the households covered by the enquiries was 7.9 cwt. at the first date and 8.7 cwt. at the later date. If it is assumed that these average amounts are representative of the country as a whole, and that this contains altogether 12,000,000 households, then the total stocks of domestic coal increased from 4,740,000 to 5,220,000 tons, or by 480,000 tons, in the intervening period. Although no details are available of household coal stocks in 1941, it appears that the increase of 480,000 tons between September and December 1942 may have been greater than the increase in the corresponding period of 1941, because: (a) The total stock in December 1942 is large - it aggregates some eight weeks' deliveries of house coal to domestic premises, hotels, schools etc. at the November 1942 rate of delivery. It seems unlikely that in a more normal year household stocks would amount to two months' deliveries at this stage of winter. The comparatively large merchants' deliveries of coal in the first three months of 1942 - they aggregated 11,257,000 tons compared with 10,852,000 tons in the corresponding period of 1941 - do not suggest the existence of very large stocks at the end of 1941. (b) The comparatively large increase in stocks between September and December 1942 took place after a period when people had been encouraged to build up their coal stocks, and during a time when merchants' deliveries were considerably below those of the previous year. This seems to indicate an unusual endeavour to build up stocks.

It has been estimated above that deliveries of house coal to household premises, hotels, schools etc. fell from about 9,298,000 tons in the three months ending 31st. December 1941 to about 8,228,000 tons in the corresponding period of 1942, a decrease of about 1,070,000 tons, or between 11 and 12 per cent. Assuming that household stocks of coal increased to a somewhat greater extent in the first part of winter 1942 than in the corresponding period of 1941, the decrease in consumption in the same two periods may be placed at between 10 and 15 per cent.

3. Consumption of gas and electricity

The only figures available are of the consumption of coal by gas and electricity public utility undertakings. These cover manufacture for both industrial and domestic consumers. The following table gives the amounts consumed in each quarter of 1941 and 1942, and the increase in 1942 compared with the preceding year.

Coal Consumption by gas and electricity public utility undertakings in each quarter of 1941 and 1942 .

Thousand tons
Quarter ending Gas Electricity
1941 1942 Increase in 1942 1941 1942 Increase in 1942
Amount Per cent. Amount Per cent.
31st March 5367 5967 600 11.2 5628 6554 926 16.5
30th June 4629 4903 274 5.9 4778 5245 467 9.8
30th September 4247 4509 262 6.2 4449 4830 381 8.6
31st December 5204 5292 88 1.7 5558 5693 135 2.4

While coal consumption in the manufacture of gas and electricity was greater rate of increase was declining throughout the year. It is unlikely that the scale of increase in the needs of industry has declined to the extent shown in the table and part of the decrease may be attributed to a reduction in consumption by domestic consumers.

4. Domestic fuel economy related to total coal production

The total production of coal in Great Britain in the twelve months ending 30th April 1942 was 206,587,000 tons. Merchants' deliveries to all classes of domestic consumer in this period were 40,522,400 tons, and of these deliveries to household premises, hotels, schools, etc. may be put at about 39,800,000 tons.

Actual figures of the coal consumed in the production of gas and electricity for domestic consumption are not available but it may be estimated very approximately at about 12,500,000 tons in the year ending 30th April 1942. On this basis, the domestic consumption of coal, in its raw state and as gas and electricity was about 25 per cent of the country's coal production.

The saving in domestic consumption of raw coal has been indicated above as between 10 and 15 per cent in the last quarter of 1942 compared with the corresponding period of 1941. The saving in gas and electricity is not known but it may be placed very approximately at between 5 and 10 per cent in respect of the same two periods. Assuming that these rates of decrease apply in the aggregate to the whole twelve months ending 30th April 1943, the total saving in domestic consumption of coal in this period may be estimated in round figures at about 6 million tons, or slightly less than 3 per cent of total coal production in Great Britain in the preceding year.

II. Causes of the decrease

1. Government control and publicity

The methods adopted by the Government to curtail domestic consumption of fuel after June 1942 were a mixture of control over its supply and use and publicity about the need to economise in the use of fuel and the means of doing this.

So far as domestic consumption is concerned, the principal means of control was a reduction in the supplies allotted to distributors. Deliveries of coal to producers of gas and electricity were cut by 7½ per cent in the summer of 1942 compared with deliveries in the immediately preceding months, and deliveries to merchants distributing raw coal in the twelve months ending 30th April 1943 were planned at 4 million tons less in respect of domestic consumption than in the previous twelve months, a reduction of about 10 per cent. In the case of coal, the overall restriction on supplies was supplemented by particular restrictions on deliveries to certain classes of consumer. These were intended to secure a fair distribution of the reduced total deliveries. Particular restrictions of this kind were not possible with gas and electricity, although the system of charging lower prices for consumption above certain levels was abolished.

The control over supplies of fuel was accompanied by widespread publicity through press, radio, films, exhibitions and posters. This emphasised the urgent need to economise in the use of fuel, and illustrated the means by which this could be achieved. In the latter respect it may be regarded as an essential accompaniment of restrictions in deliveries, and in addition, as having helped to provide the psychological background against which these restricted deliveries could more easily operate.

2. Increase in the price of coal

Following the Greene Award which resulted in wage increases for coal mining workers, there was a general increase in the price of coal of 3s. per ton and 2d. per cwt, on 3rd July, 1942.

It is probably that this had the effect of reducing purchases of coal, although it is not possible to say to what extent. The fact however that the increase in price of about 6 per cent coincided with an enforced restriction in supplies of about 10 per cent suggests that the reduction in consumption due to the rise in price would be principally in the low income groups, and, in the aggregate, not very large.

3. Temperature differences

The average daily temperature at representative places in Great Britain over the whole three months ending 31st December 1942 was 45.17°F compared with 45.26°F for the corresponding period of 1941. In general, therefore, there was very little difference between the two periods. There were differences between individual months. The average for November was slightly lower in 1942, 41.76°F compared with 43.56°F; and that for December slightly higher, 43.48°F compared with 42.16°F.

In the aggregate, however, it appears likely that temperature differences had little if any effect on total domestic fuel consumption in the last three months of 1942 compared with the corresponding period of 1941. It is, of course, probable that the average temperature over the whole of last winter was lower than this winter, but the cold spell last winter occurred after Christmas.

4. Other factors

Many factors besides government control and publicity, and temperature differences, may have affected household fuel supplies and the householder's attitude to them in the first half of winter 1942. One is a difference in the quality of coal supplied to householders. Although it appears likely that this was in general somewhat below the quality in 1941, no actual evidence is available. Other factors may have been e.g. changes in the population of certain areas, and differences in the availability of transport. It is not possible to allow for factors of this kind, but there is no reason to suppose that their effect in the aggregate was sufficiently large to alter appreciably the scale of changes given above in the deliveries and consumption of domestic fuel.

III. The effect of publicity

1. Public criticism of coal shortage

Since publicity acted partly as a psychological accompaniment of compulsory restrictions, some indication of its effect should be given by the volume of criticism and grumbling about shortage of fuel.

Home Intelligence Weekly Reports recorded very little criticism of this kind up to the end of December 1942. No reference was made to reports of complaint or hardship caused by the shortage of fuel in September and October. In November and December such reports were referred to in three weekly reports but in no case by more than four Regions.

2. The decrease in consumption

Since factors other than government control and publicity and the increase in the price of coal, appear to have had comparatively little effect on domestic consumption of fuel during October to December 1942, the estimated decrease of between 10 and 15 per cent in the consumption of coal by domestic household consumers in this period compared with the same months in 1941 may be attributed primarily to these three factors.

It is suggested above that the increase in price, since it coincided with restricted deliveries, principally affected purchases by low income households, and that the aggregate reduction in consumption on this account may not have been very large. The restriction scheme in itself imposed a reduction in deliveries of about 10 per cent. Down to this level publicity helped consumers to accept without complaint and with a minimum of inconvenience the lower quantities available. Since the decrease in consumption appears to have been somewhat greater than the decrease in deliveries, it seems probable that publicity has had some direct effect in securing economies, apart from its indirect effect in aiding the system of control.

IV. Future Publicity

1. The fact that coal deliveries to domestic consumers in December were slightly greater than in November, and the continuance of relatively high temperatures since early December, suggest that household coal stocks may have been maintained in the aggregate at the comparatively high level obtaining then. This is partly confirmed by the relatively small decrease in merchants' stocks of coal since the end of November. These fell by only 135,000 tons between then and the end of January this year, compared with a fall of 480,000 tons in the corresponding period last year. The maintenance of stocks in this manner may result in a lessening of effort to achieve economies in fuel consumption, and it may be well (a) to continue to stress in publicity the continued urgent need for economy (b) to emphasise that any stocks available will be required to meet urgent needs next winter.

2. Although the evidence is not conclusive, the figures available suggest that domestic saving in gas and electricity has been appreciably less than in the consumption of coal. One reason for this may have been the increase in the price of coal, which would tend to divert a part of consumption to alternative forms of fuel. It is probable also that during the earlier part of the winter there was a tendency for some domestic consumers to use gas and electricity to save their supplies of solid fuel for what are generally the colder months of January to March.

These two factors, however, do not seem to account for the whole of the difference in saving between the two forms of fuel, and it may be advisable to consider whether future publicity should not stress the need to economise in the use of gas and electricity to a greater extent than has so far been the case, although it should be remembered that the coal used in domestic consumption of gas and electricity is less than 25 per cent of the total domestic coal consumption.

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