Management of resources in WWI
Many Liberals, wedded to the ideas of free trade and individualism, found it difficult to come to terms with the deliberate state intervention that was essential during total war. Ideas about a free market had to be put to one side, and it seemed to many that the ideals for which they had been arguing for most of their political life had suddenly become worthless.
The government had potentially draconian powers to control the production and distribution of raw materials and manufactured goods. However, it rarely had to use them. In theory, the government was able to requisition whatever it wanted. However, the Ministry of Munitions was staffed at the top levels of businessmen, recruited by Lloyd George and loaned by their companies for the length of the war. These men were able to coordinate the needs of big business with those of the state and reach a compromise on price and profit that was acceptable to both sides. In addition, government agents bought essential supplies from abroad. Once bought, their distribution had to be controlled in order to prevent speculative price rises and to enable normal marketing to continue. The whole of the Indian jute crop, for example, was bought and distributed in this way. Steel, wool, leather and flax soon came under similar controls.
The supply of coal was essential to the maintenance of Britain's industry and so to the war effort. Yet this supply was compromised in the early days of the war by the vast numbers of miners who volunteered for the armed forces. Production fell and prices soared. The situation in the South Wales coalfield was additionally complicated by a bitter coal strike in July 1915. Various proposals for State control of the coal mines was stalled by the government, partly because the Liberal Party was heavily dependent on contributions from coal owners to its party funds. However, by the beginning of December 1916, DORA had been extended to cover the South Wales mines and a coal controller appointed in February 1917. Mines remained in private ownership throughout the war, but their profits were fixed at 1913 levels and pay negotiation on national, rather than local, levels were permitted. Any surplus profits went to the Treasury, where they were kept and used to make up any falling profits in individual mines to 1913 levels.
For most of the war, most of the people in Britain had enough to eat. There may not have been choice and there were certainly shortages, but no one faced starvation. Intensified submarine warfare in the autumn of 1916 stopped necessary supplies getting through to Britain and shortages became serious the following spring. Not only had the civilians population had to be fed, but so had the armed forces abroad. By April, Britain had only four day's supply of sugar and nine weeks' supply of wheat left. People hoarded food and prices rocketed. Lloyd George acted…