Words Terry Owen
The NCC was formed on 18th May 1939 as the shadow of war hung over Europe. Czechoslovakia had already been occupied and the pressure on Poland was mounting. One of its first tasks was to examine the role that caravans might play if Britain became involved in the conflict. Three key areas were identified – evacuation, operations rooms and emergency medical facilities. In each case mobility was the critical factor. For reasons lost in the mists of time caravans did not end up playing the pivotal wartime role they might have done but the NCC had become firmly established as the trade body for the industry. Fast forward to 1992 and a young John Lally left an ailing aeronautical engineering company to join the NCC in the capacity of Assistant Technical Officer. Over the next few years he rose to the position of Technical Director, becoming also Deputy Director General in 2006. In early 2007 the top job became vacant and the NCC’s board had no hesitation in confirming Lally as their new Director General.
What was going on in the NCC at that time?
John Lally: It was very much a traditional trade body but covering members across four diverse product sectors – touring caravans, motor caravans and camper vans, static mobile homes, and residential park homes. The last one is unique to the UK and sits in the housing sector, not leisure.
What plans did you have to drive the organisation forward?
John Lally: Other trade bodies were struggling to make ends meet and although we weren’t in that situation money was tight. Our income was derived primarily from member subscriptions and when the credit crisis hit I could see the potential for real problems in maintaining the many functions of the organisation. Historically the NCC had been at its strongest during those times when it had run industry exhibitions and promotional campaigns. With the support of the board of directors I charted a new vision for the organisation that would see it become more commercial with new activities supporting the industry and our members. Despite the recession the costs of our exhibitions, which were run by third parties, continued to rise. It wasn’t just the stand prices that were getting prohibitive; the cost of admittance for the public was also an issue. The view at the time, backed by the board, was that the industry should run its own exhibitions. The NCC therefore set up an exhibitions arm, NCC Events, to do just that. It was agreed from the outset that any profits would be reinvested into the industry. NCC Events now oversees two major exhibitions at the NEC in Birmingham each year. The autumn event in October is the showcase one for the industry, covering some 84,000 sqm of floor space. Visitor numbers typically nudge the 100,000 mark over its six public days. Manufacturers use the autumn show to launch new models and have pretty much every variant on display. Suppliers too are there in strength to reassure the public of their commitment. The show is also strongly supported by dealers, all competing to offer the best deals they can to prospective purchasers. The spring show, in February, covers some 68,000 sq m and is more of a lifestyle event. It’s a broader proposition than October, encompassing camping. You’ll see a wide range of camping equipment as well as stands offering good deals to destinations far and wide. Here we try to attract new people into the industry, particularly campers who may wish to progress to a leisure vehicle. The show is also important to leisure vehicle manufacturers in kick-starting sales for the new season. Visitor numbers are around the 87,000 mark.
We understand that the NCC acts as a communication channel between the industry and government and that it has had significant success in tempering proposals to levy full rate VAT on mobile holiday homes?
John Lally: That’s true. In 2012, without warning, the government tabled proposals to levy standard rate VAT on mobile holiday homes, where none had applied previously. The change would have had a profound impact on that sector of our industry and we had to fight it all the way. After an extensive lobbying exercise, enlisting the help of some of the most influential industry leaders and engaging direct with MP’s and Ministers, we arrived at a compromise where the level of VAT would be pegged to just five percent. The agreement was hailed as a major success by the industry and highlights what a good trade body can do.
Wasn’t the NCC also involved with the government over proposals for road worthiness tests for caravans and other light trailers?
John Lally: The European Commission put forward proposals to induce trailer testing (MOT’s) for all trailers. The NCC responded with a robust challenge at both a national and European level regarding the feasibility and benefit of such tests. The proposals would have had a major impact on our Approved Dealers and Workshops with requirements for rolling roads and other expensive test equipment. As far as we know they have now been shelved.
Tell us about the work of the NCC in setting and maintaining safety standards for the habitation elements of Leisure Vehicles and Park Homes.
John Lally: It’s one of our key objectives – indeed we have been involved in this work since 1963. The NCC not only helps to set the standards it also carries out inspections to ensure they are maintained. Electricity, gas and water installations on prototypes and early production models are checked at the factory against a raft of safety standards. Over the years these have progressed from being British standards to European ones and we often hold meetings with our European counterparts to discuss new developments. Once a leisure vehicle has been approved the manufacturer is licensed to display the NCC’s badge of approval on the product.
What’s the future for the NCC?
John Lally: We will continue to do what we have always done and that is to stand up effectively for the interests of our members and for the industry as a whole. Whilst Brexit has not really impacted sales to date it is clear that uncertain times are ahead as we extract ourselves from Europe. The fact that the NCC is now operating on a commercial footing allows us to continue to serve and protect our members for many years to come.