Separation from Royal Mail brought a huge challenge for Gillian Joyce as she took on responsibility for the Post Office fleet, she tells Stephen Briers
Few fleet managers will ever go through the complexity of disentangling their business operations from that of a much larger parent company, but that was the situation facing Gillian Joyce when Post Office separated from Royal Mail in April 2012.
Joyce was well placed to take on the monumental task – she has been with Post Office since leaving school at 16 and progressed through the ranks, working first behind a Post Office counter and then with the cash-in-transit team in an operational role before being appointed fleet manager seven years ago.
However, the scope of her fleet responsibilities was restricted: Post Office relied heavily on Royal Mail for a number of its services, including vehicle maintenance and the provision of fuel.
“Because of our links with Royal Mail, responsibility in part lay with them,” Joyce says. “Separation has brought a wealth of additional responsibility – in essence, full accountability of everything that is related to the vehicle.”
The journey to independence has taken 18 months to complete and was a collaborative effort between the entire fleet team, supported by colleagues across Post Office. The business now operates a fleet of 420 commercial vehicles, of which around half are vans up to 3.5 tonnes, and 670 leased company cars.
Royal Mail effectively acted as Post Office’s fleet maintenance provider so one of Joyce’s first tasks was to go out to tender. BT Fleet won the contract, which came into force at the end of 2013, three months ahead of schedule.
“This has been a big change,” Joyce says. “With Royal Mail it was an internal relationship; in many depots we had workshops on-site. Now we have a commercial relationship: BT Fleet provides us with a service in line with our contracted specification, but we do have to get used to the fact that we are now one of a number of customers.”
The new regime has required a change in culture from the bottom up, not least in controlling scheduling for maintenance work.
Joyce is fostering relationships at a local level by encouraging Post Office’s unit managers and BT Fleet’s workshop managers to work together to create the best solutions for their individual needs, including a commitment to finding cost savings.
It’s a vital part of ensuring fleet downtime is minimised: the Post Office fleet, which also includes 40 mobile branch vehicles, serves 11,500 post offices and rural communities across the UK.
“If we don’t get the right service it potentially means we are unable to provide an essential service to the communities in which Post Office serves,” Joyce explains.
The new culture of working in a commercial environment has been the biggest challenge for the depots but Joyce is endeavouring to ensure staff understand the decisions which have been taken for the wider benefit of the business.
“Separation has been delivered to time, with minor issues encountered, but we won’t know how successful it has been for another 12 months, when we analyse the management information in detail,” she says.
Top of her KPIs are recurring faults, fuel spend, misfuelling, lifecycle maintenance costs and compliance.
The latter is something on which Joyce has been concentrating for the past four years; data benchmarked via Freight Transport Association (FTA) shows Post Office is performing above average for the sector.
One of the changes to have the biggest impact was the appointment of a fleet auditor who visits every depot once a year.
“They look at the required fleet processes – i.e. what we have to get right to meet our transport obligations – and, where required, agree an action plan with the depot to ensure continuous improvement,” Joyce says. “The depots understand how important it is and work extremely hard to meet the stringent elements of the audit scope.”
Another initiative which will be ramping up in the months ahead is gate audits for daily defect checks to further safeguard the company and drivers against roadside checks by Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (formerly VOSA).
Complementing the auditor is a points-based driver assessment system created with the support of FTA and the unions. It is based on driver infringements, from speeding to vehicle faults.
Since the launch of the system three years ago, infringements have fallen by 85%. Key to its success has been education and work-time learning sessions introduced to support the driver and, importantly, to improve compliance. Joyce points to the importance of providing all drivers with robust vehicle training, regardless of whether they drive heavy or light vehicles. They all go through driver CPC (Certificate of Professional Competence) because Post Office wants them to have the same level of training.
“It is essential that we invest in our people,” Joyce adds. “We promote the fact that everyone operates under the ‘O’ licence even if they are not in an ‘O’-licence vehicle.”
This also allows for flexibility across the diverse range of vehicles within the fleet and is helping Post Office to prepare for an evolution of its fleet profile, as it downsizes from 7.5-tonne vehicles to 5.0-tonne and upsizes from 3.5-tonne to 5.0-tonne, to better meet its operational and customer needs.
“Some of our 3.5-tonne drivers will drive heavier vehicles over the coming months and we want them to be ready for change,” says Joyce.
In-house workshops are not the only adjustment that Post Office has had to get used to following its independence; it is now responsible for fuel, which means fewer bunkered sites.
“We have six bunkered sites in Post Office, whereas before we were also able to utilise all of Royal Mail’s facilities. Now we have to use some forecourt fuel, which is quite a change for us. But it does mean we have tighter control of our fuel spend, right down to individual vehicles,” Joyce says.
“We have set up two accounts - one for bulk, one for forecourt – so we can measure the draw of fuel by vehicle. The management information is now starting to come together and we expect to bring down costs by benchmarking our 23 depots and vehicle types to identify excess spend, taking remedial action to improve fuel efficiency.”
Monitoring fuel usage links to driver behaviour such as harsh braking and speeding, which will also have an impact on vehicle wear and tear.
Joyce is currently trialling telematics on two vehicles with a view to rolling it out across the fleet should the financial case justify the investment. She has also started to implement CCTV on all new vehicles, with the dual purpose of offering security for the cash-in-transit business and protecting drivers in road accidents and against ‘crash-for-cash’ scams.
“In some instances it has shown that our driver was the innocent party, which is great news,” she says.
As part of the safety strategy, reversing sensors and wing mirror sensors are being fitted to all new vehicles. To date, around half the fleet has them installed.
“When we introduce something new we usually approach it on a trial basis and work with the depot, drivers and unions to get their input at an early stage,” says Joyce. “We do step checks throughout the projects to ensure that everyone is on board for the change and that we are benefiting from the investment.”
Although it has faced a number of challenges, Post Office is now clearly benefiting from managing its own destiny as an independent transport company.
“At times it is difficult to make headway on new initiatives and innovations when you are part of a huge organisation such as Royal Mail,” Joyce says. “Now we can influence change within our business more readily and own the relationship with all of our suppliers.”
She adds: “The journey to independence is complete but the adventure is only just beginning for Post Office.”