Van fleet operators have a clear choice: agree to self-regulate and retain an element of control, or allow the Government free rein to lay out the regulatory framework for higher standards.
Anyone in doubt about the threat of legislation should heed the words of AAH Pharmaceuticals head of corporate services Geoff Wright: “It is a distinct possibility that legislation similar to that in place for HGVs could be implemented for vans.
"If we don’t regulate then it will be regulated for us – and that might be in a way that is not economically sustainable or operationally viable for a lot of companies.
"As an industry we need to have self-regulation.”
Last year the industry and its trade body acted. It led to the creation of the Freight Transport Association’s Van Excellence programme, with support and guidance of a group of 32 leading van operators.
Four months ago, one of those operators, AAH, became the first company to achieve accreditation.
The initial FTA audit looked at AAH’s systems and processes, from vehicle (such as SMR, replacement, tyre maintenance, inspections, defect reporting) to driver (including training, management, licence checks).
No procedures needed to change; Van Excellence effectively ratified AAH’s current fleet policies.
Instead the FTA took away elements of AAH’s methods of operation to incorporate into the accreditation process, including how the company manages its KPIs, such as vehicle off-road time and tyre damage, and feeds the findings back to its workforce.
A glowing endorsement from the FTA would be enough for most fleets; not so AAH.
It decided to go one step further by carrying out north and south audits and bringing its transport managers into the process to guarantee total buy-in from them and their drivers.
Management was engaged first, then branch management, then the transport managers.
A communication plan explained the role of Van Excellence to the drivers, why it is important and their role in it as ambassadors for the company.
Weekly briefings ensured they understood the challenge and what it meant.
It worked. The cultural shift within the branches occurred quickly and the drivers are proud of the Van Excellence achievements, particularly now they have the stickers on their vans.
However, Wright stresses that breaking the audit down to regional or branch level isn’t for everyone. AAH, thanks to the experiences of its truck fleet and ISO9001 accreditation, has a head start over some of its peers.
Rather, he believes the basic Van Excellence audit will be sufficient to raise standards and improve fleet operators’ businesses.
“The idea is to have a level of regulation that means something as a standard, but which is also achievable by smaller fleets,” he says.
“It’s about people signing up. We want other operators to do something about safety, legality and the environment.
"If they do, they will have a more economical fleet and we will create an environment where vans are seen in a far more positive light.”
The biggest challenge most fleets, particularly the smaller ones, will face on the road to Van Excellence will be administration – keeping records up to date, accurate reporting, meeting servicing requirements and addressing defects.
The biggest benefit will come from the driver perspective, encouraging them to drive correctly.
"Improving fuel consumption by just one or two miles per gallon will make a significant impact to the bottom line and also the environment, no matter how many vans are on the fleet, according to Wright.
He adds: “Van Excellence should be viewed as a benefit to the operator, not an overly arduous control mechanism. If you do it right, it will save you money.”