An increasing number of companies are looking for an alternative to the company car and are offering their company drivers a cash option.
There is growing demand for employee car ownership schemes, which offer the equivalent of a company car, but pass ownership to the employee, so there is no company car tax bill.
Delegates at the conference heard from David Weeks, head of communication at quarrying and construction materials business Hanson, which replaced its 1,000-strong fleet with a structured employee car ownership scheme in 2001.
Weeks, speaking as part of the 'Cash in Hand' session sponsored by Mazda Business Partner, outlined the difficulties the company faced when launching the scheme.
He said: 'We have gone through a lot of pain but we now have a scheme that everybody is happy with – I don't think anyone would want to go back to the old system. There were pitfalls along the way and we found that face-to-face contact with drivers is essential. At the beginning it was far too much for them to absorb and they wondered whether they were getting ripped off.'
Weeks admitted the company rethought certain aspects of its proposed scheme to ensure drivers were content with the final system and actually benefited from it. A benchmark car is set for each grade of employee and they take on the car through a personal contract plan (PCP).
At the time the scheme was introduced, drivers could provide their own vehicle or buy their existing company car. The fully-funded PCP offered by Hanson includes maintenance, insurance and road tax.
The company also phased out the provision of free private fuel, because it wasn't a benefit to most employees, as the tax they paid was more than the value of the fuel they used.
Weeks said fleets should remember the three i's when implementing such an alternative scheme: 'include, involve, inform.'
'Test out your ideas,' he added. 'Hold focus groups and employee workshops.'
Fleets should also never assume that everyone is the same nor underestimate the importance of cars, he said.
Asked whether the company had made any savings since launching the scheme, Weeks replied that predicted savings had not yet been realised and it was currently at break-even.