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Fleet NewsNet welcomes correspondence from its users. Email your views to fleetnewsnet@emap.com.

November 26, 2003

We're taken in by the 'slow-down' brigade

Sir – Oh dear, what a lot of twaddle. John Southall writes in Guest Opinion (Fleet NewsNet November 6) about death and despair on the UK's roads, all caused by excessive speed. Sadly, he has been taken in by the 'slow-down brigade' and repeats a range of discredited theories as if they were established facts.
What is a fact is that driver standards are appalling and getting worse. As a result of the vociferous babbling of the anti-speed brigade, the UK has focused on catching speeders and ignored just about everything else.
Hence, we get shock headlines stating that drink-driving is increasing and that prosecutions for dangerous driving are reducing.
It doesn't take a genius to work out that reducing the number of police patrols and pandering to people's whims is bound to fail. Why? Because cameras cannot catch dangerous drivers or drunks.
Speed does not kill. If it did, flying would be much more dangerous than driving, which it isn't. Inappropriate use of speed kills and driving at an inappropriate speed is the result of ignorance.
What we need is a rounded system, starting with appropriate driver training, including cameras at black-spots, but definitely including increased police patrols to advise and inform (and prosecute) when they see examples of dangerous practice. However, as this would cost money and cameras make money, don't expect things to change.

Andrew Wright
Sales director, McKenzie Myers

Position does not reflect true portfolio

Sir – I just wanted to say how much my colleagues and I enjoyed the FN50 dinner recently, with one notable exception.
While we would all accept that the last 12 months have not been the best we can remember, we at DaimlerChrysler Fleet Services Fleet Management were all somewhat surprised to see that our fleet size had dropped by 28,082 units and our ranking by 12 places.
I would like to reassure your readers and our customers that in fact our fleet size is 38,424. Although the figure reported is technically the funded fleet size, it does not reflect our overall funded portfolio.
I look forward to a radical move in the rankings for next year.

Rael Winetroube
Sales director, DaimlerChrysler Fleet Services Fleet Management

We're not yet ready for a federal policy

Sir – Regarding your article 'Delegates believe Britain should join the eurozone' (Fleet NewsNet November 6), Britain can use the euro now. Bank accounts can be in euros, annual accounts can be filed in euros, pricing can be in euros.
What we do not yet wish to do is hand over fiscal policy to the Franco/German-dominated EU and suffer inappropriate interest rates and inflexible labour laws dictated by a flawed 'fit-all' policy.
Ultimately, all seek a single federal fiscal policy but not until the EU ceases to expand into countries that require massive cash injections.
Italy ignores EU laws, France implements them when and where it suits them, but Britain enforces them for various historic reasons. Britain is not yet ready to enforce federal fiscal policy.

David R. Williams
VRS Europe

November 12, 2003

Hands-free phones are equally as dangerous

SIR – The impending legislation outlawing the use of hand-held mobile phones, being implemented on December 1, 2003, has led to some potentially dangerous thinking by some observers and fleet managers.
There is a lot of discussion about what types of phone/in-vehicle installations are exempt and there have been some potentially misleading claims made about the safety of hands-free kits.
Fleet managers should understand the difference between what will be legal after that date and what will be safe.
All the research has shown that it is the phone conversation itself that is the major distraction and the consultation document itself makes it clear that drivers should not use hands-free phones. The only reason that these are being excluded from the legislation is because of enforcement difficulties, an argument that doesn't hold up – if this were true, drink-drivers would never get caught.
The mobile phone and phone records can easily be accessed to prove that a driver was on the phone at the time of an alleged offence or collision.
Direct Line-sponsored research carried out at the TRL showed that a driver using a hands-free phone had slower reactions than a driver just over the drink-drive limit – we all accept that drinking and driving is unacceptable, yet many people seem to be condoning the use of mobile phones while driving, using this new legislation as evidence that it is safe to use a hands-free phone while driving.
Fleet managers should make it very clear to their drivers and their senior managers that using any type of phone, whether it is legal or not, is a high-risk activity. Any company that fails to understand this is not managing the occupational safety of its employees effectively – and as you will have probably read elsewhere recently, the consequences of this are likely to be very severe.

Andy Price
Fleet safety consultant

Service is a word that some have forgotten

SIR –
I would like to echo the comments of Betty Low, speaker at the recent Fleet News Industry Conference (Fleet NewsNet, November 6), in her assertions that while price might win an account, it is service which keeps it. I couldn't agree more. Unfortunately, the trend within our industry at the moment seems to be a move in totally the opposite direction, as illustrated by the results of this year's FN50 analysis, also just announced.
With a total fleet size of 1,359,210 vehicles now managed by the FN50, more than 35% (equivalent to 447,888 vehicles) is attributable to the top four firms.
This phenomenon has been largely due to acquisitions and consolidation within the industry, rather than organic growth. The result is often a negative impact on service levels, not least because there is little consistency in the day-to-day contact provided and relationships do not have time to develop.
As a comparatively small, independent organisation, more and more of the companies we speak to cite the impersonal service and inflexible attitude of some of our larger competitors, often symptomised by automated telephone systems and 'off-the-shelf' solutions, as their motivation for contacting us.
While this might be seen to work to our advantage in many ways, there is a risk that fleet management as a discipline will be tarnished as a result and all providers will be tarred with the same brush.
This must not be allowed to happen – particularly at a time when the fleet- related workload is increasing on what seems to be a weekly basis and regulatory and legislative requirements are putting increasing pressure on fleets.
Companies outsourcing the management of their fleets must be able to rely on proactive support and guidance from their fleet management providers and those of us in a position to do so should be working flat out to ensure they get it.

Stuart Donnelly
Sales director, Goodwood Fleet Management

October 29, 2003

Setting the fleet record straight on motorcycles

Sir – I was concerned to read Stewart Whyte's comments in Helplines regarding motorcycles (see below, October).
The comments made are, I believe, incorrect and out of date. Motorcyclists have for many years reduced their accident rates at a time when more bikes are being used. Training is also of a higher standard.
I would like to see statistics to back the statement 'accident statistics for motorcycles are so much horrendously worse than those for car drivers'.
This implies that you write without knowledge of the true facts, or correct knowledge or experience of current motorcycles and their riders. It appears to be in the same vein that 'all students are a nuisance'.
Motorcycles are not 'dangerous modes of transport': the actual vehicle, be it car, motorbike or push bike, is no more dangerous than any other per se. It is dependent on the rider/driver and their ability/experience.
I do agree with the comment regarding accidents giving the potential for a serious injury. But what concerns me is that you make no mention that safer riding courses are usually freely available and that additional training is also available.
Having owned and used large and small bikes, including Honda Goldwings and currently a high-performance bike, I have found that with insurance arranged by myself to include Class 1 business use I pay less on the 'faster' bike than I did using a specialist insurance on the Goldwing. The value of the vehicles are similar and the ability to accelerate and brake is vastly improved compared to the Goldwing.

Dave Elwin
Premiere Products

Stewart Whyte responds: I happen to study statistics regularly and have a good grasp of the detail of the UK position and a number of international comparators.
The overwhelming weight of the statistics from a number of directions supports my view.
Official statistics clearly show that in time-series (1980, 2000, 2001) in the UK (and in most other countries), KSI (killed and serious injury) figures for motorcycles run at about 33% to 35% the number for cars; yet there are only 1.2 million motorcycles compared to 25 million cars.
The only interpretation of that is that motorcycles are much more dangerous. I cannot see how anyone can argue against that weight of numbers.
Figures from the Department for Transport for 2002 show that motorcycles contribute 18% of the 3,400 fatalities, while cars contribute 51%.
Looking at the 'all RTA' figures, motorcycles still account for 9% and cars 65% of all reported incidents involving injury of any degree. This is well beyond the population representation.
I am, of course, happy to accept that the machines are relatively passive and that the driver (and his/her error rate and expertise) has a huge part to play. But either most riders are incompetent or even good riders face higher risks.
I would not begin to argue with you about your experience. The question was about on-road risk management within the context of the current paranoia over health and safety and duty of care issues.
Finally, I must point out that this response to your message is intended as a personal service to you as an individual reader. The views are my own and clearly Fleet News is not involved in anything beyond the original publication.

VED plan attack

Sir – I write regarding your recent articles on plans for Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) increases for gas-guzzling vehicles (see below, October).
Surely the people who have suggested a much higher VED band for gas-guzzlers realise that if paying tax and duty on fuel at a rate in excess of 80% doesn't put significant numbers of people off buying something doing 20mpg or less, then even doubling the VED will have little or no effect?
This is yet another example of the Government relieving motorists of a few more million pounds in the name of saving the environment.
The reality is that it will probably spend much more money discussing, consulting and changing systems and forms than the Treasury will ever collect from an increased rate of VED.

Gary Davis
Cox & Allen (Kendal) Ltd

Wider figures on car crime

Sir – I am writing regarding your article on thefts from vehicles ('Fleet cars targeted in smash and grab raids' Fleet NewsNet October 23).
While vehicle-related crime remains an issue, I believe that the report and survey you published is scaremongering the fleet manager into believing that instances of car crime are on the increase.
The report indicates that car crime has risen by 20% where in fact the latest published British Crime Survey shows that car crime has fallen by 5%.
Your news story represents a very small sample of the author's own customers and therefore does not provide an accurate assessment in terms of both size and bias.
In contrast, the British Crime Survey is an independently-commissioned and comprehensive report that is taken from a much larger sample of the UK population. Your report also says that 90% of fleet drivers believe that the Government should do more to tackle car crime.
In reality, the Home Office has been working for several years to combat vehicle- related crime and the success of its initiatives is plain to see in the improving statistics featured in the British Crime Survey.

Bill Duffy
Managing director, RAC Auto Windscreens, Chesterfield

Highway hoax no excuse to speed

Sir – I have received a note from one of my drivers claiming the new electronic signs on the M4 are fitted with hi-tech speed cameras.
SPECS is a camera-based system that reads your numberplate at one location then logs the time it takes to reach a destination further down the road, where your numberplate is read again.
If your average speed breaks the speed limit, then you receive a fine. The whole section of the M4 between Theale (junction 12) and Membury Services (between junctions 14 and 15) is wired both ways.
He also claims the system is set to trigger a ticket at 78 mph.

Nigel Rowden
Fleet manager, Thales Group, Weybridge

Ed – The Department for Transport has assured Fleet News this is a hoax. The signs are fitted with CCTV cameras, but they do not have speed cameras on them.
The cameras are used to monitor traffic so that the signs can be updated immediately with important messages – that was the reason they were put up in the first place, the DfT claims.
It adds that use of SPECS cameras is rare, although they are used by local police forces. Please remember this isn't a carte blanche for drivers to break the speed limit on motorways – you never know who is watching.

Sir – I am amused by the indignant correspondents who have been caught with illegal personal numberplates. 'How unfair!' they scream, 'why don't the police catch the real criminals?'
The solution is entirely in your hands – don't drive around with illegal numberplates. Tampering with the layout and typeface of plates is pure vanity and is now so common that it has reached the same level of naffness as nodding dogs and furry dice. So here are three benefits:

  • You will not be wasting police time (about which you bizarrely claim to be concerned)
  • You will become legal
  • You will no longer be seen as a wally.

    Simon Carter
    Purchasing manager, Quantel, Newbury

    October 22, 2003

    Savings will be passed on

    Sir – I refer to the article 'Changes to Block Exemption serve up hidden fleet savings' (Fleet NewsNet, October 9), reporting on how fleets using contract hire may be missing out on significant cost savings on vehicle servicing.
    Graham Rees, business development director of Fleet Logistics, claims that leasing companies are not telling customers about the reduction in servicing costs caused by the recent changes to Block Exemption.
    He states that many leasing companies are keeping these savings to themselves instead of passing them on to their customers.
    Lloyds TSB autolease uses both franchised dealers and independent service providers. We constantly work together with our service network to ensure our mutual customers enjoy enhanced service levels and benefit from any cost reduction and efficiency gains, driven by initiatives such as electronic authorisation and payments. It is really frustrating to read that leasing companies are not sharing benefits with customers. In my opinion, all responsible leasing companies have been carefully monitoring the changes to Block Exemption and the benefits available to their customers and their businesses.
    The British Vehicle and Rental Leasing Association spokesman's comments correctly state that until the new authorised repairers come into being and there is evidence that costs are going to fall, it is too early to reflect such savings in our maintained contracts.
    Please be assured Lloyds TSB autolease will ensure that our current and prospective customers will benefit if these changes do make cost savings and service enhancements possible.

    David Kershaw
    Operations director, Lloyds TSB autolease

    Clarifying regulations on hands-free car phones

    Sir – As a company we are telling all of our staff (and anyone else who cares to listen) that only hands-free phones in fully-fitted car kits are acceptable to us. However, we understand the ruling to be that, as long as the car is moving, any hands-free kit is allowed so long as the phone is in a cradle. The phone is not allowed to be hand-held at all.
    We also understand that anyone making a call holding the phone, whether the car is moving or whether it is stationary with the engine still running, is committing an offence under the new regulations.

    Paul J. Biddulph
    General administration manager, Draeger Medical UK

    No justification for increasing taxes

    Sir – The increase in the new vehicle initial registration fee is exactly how the Government would behave should it ever abolish road tax and commensurately increase the duty on fuel. There would have to be an annual fee for administration/registration, which would then be subject to increases such as we are now seeing. This would obviously continue until all vehicles have been taxed off the road or only used by the Government.

    A.White
    Workshop manager, Eastleigh Borough Council

    Sir – A spokesman for the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency said when announcing the increase in registration fee: 'Following consultation with our customers...' (Fleet NewsNet October 16). What customers? Like we would all pleasantly agree with the DVLA's proposal to increase the new vehicle tax with no solid justification for doing so? I think they must have been referring to one customer – namely Gordon Brown – plus, possibly, a bunch of 70-year-olds. I despair of this Government.

    Stewart Cox
    Divisional purchasing manager Holliday Pigments

    October 15, 2003

    How to get the right car every time

    Sir – I read with interest your recent article on courtesy car warnings to cash-for-car drivers (Fleet NewsNet September 25) and can relate to the potential issues identified in the article.
    Our car policy gives drivers the option of a leased car or cash allowance which is only available if the driver's own car meets the Adult Learning Inspectorate's (ALI) policy criteria including safety. Added to the cash allowance is a contribution towards the driver's car insurance premium for business use.
    The ALI's inspectors have to carry a large amount of IT equipment, personal luggage and colleagues while driving some 25,000-30,000 miles on inspection business and therefore it is critical that the cars provided are suitable and up to the task.
    This in a way becomes self-governing because the provision or use of a 'small' courtesy car is simply not an option for our inspectors on practical grounds. Our inspectors will always request a group D car, but if the repairer or garage cannot provide one, the ALI will supply the driver with a temporary car at least to group D specification.
    Similarly if own-car drivers cannot obtain a suitable temporary car, the ALI will support the driver through its arrangements with the lease car provider with a temporary car. These arrangements ensure that our drivers are always covered by the required level of insurance and continue to use safe cars that are up to the task.

    Graham Hine
    Facilities manager, Adult Learning Inspectorate

    Booked as real villains get away

    Sir – I read with interest, and a huge amount of sympathy, the letter from Steve Hateley on the subject of numberplates (see below).
    Our dealership runs a demonstrator with a numberplate which has a slight modification and I was unfortunate to be on the receiving end of an over-zealous traffic policeman who stopped me early one Saturday.
    After being lectured for some 20 minutes on the misuse of number plates, this officer took delight in informing me it was his 'personal vendetta' to stamp out numberplate abuse and he'd personally stopped more than 200 cars so far this year.
    We have 'fuel drive-offs' almost every day and the police say they are too undermanned to deal with them. Enough said.

    Tim Heneghan-White
    Sales Manager, Haymill

    Insurance is driving factor

    Sir – The greatest driving force behind the forthcoming focus on road risk management seems to have been overlooked at the moment.
    Drawing on experience from the construction and engineering industries, it is becoming increasingly difficult for companies to secure employer's or public liability insurance in those industries.
    The insurers have taken to assessing a company's systems for the management of health and safety as a condition of an insurance offer.
    The simple matter is that without proper management systems in place, insurance will be impossible to obtain.
    Surely it is not likely to be long before fleet insurance is offered under the same principles. Ignore your responsibilities and you may end up with an uninsurable fleet!

    Steve Crapper
    Services manager, ECS Engineering Services, Nottinghamshire

    Safety-conscious firms must invest in equipment

    Sir – To become a proud holder of the new General Manufacturing Passport introduced jointly by the Institution of Occupational Health and Safety (IOSH) and the Safety Pass Alliance (SPA) involves two days of health and safety training. It is predicted that over the next 12 months, 12,000 to 15,000 of these passports will be issued and that they will make every business accountable for the health and safety of those working on or about its premises.
    I agree that when employees get this passport they will be more aware of the health and safety risks in the workplace. However, further measures to reduce accidents and injury can be taken, which will be more effective than merely the passing on of information. Training is important. Accidents will be reduced by training staff to conduct potentially risky tasks in a more safety conscious way. However, investing in workplace equipment, specially designed with health and safety in mind, will reduce the element of risk, or completely remove it, from an operation and will always produce better results.
    If the Government wants to see a reduction in workplace accidents and industry wants to reduce accident-related losses, then investment must be made in both education AND equipment.

    Alan Copley
    General Manager – Operations, Razorback Vehicles, Solihull, West Midlands

    October 8, 2003

    Free fuel: time for action

    Sir – The latest in a long line of unwelcome news (or lack of it) from the Treasury must now prompt fleet professionals to take a proactive stance on the ever increasing financial burdens placed on business (Fuel tax delay will cost fleets millions, Fleet NewsNet September 11).
    Why wait for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to announce yet another hike in cost to business and company car users by increasing tax on free fuel for private mileage? I urge all businesses to look at the private usage of those who receive 'free' fuel for private use.
    The 'benefit', even at the current tax rate, will be negligible to a large proportion of those who are receiving it.
    Clarifying the financial situation with each fleet driver will enable them to make an informed decision as to how better or worse off they are or will be. As a result, the individual may well reduce their tax burden as well as directly helping reduce business costs and (which will give nearly as much pleasure) reduce Treasury income.
    The potential savings are much larger than the cost of any administration required to set a scheme in motion.
    Ideally, fleet managers should react quickly to any changes in tax burdens, however they are disguised, and try to keep track of where the goal posts may be moving next. Be under no illusion, any loss of revenue to the Treasury will be recouped elsewhere, whether it is a hike in current burdens (fuel duty, tolls, road fund licence, etc) or new convoluted tax impositions.
    But at least a degree of proactivity may get the Treasury on the run for a change. Alan Peace
    Independent fleet professional, Norwich

    'Sexist' reporting of motor show attacked

    Sir – I must say that I find your September 18 issue with the report from the Frankfurt Motor Show appalling.
    It is one thing that some car manufacturers still think that the only place for a women in the motor industry is up on a podium, with hardly any clothing on, next to a car on an exhibition stand.
    Is it good journalism for you, as a serious magazine, to underline this sexist view by dedicating space to photos of lightly dressed women as a 'Fleet Focus'?
    Are we, who have real jobs in the fleet industry, invisible to you?
    There is not one woman in any of your articles in the whole issue, except on pages 9 and 18, and let's face it, these women are not contributing all that much to the fleet world that they deserve their own column.
    Haven't we come further than this in 2003?

    Jessica Span-Mild
    Fleet marketing and strategy manager, Global Fleet Operations, Saab Automobile AB

    Ed – Our report on the Frankfurt Motor Show covered a large section of Fleet News, with a small column on female models at the back of more than 10,000 words on industry issues. We felt that if the motor industry still makes models an integral part of its motor shows, then we should reflect that in our coverage. Furthermore, your criticism of our support for women in the fleet industry is wide of the mark. Over the past few years we have presented numerous awards to female fleet managers to recognise their excellence in the fleet industry.
    Indeed, at the 2003 Fleet News Awards, two of the most important awards went to female fleet decision-makers.

    Confusion over biodiesel usage

    Sir – I read with interest your article 'Fleet talks on EU biodiesel targets' (Fleet NewsNet September 25) having recently started to use biodiesel fuel on our predominantly diesel-engined fleet.
    I was surprised to find an entry in the handbook of one manufacturer's vehicle which stated it was not to be run on biodiesel.
    On contacting my fuel supplier, they confirmed they had taken this up with the manufacturer in question and the entry was misleading as the manufacturer was happy with a 5% blend of biodiesel.
    Once again we have ambiguity surrounding alternative fuels which needs rectifying before we can expect the take-up of this excellent green fuel to increase.

    Duncan Watkins
    Head of vehicle fleet management, South Yorkshire Police

    October 1, 2003

    Get smart and beat the taxman!

    Sir – The latest in a long line of unwelcome news from the Treasury must now prompt fleet professionals to take a proactive stance on the ever- increasing financial burdens placed on business ('Fuel tax delay will cost fleets millions', Fleet NewsNet September 11).
    Why wait for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to announce yet another hike in costs to business and company car users?
    I urge all businesses to look at the private usage of those who receive 'free' fuel for private use. The 'benefit', even at the current tax rate, will be negligible to a large proportion of those who are receiving it.
    Clarifying the financial situation with each fleet driver will enable him or her to make an informed decision as to how better or worse off they are or will be. As a result, the individual may well reduce his or her tax burden as well as directly helping reduce business costs and (which will give nearly as much pleasure) reduce Treasury income. The potential savings are much larger than the cost of any administration required to set a scheme in motion.
    Ideally, fleet managers should react quickly to any changes in tax burdens, however they are disguised and try to keep track of where the goalposts may be moving next. Be under no illusion, any loss of revenue to the Treasury will be recouped elsewhere, whether it is a hike in current burdens (fuel duty, tolls, road fund licence etc) or new convoluted tax impositions. But at least a degree of proactivity may get the Treasury on the run for a change.

    Alan Peace
    Independent fleet professional, Norwich

    Phone law will impact on fleet managers

    Sir – I am concerned that new legislation regarding the use of mobile phones in vehicles is being introduced, because it already exists.
    The Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations requires a risk assessment to be made and risks minimised. There is sufficient independent research to indicate the use of both hand-held and hands-free wireless communication in vehicles contributes to distract drivers and cause accidents.
    Forget about the new law as the penalty costs are likely to be small.
    However, has anyone really considered the full impact on motor vehicle, employer's liability and public liability insurance premiums as they spiral as a result of claims for breaches of duty of care because a fleet operator allowed the use of mobile phones, irrespective of whether it was hands-free or not?
    Is it reasonable for fleet operators to know of the background research and what the current opinion is regarding the use of wireless communication?
    Of course it is – it's your profession. Not being aware is tantamount to negligence in the eyes of a court and is likely to provide the evidence beyond reasonable doubt that there was a breach and/or negligence on the part of fleet operator in the event of an accident.

    John Ridley
    International health and safety adviser, MCI

    Replacement judgement flawed

    Sir – The concept of judging a car's replacement cycle solely on the residual value is far too narrow (Four year leases may make sense, Fleet News September 18). A low-mileage two-year-old vehicle should always fetch more than a high-mileage three-year-old vehicle. However, the cost of the replacement vehicle must be taken into account.
    Almost certainly the list price of the replacement vehicle will be more than the vehicle it is replacing. The total cost of the new vehicle has to be funded and the tax bill of the driver could well increase.
    The value of the replacement vehicle could easily fall by £2,000 within days of purchase. All the costs need to be considered against the cost of keeping a vehicle for a further period of time.

    Brian Jury
    By email

    Why the whole police ethos must change

    Sir – I write with reference to recent letters regarding police priorities (Fleet NewsNet August & September).
    Unfortunately, until the whole police ethos changes I believe they will always go for the easiest targets. The change needs to be from the top. The average police officer is purely carrying out orders.
    While I agree that most road safety initiatives are good, and there is even a case to tackle illegal numberplates, the priorities seem to have gone in favour of statistics/cost-based initiatives.
    I look forward to a 'bad driving campaign', although I am not holding my breath as it is more difficult to detect and process than speeding and dodgy numberplates, even though it causes more accidents than the aforementioned offences put together.

    By email
    Details provided

    September 24, 2003

    The hidden dangers of a one-brand tyre policy

    Sir – I control a small fleet of 12 cars leased from one of the major contract hire companies and when I first joined the company I was initially allocated use of the pool car.
    The car needed two new tyres and so I booked it in with our local branch of a national tyre fitting chain. Normally I would have taken the car in myself but one of our maintenance men needed to use the car to pick some things up so he said he would take it in for the tyres.
    After many years of high mileage motoring I have developed a little habit which I consider to be best practice, that is to ensure I have the same rubber on all four corners, so I asked him to make sure that they fitted the same rubber, the existing tyres being Dunlop SP300s.
    After the tyres were fitted I noticed the handling of the car had changed for the worse. On the motorway it was 'jittery' and not wanting to stay in a straight line and through twisty roads the change from one lock to the other was now accompanied by an initial short burst of extreme oversteer before it settled into a line around the bend.
    Suspecting under-inflation on the new tyres I checked, but that was not the problem. I discovered I had an SP200 on one wheel and an SP300 on the other.
    When I challenged the tyre-fitting company it said it had followed the leasing company's instruction and when I challenged the leasing company it said that the make and model of tyre did not matter so long as the tyres were the right size and rating.
    I told my story to the technical department at Dunlop who basically said that of all their products the combination that I had was the worst possible.
    The handling I was describing was entirely predictable on some makes of car and that while he would not say that it was unsafe he would agree that it was not desirable. What is more he said that the fitters should have known about this and recommended against it.
    Armed with this information I demanded that the tyres be changed and to their credit the fitters and the leasing company sorted it out between them.
    There may be circumstances where you need to rely on the full handling capabilities of the car without being compromised by a one-brand replacement policy on the part of the leasing company.
    They may own the car but they do not have to drive it!

    Mike Newton
    Logistics director, Britax PMG, Bridlington

    Police should get their priorities right

    Sir – I write regarding the debate about numberplates and the law (Fleet NewsNet August 28).
    My wife and I have been on the receiving end of our ever-vigilant police force as a result of making a very slight change to a numberplate, thus relating it to my wife's name and the type of car she drives.
    Not content with embarrassing my wife by pulling her over in the village Co-op car park, the officer proceeded to unscrew the front number plate, saying that he was confiscating it as proof that she had broken the law.
    My wife was astounded by the whole episode.
    Following this, we had to change the number plates, obtain a signed statement from an MoT station that the car carried legal plates and then take this proof to the local police station.
    As with a previous correspondent, my son was mugged on his way to school, having his Walkman and lunch money stolen.
    Having been brave enough to identify the culprit and give statements to the police, we were told several weeks later that the Crown Prosecution Service had dropped the case through lack of evidence.
    This is despite having several witnesses to similar assaults carried out by this person. When will someone do something about this situation and instruct the police to get their priorities right instead of continually aiming their attention at the motorist?

    Steve Hateley
    Finance director, James Dawson & Son

    Don't blame car seats for back pain

    Sir – I write regarding your story on drivers handing back uncomfortable cars (Fleet NewsNet September 4).
    Before you change cars or change seats, check on how a driver gets into his or her car. Women usually place their behind on to the seat then swing their legs into the car, which is the correct way.
    Men, on the other hand, usually place the left leg into the footwell, twist and bend their back, drop on to the seat, then swing the right leg into the car, which is wrong This is what causes problems with the back, which are then blamed on the seat. The damage has been done before the key is in the ignition.

    Tony Lye
    Walchry Peugeot

    September 17, 2003

    Tacho move should pose no problems

    Sir – Your lead story, (EU tachograph move threatens van chaos, Fleet News September 4), implies chaos ahead if the EU implements a plan to require tachographs to be fitted to all vans of 2.8- tonnes gross vehicle weight and above. A number of points need to be considered:

  • Drivers' hours limits are already in place for van drivers – domestic hours rules apply. Your internal fleet audit regime should ensure these are checked on a regular basis.
  • Assuming your vehicles come under these rules, then you should already be monitoring the hours worked by your drivers.
  • Digital tachographs are now less than 12 months away for LGVs and these will reduce considerably the administrative burden on large fleets brought about by the use of tachograph charts. The sooner we have digital tachographs the better as far as I am concerned.
  • The examination of tachograph discs is outsourced by most fleets and is a limited burden to all but the largest fleets.

    However, if true and if implemented, the change would drive costs up.

    Charlie Shiels
    Director of Risk & Transport, GeoPost UK

    Getting smart when it comes to fleet recruitment

    Sir – In response to a general lack of quality candidates across all market sectors and at all levels, I believe the time is right for companies to work smart when it comes to recruitment of all levels of staff.
    Using a search company traditionally has been viewed as a method of recruitment only to be used for senior roles in organisations.
    That viewpoint has to change in order to secure the right type of individuals who possess the ability to grow the business in an increasingly competitive marketplace. This method has many benefits. Not only is it cost-effective – effectively 'outsourcing' the resources and processes required to recruit the right individuals – it also allows the business to market itself and its message in a structured and professional manner.
    Ultimately, the recruiter is left to focus on its core business while the experts source the right candidates.
    As we are all aware, there is a large, mostly untapped, source of excellent potential candidates both in the industry and in other sectors, who may not be actively pursuing a career change – until a professional approach is made to them by skilled consultants. So let's forget the elitism and snobbery attached to search businesses and allow them to prove their service at all levels of recruitment.

    Stefan G Hart
    HSL Associates

    Back pain: readers have their say

    LAST week in the Fleet Panel we asked if drivers should be allowed to hand back cars if they were causing serious back pain. We were inundated with replies so here is a further selection of responses from our panel members.

    No, but there should be an opportunity for genuine grievances to be considered on a case-by-case basis.
    I would suggest that an appeals process involving both the fleet and HR departments would be the most effective. If it becomes apparent that there is increased criticism of a manufacturer, or more likely a particular model, then I'm sure that the manufacturer concerned would be most receptive and even invite such criticism in order that they may address the issue.
    Perhaps fleet departments and fleet management companies could liaise more with car manufactures as they become aware of developing trends.

    Chris Fitzpatrick
    Area Fleet Co-ordinator, Telewest Broadband

    As a last resort, we will take a car back that genuinely gives back pain. First of all we get medical advice on what is causing the problem and the best solution: perhaps a change of seat, lumbar support, etc. If we can alter the seat we will but if that fails we will change cars.

    Audrey Milne
    Group fleet manager, Bayer

    I would say no, as on our fleet the choice of car and model is the driver's own and it is up to them to do their research well. However, we would try to exchange it with someone else if at all possible, but this would not be immediate. The answer to this has to be no as 'back pain' will otherwise be used as an excuse for return for any reason. How do you prove when a driver has pain or how serious it is? And a seat that suits one driver may not suit another so well. What drivers and their fleet managers should do is ensure the car has a good range of adjustment in the seat and steering wheel and, vitally, that there is sufficient headroom with the seat upright. Many bad back sufferers need or prefer an upright position and some vehicles simply don't give enough space.

    Ed Hughes
    Stanex Consultants

    We are edging towards a situation where the company car is close to being termed a 'place of work'.
    Fleet managers have a responsibility to ensure that the allocated vehicle is fit for the purpose and appropriate for the allocated driver. Simply handing over a set of keys and telling them to get on with it is no longer acceptable.
    A driver with a genuine, documented and proven back problem may well need special consideration when it comes to vehicle selection. This does not mean that he or she can simply 'discover' a back complaint because the wrong car has been chosen or they are trying to wangle an upgrade.
    Our own experience is that most genuine back problems can be overcome by replacing the driver's seat either with a manufacturer's alternative or with a specialist alternative, such as Recaro.
    The original seat can be replaced prior to disposal and, with the Recaro, it can often be adapted to fit into successive vehicles. This is a much cheaper solution than replacing a vehicle and it fulfils the company's obligations to its employee who, at the end of the day, is a valuable asset and worth taking care of.

    David Mullins
    Administration manager, Slough Estates

    Many problems could be avoided by making sure people seat themselves correctly in the first place. Even though I make a point of checking seat comfort, I find that comfort is a matter of personal taste. Cars I've thought had a good seat with good under thigh, top of back and lumbar support, other drivers don't like, whereas they think very soft seats are wonderful. They probably slouch at their desks too – that's what probably gave them a bad back in the first place.

    Dave Gill
    JMC

    Yes. Like a desk or chair, the car has to be suitable for the purpose. However, with all the contractual implications relating to a vehicle the handback can only be after all other potential solutions have been explored and with supporting medical evidence.

    Mitch Elliott
    Assistant head transport services, Transport Services Group, Lincoln

    In my experience, many drivers suffer from back problems because they sit too far from the pedals and steering wheel. The introduction of airbags seems to make the problem worse as drivers seem to want to position themselves (not unexpectedly perhaps) as far away from this explosive device as possible. As a general rule I would suggest the following:

  • Get your leg and height position sorted comfortably first (you are usually best as high as possible, without touching the roof, and should be easily able to press the pedals to the floor without any stretching)
  • Then get your backrest and steering wheel set. I prefer the back more vertical than most as this seems to put less strain on my shoulders and back. I also prefer to get the steering wheel as vertical as possible as this reduces the stretch effect as you hands go over the top of the wheel
  • Most importantly, make sure the steering wheel can be comfortably reached around its circumference. I was always told that, with my shoulders in the back of the seat, and my arm outstretched over the top of the wheel, my wristwatch should be on top of the wheel. This seems an excellent guide.

    Guy Robinson
    via email

    The cause should be investigated and, if necessary, modifications made to provide a solution to any back problem. If the problem cannot be alleviated then I think a company would be obliged to take some action. Andrew Sparkes
    Financial director, Sherborne Upholstery, Bradford

    The great metric con goes on. . .

    Sir – While admitting to being of an age where metric measurements quoted in car reviews still require a rough conversion to inches to be meaningful, I'm then so often disillusioned.
    To read of leg room increased by 17mm sounds impressive but not when that translates to about half an inch. And the new car that's 140mm longer? A full five-and-a-bit inches more.
    Clearly fuel companies prefer their prices to be shown per litre. 78.9p sounds far less worrying that £3.60 per gallon, as does a penny per litre increase rather than four-and-a- half-pence per gallon.
    Is this a similar tactic of subtle deception
    Weather forecasters helpfully provide dual temperature information including centigrade and fahrenheit readings.
    And my kindly local greengrocer still offers pounds and ounces as an alternative to kilos. Maybe press reports could similarly include both millimetres and inches?

    Lance Jenkins
    Sales director, Network Automotive Management

    September 10, 2003

    Telematics spell end of pool cars

    Sir – I read with interest the article 'End of the road for unloved cars' (Fleet News August 28). Aside from the corporate responsibility issue of accidents arising from badly maintained pool vehicles, at National Car Rental, we have long held the view that pool cars are an extremely expensive and inefficient way of providing mobility solutions. Only this week, we have seen news that the cost of owning a vehicle now tops £103 a week.
    Of course, many businesses want the 'comfort factor' of knowing there is a car in the car park ready and waiting to go should the need arise. While daily rental can provide a two-hour turn round from reservation to delivery, it is clearly not the same as having vehicles permanently on-site.
    This is where telematics, operated in conjunction with a car rental company, can provide a highly cost effective and tightly managed real alternative to the old-fashioned pool fleet. We are already testing telematics with a number of our clients who have dedicated car parking spaces for one or more cars. The vehicles allocated have been fitted with telematics equipment so that they can be locked and unlocked remotely by our reservation agent.
    To use one of the vehicles, the driver simply places a reservation as normal and the car is remotely unlocked at an agreed time.
    On its return to the car park the vehicle is remotely locked and there are options where damage can be automatically reported by the telematics system. Weekends provide the opportunity for us to clean and valet the cars in readiness for rental the following week, although this can be done at any time to suit the customer. This is just the beginning – telematics has huge potential for the vehicle rental industry and we are confident that this solution represents the future of the pool car fleet.

    Neil McCrossan
    Vice President, Sales and Marketing, National Car Rental

    Hyundai will help out fledgling rental firm

    Sir - I read the enquiry and response with regard to a fledgling rental operator and funding difficulties with interest ('Leasing firms don't want my business' Fleet NewsNet, August 28).
    While I do not know the particular circumstances of the enquirer, I am happy to say that Hyundai has successfully been involved in several fledgling rental operations during the past year.
    Our philosophy has been to support such operations as they, typically, are founded upon business-hungry and new conquest philosophies which lead to many rental users experiencing Hyundai for the first time, leading often to purchase consideration by the drivers/fleet managers involved.

    Dennis Bennett
    Business development director, Hyundai Car (UK)

    Why numberplate rule is necessary

    Sir – I write in reply to the rather worked-up Kettering solicitor who wrote to you recently (Fleet NewsNet August 28).
    He really has missed the point of why we all must display our numberplates in the same way. The police now use sophisticated video cameras on their cars which read car numberplates and check their and Swansea's databases in real time.
    By this method they catch those who drive without insurance, without tax and so on. They can also do much more. It was developed after the IRA London bomb to identify cars entering the City and now Ken Livingstone is using it for his charging scheme.
    The new system is very clever, but to ensure it works properly, the powers that be introduced the new numberplate lettering system.
    So while you are pondering this and those with silly numberplates change them back before an automated police car pulls them over, why not consider a small weekly section of little known legal facts?
    Let's set you off with – it is illegal to have anything other than a tax disc stuck to the front windscreen of a vehicle. In fact it will fail its MoT if it has, so no more 'I Love Fleet News' banners, please.

    John Sidebottom
    Estates services manager, Bradford Hospitals NHS Trust, Bradford Royal Infirmary

    Lack of knowledge? There certainly is!

    Sir – Your article 'Diesel drivers head for new car tax trap' (Fleet NewsNet August 28) suggests that after 2005 company car drivers of diesels will face some sort of an issue.
    Where can I find out more information regarding this issue? I have looked on various websites including your own, the Inland Revenue, SMMT but find no reference to future tax regulations for company cars after 2005 and no reference to diesel cars having to comply with Euro IV standards. Your article quite rightly suggests that there is a lack of knowledge on this issue – could you help by letting me know where there are details of the future regulations for diesel cars including how they will affect company car owners?

    Andrew Home
    K Home Engineering

    Ed: We have covered the new emissions legislation in detail but for the official view, log on to the Vehicle Certification Authority website www.vca.gov.uk. If you look under emissions testing, there is a full explanation of Euro 111 and 1V standards.

    Wednesday, September 3, 2003

    Glovebox cameras save money

    Sir – I have been with West Midlands Special Needs Transport for some three years now and during this time I have instigated many new procedures. One such procedure is the use of an accident box.
    Contained within the box is a camera, along with other important items which assist the driver to deal with an accident.
    The cameras are the disposable type with free processing and cost in the region of £6 each, although at this moment in time I am negotiating a deal where the camera costs only £4 with free processing.
    The fleet is in the region of 230 vehicles, our insurance cost was very high and growing. Since the inception of the accident box and other procedures, our insurance bill has dropped dramatically.
    I would say that we have managed to throw out all spurious claims and like your article suggests (£10 camera avoids £3,500 crash bill, Fleet NewsNet August 21), we have helped to reduce payouts from our insurance by proving that the damage was not as bad as described by the third party.
    Not only that, but some of my drivers taken to court have been found not guilty because of the photographic evidence. We have also won claims cases in the county court.
    I carry a camera in my own vehicle and can testify from personal knowledge that they do work and reduce time for payouts, etc.
    I was stationary in a line of traffic when my car was hit in the rear, causing extensive damage to my car and injury to my wife and myself.
    As I was carrying a camera in the car, the whole procedure took less than 10 months for our compensation and damage claims to be sorted.

    Roy Steventon
    Risk manager, West Midlands Special Needs Transport

    Cameras a minimal cost

    Sir – Regarding the article about glove box cameras. I would like to say they are an excellent idea and it forms part of our company's driving policy. Every vehicle in the fleet has one for just the very reasons outlined in the article. The cost is minimal but the potential savings could be huge.

    Liz McCutcheon
    Personnel department, Nevisprint

    Driver eyesight testing 'essential'

    Sir – Vanity, or denial that the years are catching up with us, frequently stand in the way of us accepting that the time has come for us to have our eyesight tested. For motorists, eyesight testing (and regular re-testing) is vitally important and although for most people there is a cost attached, surely it is a small price to pay to ensure that our own safety and the safety of others on the roads is not being unnecessarily compromised?
    With the increasing focus on corporate responsibility, fleet operators should consider the introduction of a rolling programme of eyesight testing for their employed drivers. All responsible employers already validate the status of an employee's driving licence and previous driving record as part of their recruitment process.
    It would appear to be a very small leap to extend that process to seeking confirmation from an optician that a driver's eyesight meets the required legal standards, thus ensuring they are allowed to drive on the road.

    Jack Brownhill
    Director of motor, Groupama Insurances

    Tax benefits are being kept quiet

    Sir – Following your article on the tax benefits of Euro IV-compliant diesels (Diesel drivers head for new car tax trap, Fleet NewsNet, August 28), I agree that car manufacturers are stangely quiet about what could translate to a 20% tax saving for company car drivers by moving into the 15% BIK tax band from 18%.
    However, many providers of car tax calculators and information providers have been even slower to react.
    We provide a list of all diesels meeting Euro IV standards, as well as vehicles likely to be, but I could name several calculators which still give the choice of petrol or diesel only, and the most popular consumer car magazine still uses 18% as the minimum level of CO2 tax on all diesels.

    Rupert Russell
    Director, www.Comcar.co.uk
    Bristol

    August 27, 2003

    ECO concept is not a flawed option

    Sir – Following your article on 'hastily conceived' car ownership schemes, I found myself agreeing with the sentiment of Tony Donnelly's comments, although I feel a number of his key points were questionable (Fleet NewsNet August 7).
    Indeed, there have been a number of hastily conceived car ownership schemes rolled out, in most cases as a response to market forces that may have seen some lease suppliers lose ground to those who could provide alternative funding products.
    However, if problems have arisen this is not because the concept is flawed, it stems from the haste that has resulted in poor implementation and processes that were not designed to support car ownership schemes.
    Therefore, to say that accountants will be 'diving for cover' points an accusatory finger in the wrong direction. The fault lies squarely with the suppliers.
    In addition, the architecture of these schemes only appears to exploit a 'tax loophole', because it avoids the payment of tax through an efficient use of tax-free payment mechanisms developed by the Inland Revenue.
    But if we did not have the Approved Mileage Allowance Payments (AMAP) to assist us in calculating the tax-sheltering effect of business mileage, the alternative would have been a very complex calculation based on actual costs incurred when using a private car for business use.
    The Government's recent update of AMAP rates suggests a commitment to support tax efficiency rather than attempting to close a loophole.
    Tony Donnelly's comment that schemes are 'too complex and administratively cumbersome' is a generalisation. His accusation that these schemes are about 'exploitation for short-term gain' is also unfounded. The car ownership concept was devised 12 years ago by the original Whitechapel tax consultants and refined over the years by successive members of the team.
    The original vision still has impact and, if anything, has more relevance than ever in today's tax environment. With organisations entering their third or fourth lifecycle, one can hardly claim that this alternative is short-term in nature.
    Put simply – if your car ownership scheme isn't delivering the benefits you were promised then change to a supplier with the expertise and resources to make it work. A well-run car ownership scheme will save you money and strengthen the bond between employer and employee.
    Tony Donnelly is right when he says people will be 'diving for cover' when this issue 'comes home to roost'. However, it will be the suppliers, not the accountants, looking for somewhere to hide.

    Adam Trevaskus
    Head of Whitechapel, Bury

    Plate clampdown makes a mockery of the law

    Sir – I was pleased to read in my local paper, the Kettering Evening Telegraph, that the police have at last got their priorities right in that they intend to prosecute the most evil of criminals – those who have altered their car number plates.
    I'm sure the population of Northamptonshire is delighted. They would not want to see the police's meagre resources or taxpayers' money being wasted on trying to catch the hundreds, if not thousands, of drivers who drive without MoTs, without road tax, without insurance or without driving licences.
    No, altered number plates are by far the most dangerous. I have written to Jimmy Tarbuck to warn him that if he drives through Northants in his Roller with 'COM1C' on his car rather than the correct 'COM 1C' then he is likely to be thrown in prison with all the other despicable, hardened criminals like him.
    On a personal level, I would hate for these resources to be used to try to catch the thugs who mugged, beat up and hospitalised my son for £8 and a mobile phone. Or the villains who burgled and terrified my mother or the yobs who vandalised my car – no, those who have altered number plates should be caught first.
    After all, the majority of these hideous people are law-abiding middle Englanders who move a letter or number one centimetre – how vile – it's a shame the death penalty has been repealed. It would also be totally unacceptable to use such resources to stop the decline in prosecutions for serious motoring offences such as dangerous driving. Those victims and families who have suffered following a death or serious injury as a result of altered number plates are at last able to sleep at night.
    The police should stop listening to the politically correct vociferous minority inside and outside the service. The people of this country want two things and two things only – to feel safe in their homes and to feel safe in the street and they could not give a damn about 'altered number plates'.
    I now know why the police tend to have large feet – it makes it easier for them to shoot themselves there.

    B.R Matthews
    Wilson Browne Solicitors, Kettering

    Counting the cost of non-payment of fuel

    Sir – I write in response to the letter from Richard Voyce asking why we don't scrap the tax disc and increase fuel duty instead (see below).
    As a retailer of fuel, I have first-hand knowledge of the problems associated with pricing on fuel but, more importantly, there is a misconception that every member of the public actually pays for fuel.
    It is ironic, but if customers are good enough to actually visit the shop to advise the cashier that they have no means of payment, they may be asked to leave their tax disc as collateral against payment. Inevitably, they have no valid road tax and rarely come back to pay.
    The latest industry figures are not known to me, but to give you a sample across seven sites in the south east of England, the cost of fuel taken without payment is in excess of £30,000 per annum. If you average that across more than 10,000 sites in the UK, you can see the scale of the problem. Road licensing helps control testing on vehicles and keeps a tab on ownership. It is the only visible form of check for the police.

    Details supplied
    Via email

    August 6, 2003

    Why not get rid of tax discs and simply raise fuel duty instead?

    SIR – I read with interest the article on purchasing three or four year tax discs (Fleet NewsNetJuly 31).
    Forgive me if this has been covered before, but what I can't understand is why we bother with Vehicle Excise Duty at all. It seems such an antiquated system, an irritation for individuals and an administration nightmare for fleets.
    Why not simply abolish VED and increase fuel duty?
    If the duty were set to equate an average 10,000 miles per annum then at an average 30mpg this would be 1,500 litres of fuel a year, so an extra 10p duty per litre would give the Treasury the equivalent of a £150 tax disc.
    Fleets and individuals driving more than 10,000 miles per annum would pay more duty, as they should, with light users paying a lot less. But surely the real benefit is that unlike road tax it cannot be avoided.
    How much does it cost the Government to track down and prosecute people who don't purchase a tax disc?
    I know at present you need to provide evidence of insurance (and MoT) to obtain a tax disc as some sort of check, but this hasn't stopped people driving around without insurance, MoT or a valid tax disc.
    In addition, all road users would have to pay, not just British nationals, so all trucks and visitors to Britain would contribute to our roads as, at some point, they would have to fill up over here.

    Richard Voyce
    Via email

    A&L report bears little resemblance to our experience

    SIR – The report from the Alliance & Leicester 'Secondhand Car Market Collapses' certainly has headline grabbing content, but it bears little relation to our experience in 2003.
    Demand has been exceptional throughout the year, from the nearly new market through to older, higher mileage vehicles.
    Volume levels are ahead of 2002 and, if anything, prices are firming slightly against last year.
    The Alliance & Leicester research, of course, is limited to price, as you might expect from a money-lender, and pays no attention to volume, model mix, condition or mileage which are actually the key price signifiers affecting the market place. We have reported a very buoyant half-year thanks to some exceptional demand from the motor trade. BCA has seen record conversion figures, unprecedented price levels and the fastest possible churn of 'cars to cash' for sellers.
    The competition from professional buyers for stock resulted in vehicles routinely outperforming guide prices by some significant distance.
    This high level of performance was most strongly seen in the two to four-year old fleet and contract hire sector, but even older higher mileage cars enjoyed a 'halo' effect when younger stock was not available at the 'right' price.
    Our data – which represents a sample size of many tens of thousands of cars – shows that typical used prices are actually higher this year than last year. And remember, these are real cars sold for real money. Professional auction buyers in the wholesale market have been reflecting a consistent, strong retail demand for used cars, generated by low interest rates and a settled economy.
    To say the used car market is collapsing is a misleading statement and it bears no relationship to what BCA, motor retailers and professional wholesalers have experienced over the last 18 months.

    Tom Madden
    Director, customer affairs, BCA

    Cash savings are there for taking

    SIR – Following your article 'Firms save cash' (Fleet NewsNet July 3), I felt further explanation of our product was needed.
    With the ever-increasing number of companies ignoring this advice and offering a cash allowance in lieu of the company car and an increasing number of employees taking up the option, it makes sense that The Miles Consultancy has spent the last three years perfecting its unique 'Cash Allowance Scheme' (CAS).
    Since April 2002, CAS has saved The Miles Consultancy's customers more than £8 million and offers an advance corporate manslaughter protection as part of the scheme. With an implementation timescale of under a month and return on investment within six weeks, our customer base is growing at a rate of knots. Now we are striving not only to increase our blue chip customer base but also to encourage more small cash fleets too.
    Currently, if a company provides a higher rate tax-payer with a cash allowance of £5,000 per annum, the cost to the company after Class 1A National Insurance contributions is £5,640. The employee only receives £2,950 after tax and National Insurance. CAS enables the gap between these two figures to be reduced and in some cases eliminated completely.

    Paul Evans
    Commercial director, The Miles Consultancy

    July 30, 2003

    Little-known holiday extra

    Sir – Having just read about VE103s forms in your Fleet Forum section (VE103 form is a necessity when driving abroad, I am writing to let you know of my experiences.
    I manage a small fleet of 30 contract-hired cars that are all a benefit-in-kind. I had never heard of VE103s until I read an article a couple of months ago that highlighted the problem.
    I made enquiries with my leasing company and my account manager was also unaware of the requirement to carry VE103s when driving abroad. He made further enquiries with his administration department and they were also in the dark.
    It was eventually confirmed that the documentation that had been supplied by them – a letter of authority and a copy of the V5 – was just not good enough.
    It then took nearly two months to supply a sufficient number of VE103s to cover my drivers taking their cars to Europe this summer as they were out of print.
    P.S. I find Fleet News essential reading. Without it, I'm not sure where I would get up-to-date information on all the changes that are happening in fleet management and the shift in emphasis on health and safety issues. Keep up the good work.

    Lesley Collins
    Fleet administrator, Veritas DGC, Crawley

    Impartiality can save hire costs

    Sir – It was enlightening to learn of the contempt that Marjory Flynn had for brokers and her clients (Fleet NewsNet July 3). Could it be that she saw brokers as people who knew leasing rates varied considerably and were exposing the differences?
    I'm not rushing to the defence of brokers, but Marjory's transformation from contract hire representative to broker stems from the demise of the fleet manager, coupled with an increase in the number of companies that are prepared to outsource the daily management of their fleet to the very company providing the finance.
    The unquestionable advantage of fleet managers is their independence and impartiality which enables them to provide a 'battle line' between their employer and supplier. Eliminate this line and costs could escalate.
    We regularly compare monthly lease costs provided by a range of finance companies on behalf of our clients and have identified differences exceeding £200 per month for the same vehicle. Differences of £25 to £50 per month are commonplace, with the uncertainty of residual values usually being the principal cause.
    The implications are considerable, but running a cost-effective fleet does not stop at 'brokering' a good monthly rate.
    If most of the major banks and contract hire companies have set up broker divisions, they can't be independent. If they're not independent, how can fleet operators be sure they are getting a good deal? By employing a fleet manager?
    Some years ago a divestment rule was introduced preventing Lloyds insurance brokers from providing underwriting services. Shouldn't contract hire brokers divest themselves from providing contract hire?

    John Tipper
    Managing director, Tipper Fleet Services

    Time for firms to take fleet control

    Sir – I am writing in response to the comments from Tony Donnelly, managing director of Goodwood Fleet Management (see below).
    He must be one of few people to have positively identified business issues in relation to the heavy costs of fuels, risk and environmental management, and insurance, while balancing the need to make money within business boundaries.
    Of the issues identified, businesses both large and small should endeavour to create policy documents when trying to manage their day-to-day activities, in addition to providing adequate resources.
    How many companies give clear policies to fleet drivers on insurance, driver training, alcohol and drugs, use of mobile phones and so on? Surely it is now time for the industry to take heed and manage the issues highlighted correctly in the interests of the company, employees, suppliers, the general public and the environment. They can be managed – it is just about strategy and development.

    Warren Fothergill
    Quality systems & safety, health, environmental manager, J&A (International), Spilsby

    Incorrect fitting can fail MoT

    Sir – Stewart Whyte writes in his Fleet Forum column about incorrect fitting of asymmetric tyres.
    Additionally, this is grounds for failure of the MoT test. The regulations state: 'Reason for Rejection: (f) a tyre not fitted in compliance with the manufacturer's sidewall instruction – e.g, an asymmetric tyre with a sidewall marked 'outer' fitted with the marking to the inner side of the wheel'.

    Alistair White
    Vehicle workshop manager, Eastleigh Borough Council

    A huge array of cost-cutting ideas

    Sir – Dug Brown is spot on when he calls on fleet managers to look into all the options available for cutting costs (Fleet NewsNet July 17).
    He says he employed a consultant who recommended restricting the choice of their fleet to two vehicle manufacturers. There is a huge array of other cost-saving areas for fleet managers to consider. For example, free private fuel is still provided by so many companies. The question is why?
    Fleet managers need to choose the right financial product because contract hire might be the most widely-used offering but it is definitely the wrong one for some cars and for some companies.
    Companies need to understand how tax affects fleet costs, allow cars to be chosen from a fixed list, only use properly-calculated wholelife costs to select vehicles, concentrate buying power on a limited number of suppliers (cars, servicing, repairs, fast-fits, tyres) and so on.
    It is a shame that so many fleets have yet to strike the right balance between meeting the needs of both the business and employees at the lowest possible cost.

    Colin Tourick
    Fleet management consultant

    July 23, 2003

    Warnings galore - but where are the resources to cope with them?

    Sir – Is it just me or do issues in the world of fleet seem to be forming into a rather obvious pattern, pointing towards some very hard lessons ahead?
    Fleet decision-makers asked to crack down on the hidden drink-drive culture, fleets warned over lax record-keeping, fleets warned that testing times are ahead as mobile driving ban looms and, it comes as no surprise, the data handled by UK fleets has multiplied 30 times over in the past 10 years. All this in one issue (Fleet NewsNet July 10).
    With a Bill on corporate killing looming on the horizon, it is not surprising that Fleet News' training campaign has had a massive response.
    New issues that the fleet manager should be aware of seem to appear on a weekly basis, on top of all the other issues that the fleet manager should already be addressing but, by his or her own admission, lacks the expertise and experience to act on. Yes, training is vital and now the whole issue has been dragged out into the open we can start to address it.
    However, all the training in the world will not make a bit of difference unless there is a fundamental change in attitude from the business community as a whole. Companies must realise the importance of managing their fleets effectively and the vital role their fleet manager has to perform.
    This doesn't just mean making sure he/she is fully trained but providing the resources and support to allow him/her to put this training into good effect. Unless your fleet manager can work 24/7 without coming up for air, he or she is going to need help and support, and lots of it.
    Fleet management is one of the most significant areas of a business in terms of cost, risk, employee satisfaction and customer perception. It is time that businesses devoted the resources to it which it deserves.

    Tony Donnelly Managing director, Goodwood Fleet Management, Chichester

    Phones on move: there's no excuse

    Sir – I write regarding your recent question about whether companies have firm policies on the use of hand-held mobile phones (Fleet NewsNet July 10). We advise drivers not to use the phone on the move if possible.
    I personally welcome the proposed ban on using hand-held mobiles while driving – there is no excuse for it. Hands-free kits are so cheap these days, I fail to understand why people can afford to buy Mercedes-Benz and BMW cars but do not have hands-free kits fitted. However, you see it all too often.
    It is not necessary these days to drill holes in the dashboard to fit them and there is no comparison between the degree of control achieved by using a hands-free kit and using the mobile in the hand.
    I feel that it is irresponsible to use a hand-held mobile while driving and I would throw the book at anyone who did so.

    Paul Adey
    By email

    Stop the bickering over green fuels

    Sir – I find myself in agreement with Warren Fothergill when he says that we should go beyond the current hustling for position between the proponents of various fuel alternatives (Fleet NewsNet 17 July).
    Sadly, up to now, this has not been the characteristic tone of the more enthusiastic advocates of some other alternative fuels and technologies, most notably the Institute for Public Policy Research, whose report prompted the article to which he refers. Their tactic seems to be simply to knock liquefied petroleum gas.
    We believe there is a clear argument for the Government to continue its support for established fuel alternatives, while encouraging the development of other technologies.
    Surely the last thing the fleet sector needs is the uncertainty generated by a spurious 'either/or' argument. It is in this spirit that we are preparing compelling arguments to Government and I hope that advocates of other alternative fuels will do likewise in the interests of the fleet sector as a whole.

    Andrew Ford Corporate affairs manager, Calor Gas, Warwick

    July 10, 2003

    Why biodiesel is the real alternative

    SIR – Further to your story 'Green fuel may lose support of UK fleets (Fleet NewsNet July 3) I would like to point out the realism of biodiesel as an alternative green fuel.
    There are many distinguishing factors relating to exposure to air pollution from transport and one needs to look beyond contradictions of the bodies hustling for position within a potentially volatile and lucrative market and complete a full risk assessment on traffic-induced air pollution and the risks to the individual.
    Why should biodiesel be considered for tax breaks alongside LPG and be pushed to the forefront of alternative energy?
    As a fuel, biodiesel contributes virtually zero carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere as plants, having absorbed carbon dioxide while growing, act as an annual carbon sink.
    Due to the oxygen content it is a very clean fuel, producing 50% fewer particulates than petrodiesel, together with less nitrogen and carbon monoxide by-products such as glycerol (from the manufacture of it) can be used in other commodities.
    Cost is a great driver in today's society and therefore a great emphasis needs to be placed on the position individuals and companies, in addition to local authorities and governments, must take to push such a plan forward.
    We should also place a great emphasis on corporate social responsibility. Biodiesel would mean no new vehicle technology as current diesel engines can run on this fuel, utilisation of set-aside and under-utilised land by the UK's agricultural sector and small capital investment for production plants.
    Overall this needs to be led by the Government but supported by us, the fleet providers, drivers and associated organisations.

    Warren Fothergill
    Manager, J&A (International)

    Industry has a role to play

    SIR – Further to your article of July 3, I offer support to the view that we, as a collective industry with a key role to play in reducing the environmental impact of our operations, need to play an active part in planning how we will deliver these reductions.
    It is possible that a move to a hydrogen economy may be an answer to our desire for sustainable mobility.
    However, as your article states, this is some way off and there are many technological issues to be managed before we get there.
    More immediate solutions are in place. We at Petroplus have a bio-diesel blend, Bio-Plus, that meets the requirements of some motor manufacturers.
    We are working with Newcastle University and other industry partners to ensure that the well-to-wheel benefits of using renewable fuels in diesel are fully understood and demonstrably beneficial to our environment. This includes a number of well-advanced projects using the bi-products from bio-diesel production to useful effect, for example to generate electricity and steam.
    It is the Government's role to assess the real value and viability of such projects and support environmentally-beneficial sustainable mobility projects appropriately. To this end, it is up to industry to lead the drive and advise Government accurately, as we learn more and more in this exciting and challenging area.

    Ian Waller
    Technical services manager, Petroplus Refining and Marketing

    Fleet chiefs worth their weight in gold

    Sir – I unreservedly agree with Jeremy Hay's comments (Fleet NewsNet June 26) regarding the tunnel vision that belies numerous organisations when it comes to investment in fleet expertise.
    Sadly I think that if businesses were on the fence regarding safety it would actually be a step forward, as I'm not sure they have even climbed up one side.
    It is all too easy to see a tangible cost affecting profit. It is more difficult to illustrate a cost that has been prevented from occurring. Comparing the investment required against the potential expenditure saved is one exercise that needs to be understood and taken seriously by all businesses. This comparison is the largest single barrier to investment in training.
    Were organisations to understand fleet issues fully, the role of the fleet manager would become a key one and not just the first expendable position when cost reduction exercises are performed or one that is burdened by ever increasing financial restrictions. A well-trained, well-informed fleet manager should be a coveted, highly regarded member of any organisation that relies on its transport for its success.

    Alan Peace
    Independent fleet professional, Norwich

    July 3, 2003

    Relying on licence checks is a Mickey Mouse way of training

    Sir – I write regarding a recent article on giving advice in training drivers (Fleet NewsNet June 19).
    It states that for many fleets, simply checking that employees who may be required to drive actually hold a valid driver's licence meets in full the risk assessment/risk management concept, especially if backed by a good record on the insurance claims front.
    I cannot see how advocating a Mickey Mouse approach to risk assessment such as merely checking driving licences can be seen as being adequate.
    When asked at a recent seminar of fleet managers how many were checking driving licences almost all hands went up out of about 100 people in the audience. When asked how many had incorporated the right to check licences in the employee's contract of employment only six hands went up.
    There are many business reasons for a proper risk assessment including audit trails, cost reduction, best practice and focusing the business on saving lives. This takes a little more complexity than checking driving licences.
    The professional risk assessment companies provide indemnity to their clients against a visit from the police, insurance company and press after an accident on the basis they have implemented an audit trail.
    Would your author like to offer the same indemnity for a company that has merely checked driving licences? If so I will gladly provide him with a list of people prepared to take the risk.

    Jeremy Hay
    Director, Risk Answers

    Part-used leasing is proving to be in demand

    Sir – In response to a question in Helplines (Business has closed but my leased cars remain) it was suggested that 'most finance agreements explicitly prohibit any forms of contract assignment' (Fleet NewsNet June 12).
    It was also said that 'the people interested in cheaper part-used lease cars are people the finance companies do not necessarily want to deal with'. We have been operating just such a reassignment service under the brand name Transfer Contracts for three years now and have found the contrary to be true in both cases.
    Virtually all of the finance companies we have dealt with have a specific policy (and in some cases a department) to cover this aspect of business.
    We only offer our service with the full co-operation of the finance companies and their underwriting teams and we have a 95% acceptance rate for this type of business.

    Mike Lloyd
    Managing director, Transfer Contracts

    Ready, willing and still able to work

    Sir – I was fascinated to read the Helpline 'Your first steps into fleet management' (Fleet NewsNet June 12).
    At the end of last year the company for which I worked as fleet executive was bought by a competitor and all the office staff made redundant.
    Since that date I have been actively seeking another post where my skills can be put to good effect and was surprised to see the author, Stewart Whyte, saying: 'A glance at the Fleet News recruitment pages, or on Fleet NewsNet, indicates that there is a steady churn for good people in this area'.
    Every week I turn straight to the recruitment pages but have yet to find anything suitable. Perhaps the fact that I live in the south is an issue. I'm not out of work as I have been able to find a fleet administrative job with a large local organisation. However, I would love to be able to put all my skills and knowledge to work for a company that would appreciate what I have to offer.
    So, here I am, still willing and able. If any one would like to take a look at my CV, perhaps you would let me have a contact name and number.

    Name and address supplied
    Ed – We will pass any enquiries on to the correspondent

    More backing for Get Trained call

    Sir – I am writing to add our voice to your call for a more structured approach to training in the fleet industry.
    We can see the effects of training very clearly when it comes to our own products. Our research shows that users of fleet management software who have undertaken training programmes enjoy an improvement in productivity of about a third higher than those who have simply bought the package but use it on a largely self-taught basis.
    If similar increases in performance are available through training in other areas of fleet management, then the potential savings across the industry must run into millions of pounds.

    Jason Francis
    Managing director, cfc solutions

    June 25, 2003

    Fleets will feel the pinch with road charging plans

    Sir – Road tolls are yet another hefty straw to be placed upon the creaking back of the motoring camel.
    Accompanied by the usual Governmental waffle about 'reducing taxes elsewhere', all it really means is they are going to ram-raid our wallets again. Much hot air was also expended by those advocating the abolishment of Vehicle Excise Licence, or road tax, with a corresponding increase in fuel tax.
    What was never mentioned, but surely must have been thought of, was the opportunity to levy an 'administration' fee – just to keep track of all these vehicles, you understand – and the subsequent opportunity to increase such a fee on an annual basis in order that the Government might have sufficient funds to chuck at the next hare-brained scheme that one of its witch-doctors dreams up.
    So, am I in favour of road tolls? Next time Satan complains of frostbite I am.

    Alistair White
    Vehicle workshop manager, Eastleigh Borough Council

    Sir – I have just read your article 'Debate begins on road charge plans' (Fleet NewsNet June 19) and could not believe it.
    Firstly, I thought we all paid the Road Fund Licence which covered use of highways. Secondly, how on earth can mileage-based tolls be enforced?
    Could you imagine the logistical nightmare of proportioning miles to different cost centres for pool vehicles? Could you also imagine the nightmare that would be faced by hire companies? How would they make any money? People would not pay the additional fees for this.
    The best way anything like this could be enforced is to focus taxes on fuel, as if we are not already paying too much tax here anyway.
    Companies and individuals which keep their vehicles legal are, even in this day and age, still heavily supporting all those with no road fund licence and very often no insurance.
    It makes my blood boil that yet again the motorist has to suffer – it is a no-win situation.

    Ann Dukanovic
    Kaba Door Systems, Telford

    The fleet department needs to be integrated

    Sir – The story 'Fuel card scam hits firm for £150,000' (Fleet NewsNet June 12) emphasises the need for fleet managers to be integrated more fully with other areas of their company.
    It also highlights the time differential between a fuel card going missing and the reporting of the fact to the fuel card provider. While every effort can be made by the provider to combat fraud, it still relies on the ability of an organisation to recognise that a card has been lost or stolen.
    The period of time over which this fraud occurred implies a lack of control involving various administrative functions. A regular analysis of fleet costings, of which fuel would be an integral part, would illustrate key indicators and variances from the norm.
    Tools readily provided by some fuel card providers would facilitate such a process. These tools include e-billing which provides a downloadable analysis of periodic fuel spending using various parameters.
    These parameters can be adapted using with simple spreadsheets. This then provides information not only for fraud issues but mpg, servicing, private mileage tracking ... the list is endless.
    To appreciate the impact of these and other critical fleet indicators can require training. This will only prove fruitful when an employer will have the foresight to fund not only the training cost but the individual's time, improve communications and acknowledge that bottom line profit directly benefits from investment in training.

    Alan Peace
    Independent fleet professional

    Government confusion over CO2 emissions

    Sir – It troubles me greatly that members of the Government seem to think that CO2 emissions and pollution are synonymous.
    It is almost universally accepted that a diesel car produces less CO2 but more particulates than a petrol car. Therefore it is extremely difficult to simply state that the diesel car is 'cleaner'. In fact most would argue the opposite. The Government seems oblivious to this when it announced the new lower triple-A VED band for the least polluting cars – those with carbon dioxide emissions of 100g/km or less.
    While a certain level of 'amateur day' is inevitable whenever politicians discuss anything remotely scientific, this should surely be a fairly simple concept to grasp.

    Noel Lock
    Director, The Greenfuel Company, Bath

    Training makes the country's roads much safer

    Sir – I refer to Stewart Whyte's Fleet Forum comment entitled 'We need guidelines on training drivers' (Fleet NewsNet June 19).
    To state as he does that 'simply checking that employees who may be required to drive actually hold a driving licence meets in full the risk assessment/risk management concept' is misleading at best and potentially dangerous at worst.
    The Health & Safety Executive on its own website (www.hse.gov.uk) quite clearly states that, under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employers are required to carry out an assessment of the risk to the health and safety of their employees, or themselves, while they are at work and to other people who may be affected by their work activities. This includes any driving activity on the road.
    It goes on to say that employers should consider the risks to employees on the road in the same way as for those in a workplace. And they should review this risk assessment periodically to ensure it remains valid.
    The acquisition of a driving licence at the age of 17 to 20 years old simply does not adequately equip or train drivers to be their own risk managers in relation to occupational driving.
    It does not take into account current road pressures, congestion or over-crowding, or even the type of vehicle you may be driving or that you may be carrying heavy loads as part of your everyday activity.
    It does not take into account previous accident history or attitude to risk, which can vary considerably with age and responsibility, nor does it assess suitability for the purpose required. It also ignores the generally low driving standards in this country.
    Only a detailed risk assessment, which will enable the company to fully identify risks associated with its particular driving activities, will allow it to implement a range of appropriate interventions specifically designed to minimise the risks faced by its employees on the road. While accepting the accusation of vested interest, one such intervention may well be the introduction of targeted driving training.
    We make no apologies for recommending a product that helps make Britain's road safer and may even save lives.

    James Sutherland
    Managing director, Peak Performance

    Don't tar us all with the same brush

    Sir – I read with interest Stewart Whyte's Fleet Forum answer about third party insurance (Fleet NewsNet May 15).
    In response to the question on whether a fleet should consider third party insurance, he stated: 'in my experience, the actual service level performance and delivery of some accident management companies leaves a lot to be desired.' Some accident management companies are clearly lacking service levels.
    We have noted this in our own experience, having picked up contracts from fleet managers who have been dissatisfied with previous accident management arrangements.
    However, not all accident management companies should be tarred with the same brush. Choosing an accident management company that is prepared to listen and implement each client's requirements can be of real benefit.

    Trevor Cutts
    Managing director, Elite Incident Management

    11 June 2003

    Mixed views over spare wheels

    Sir – Manufacturers' plans to scrap spare wheels are a nonsense, something devised by an accountant rather than anyone living in the real world, one might suspect.
    Although averages might suggest that punctures are rare, I still seem to get around one a year. Looking back at the times and places they occurred shows clearly that huge inconvenience would arise from not having a spare to hand. Having been in the tyre business in my past, I can certainly say that a good proportion of punctured tyres are beyond further safe use, even if sufficiently undamaged to allow temporary repair with a roadside repair kit.
    Also, the proliferation of tyre brands and particularly sizes, means that immediate availability of the cover required cannot be assured. So roadside replacement will not always happen, leading to a costly period of the vehicle being off road.
    A practical effect of this is that having looked at a BMW M Coupe a few years ago, when I found it didn't have a spare, I switched choice to a Mercedes.

    Ed Hughes
    Stanex Consultants

    Sir – Years ago, it was necessary to carry spare spark plugs and other components together with a reasonably comprehensive tool kit.
    This was due to the relatively high level of unreliability suffered by most vehicles. Over the years, mechanical reliability has improved dramatically and surely this has been matched by the great gains in tyre technology.
    Most people will not remember when they last had to change a wheel and many of those will have used one of the breakdown organisations for the job when they did. Any sensible risk assessment of the cost of delay caused by a potential puncture is likely to suggest that the spare wheel can now be sensibly deleted.
    Many a driver has been heard to say 'why do I need a spare wheel when I have mobile phone?'.

    Les Greaves
    Centaur Group

    Sir – I would be happy if all car makers offered a full size spare wheel as an optional extra. Drivers could then choose themselves whether to order this extra or not. I would always try to secure a full size spare for any vehicle I used.

    Dave Nock
    Fleet driver, M J Gleeson

    Firms must address drug/drive issue

    Sir – The Department for Transport report on over-the-counter medicines makes interesting reading, especially in relation to a company's drug and alcohol workplace policy (Fleet NewsNet May 29).
    We find many policies don't address this issue, or the use of prescribed drugs, in sufficient detail to protect directors from prosecution.
    A DR80 'driving or attempting to drive while unfit through drugs' is still an offence under the Road Traffic Act 1988 and carries an obligatory ban of 12 months minimum, just the same as drink driving.

    Roger Singer
    AvOiDD – Occupational Drink/Drug-Driving

    Mobile phone ban is not enough

    Sir – I write regarding the article on the RSPCA taking a hard line on car phones (Fleet NewsNet May 29).
    While I respect the decisions taken by both the RSPCA and RNIB and the fact that in these organisations they may well have the type of disciplined employee who will 'comply' it is my experience that rules will always be broken.
    Although it is still not against the law to use the phone while driving, is it not true that exceeding the speed limit is?
    Is it not true that driving an unroadworthy vehicle is also against the law, as is driving while impaired by drink or drugs?
    My point is that making something a disciplinary offence will not necessarily cure it. Are the office-based employees at these two organisations also aware that they should not call field-based staff on their mobiles?
    It is imperative that organisations have a complete strategy with regard to their fleet drivers, including all aspects of fleet risk management from the mobile phone policy to the suitability of vehicles for the job to how many hours they should be working/driving and when they qualify for an overnight stay.
    Let's stop calling for the banning of everything and start educating ourselves. The carrot will beat the stick every time.

    Andy Neale
    Managing director, Drive & Survive

    June 4 2003

    Lack of proper fleet management training: it's a ticking timebomb

    Sir – Your lead story entitled 'Untrained staff fail to cope with duties' (May 22) unfortunately came as no great surprise to me.
    Despite the fact that cars usually rank in the top three of a businesses' cost hierarchy, along with people and property, many fleets continue to be managed by junior members of staff who have been given the honorary title of 'fleet manager' with little or no training.
    Quite often, despite its status, the car fleet will be just a secondary responsibility of one or two individuals.
    In the case of people and property, you have entire departments devoted to them – together with third-party support already in place should the need arise. Why is this? Because these are vital organs of a company and mismanagement can cost a fortune and a reputation.
    A poorly-managed fleet can have similar consequences and leaving this complex responsibility in the hands of inexperienced individuals is nothing short of a ticking timebomb.
    Fleet management is a full-time job. Why else would there be companies who specialise solely in providing this service? The problem is that everyone thinks they are a car expert, simply because they drive one.
    As such, fleet decisions tend to be based on emotive issues such as lifestyle and status, i.e. getting the best car for an employee within a given price bracket. Looking at this from a risk management perspective, does this approach consider if that person is best suited to that car? No. What about considering licence points and why they were awarded?
    What about ability, for example driving courses attended and knowledge of the Highway Code?
    What about looking at the driver's past record to see how he/she has treated vehicles and kept on top of servicing? In other words, a system of audits, checks and record keeping is essential to match the right car to the right driver and proactively manage risk. With corporate manslaughter legislation looming large ('Fleets await impact of new corporate killing law, May 22), how can such important decisions be left in the hands of untrained staff?
    Our industry has a duty to highlight this issue until standards rise across the board. Those of us who understand the skill of fleet management know the difference it can make to a business and how much there is to be gained by ensuring that there are people in place who are properly trained.

    Tony Donnelly
    Managing director, Goodwood Fleet Management

    Safety: be prepared or face the consequences

    Sir – I read with amazement the perceived panic that has beset fleet decision-makers due to the imminent arrival of the new corporate manslaughter legislation (Fleet NewsNet May 22).
    This legislation has been five years in the making and all fleet decision-makers would have been aware of this had they been actively reviewing the issues surrounding fleet safety.
    Even if this were not the case, it should be paramount for an individual responsible for running a fleet of vehicles to ensure basic health and safety guidelines within their organisations.
    These guidelines should be tailored to the specific vehicles within their own fleet. The coupling of health and safety policies at work (relating to company vehicle use) and a well-thought-out company vehicle users' handbook would cover the majority of the requirements that such a new law would necessitate.
    I constructed a framework for the reduction of operational road risk two years ago with just the help of some basic rules from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA).
    This would cover all but the most detailed proposals that would be introduced. I urge fleet professionals to look further and wider than their own fleet when adopting policies, as I fear that again (as happened with the CO2 emissions tax) on the inception of new rules/laws, many will be ill-prepared.
    It is unsurprising that we retain our lowly position in the eyes of the Government when even issues that have been presented as potential areas of concern previously are ignored until, ultimately, panic sets in.
    I also believe that the new company van tax proposals may have been constructed by a fleet manager rather than an accountant had the legislators held more respect for the fleet professional who deals with these issues on a day-to-day basis. Preparation before legislation – it's not rocket science.

    Alan Peace
    Independent fleet professional

    Automatic limiters: how daft can you get?

    Sir – Regarding trials of a new vehicle that can limit your speed in Leeds (Fleet NewsNet April 17). How stupid can things get?
    There are many reasons why you may need to exceed the speed limit. The system cannot take into consideration any of them, such as:
    1) You are a female driver being hassled by another driver, you feel threatened, your first thought is to accelerate away. Oh dear, your brakes have been applied and your accelerator is useless.
    2) There is a slow moving vehicle (farm tractor). You see an opportunity to pass. You begin to pass the slow moving vehicle and as you are committed to the manoeuvre the slow moving vehicle suddenly indicates an intention to turn right. You cannot brake as another car has followed you to overtake. You have to accelerate. Oh dear, your brakes have been applied and your accelerator is useless.
    3) You are overtaking a stationary bus. As you are committed to the manoeuvre the bus driver puts on his right-hand indicator and sets off without looking in his mirror. You try to accelerate. Oh dear, your brakes have been applied and your accelerator is useless.
    I am sure the £2 million the Government has allocated to a project they say will not be implemented could be put to better use.

    Steve Bennett
    Fleet driver

    Home shopping eases the traffic congestion in UK

    Sir – Following your article on the environmental benefits of home shopping, we have produced some additional figures (Fleet NewsNet May 22).
    The latest figures we compiled were for last Christmas when 10 million miles of seasonal rush traffic were kept off Britain's roads by shoppers using Tesco's internet delivery service to stock up for the festive season. Tesco.com was delivering shopping somewhere in the UK every two seconds up to Christmas Eve.
    The car journeys saved were enough to circle the globe 400 times or to make 22 return trips to the Moon. These figures graphically prove the value of online shopping as a traffic-buster with the 10 million miles saved clocked up in just one busy month.

    Julie McGuckian
    Tesco, Herts

    May 29, 2003

    Lack of training is an issue

    Sir – I write regarding your article on the problem of untrained fleet managers (Fleet News May 22).
    I believe the problem in many organisations is two-fold. The first is the lack of training of many fleet managers, which means they are unaware of many of the options available to them, and decisions are made based on advice from suppliers. They are subject to a never-ending barrage of information by mail, email, phone and fax and are the targets for many 'inducements', or 'bribes' as they used to be called, to use particular suppliers.
    This circumstance is aggravated by the ignorance of company bosses, which is the second and, I think, equally important part of the problem. Many, and probably most, of these senior people are unaware of the culture surrounding the car trade and the fleet business.
    They have little knowledge of the pressures on fleet decision-makers and the demands caused by the constantly shifting requirements of European and UK legislation, taxation and technology are unknown to them. They know nothing of the temptations to which their fleet people are subjected.
    A few months ago I gave a presentation at the Employee Benefits conference and shared the platform with Professor Peter Cooke. The audience was mainly human resource or finance director types, who had indirect responsibility for their car fleets. A small part of my offering described the 'thinly disguised bribery' that flourishes in the business.
    A few of the questions at the end were about this subject. However, one-to-one conversations immediately after the speech and several personal phone calls in the following days, were from these senior people seeking information and advice about the culture I described.
    I cannot see companies giving proper training to their fleet managers without the fleet managers' superiors being educated first. Perhaps someone could offer a half-day course, or an instructive booklet, targeted at these superiors. These senior people would then be aware of the benefits of educating their fleet specialist. They would be able to communicate effectively and constructively with them, and spare their fleet manager the isolation many face.
    Fleet NewsNet is an excellent vehicle for educating and informing the fleet trade. But to attack the problem of untrained fleet managers, we need first to catch the senior people's attention. If this could be done, I am sure a lot of fleet managers would benefit in professionalism, appreciation and status.

    Dug Brown
    Fleet Executive, Somerfield

    Teach yourself fleet admin

    Sir – I totally agree with the report last week's on training for fleet managers.
    I run a fleet of about 60 vehicles. I am primarily a secretary who 'inherited' the running of the fleet when our financial director retired and his secretary, who ran it before me, was made redundant.
    I did not have a clue what I was doing and was just thrown in at the deep end. My company does not consider this job needs any training, but believes it is a simple thing that only takes up a small portion of my time (I wish) – after all, I only order new cars and sell the old ones!
    For example, I have tried to get across to my directors the implications of corporate manslaughter legislation, but I find them unwilling to consider it. They say it will never happen.
    I have since had to teach myself about running a car fleet and I consider I have done a reasonable job. With regard to taxation, I have read as much as I can and keep my drivers updated constantly. The internet has been a godsend.
    I find out so much by reading through Fleet News and then have a basis to move on and get more information on the various subjects.
    I do not think of myself as a fleet manager, although one of my titles is fleet administrator. I am just a secretary helping the drivers and company to understand all aspects of running a fleet to the best of my ability.

    Name and address supplied

    May 21, 2003

    Van tax change plans raise a host of issues for LCV fleets

    Sir – Having just read your article on the proposed changes to van taxation, I am moved, for the first time ever, to respond to a newspaper article.
    There are a number of critical points that must be considered:
    Firstly, employers don't keep older vans just to save the average van driver £33 in annual taxes. Speaking for ourselves, we have older vans where we cannot afford to get new ones, exactly as we do with cars. Vehicles are an enormous part of our overheads and our big company customers do not accept that the phrase 'price rise' even exists.
    Secondly, 95% of our commercial vans do 40,000 to 50,000 miles a year. Our drivers do not want to drive much in the evenings. Try driving 1,000 miles a week on our roads and then you will understand why.
    Thirdly, does the Government have any idea how difficult it would be to get your average engineer to keep proper mileage records? This is not like asking someone who sits behind a desk all day to complete them, believe me. It's hard enough to get anything particularly literate from our well-paid sales force on that front!
    Fourthly, the current rules are simple and take relatively little time to supervise.
    This is not a bad thing. The fact that nearly everything else we administer has got more complicated and time-consuming is not a benefit to us.
    My fifth point is that we are not arguing against the green issues – we welcomed the introduction of emission-based charging on company cars and were one of the first companies to embrace LPG in a big way, which is 15% of our fleet.
    The sixth issue is that double-cabs are without doubt being used as a tax dodge. But just take them out of the equation and tax them as per the car rules. That's a simple solution that will catch a significant amount of the 'dodgers' without upsetting everyone else.
    This list of ideas has taken me 20 minutes to compile. How long did some overpaid think-tank take to come up with this crazy scheme in the first place? Oh and how much did we, the taxpayers, pay for their ivory tower theories?
    Is the Government completely out of touch? So much for the 'common touch' we were promised. This lot is as lacking in reality as the last bunch!
    We run about 50 commercial vehicles, nearly all of which have little private use. We are a family-run small firm with about one quarter of the vehicles being more than four years old, not by choice but out of economic necessity. Perhaps they haven't noticed that it's getting a little tough out here in the real world. If anybody thinks they can justify the changes to me, I will happily make time to hear them.

    Dave McCabe
    Finance director, Walter-Broadley Machines, Northampton

    Sir – Your story on van taxation certainly looks set to cause controversy as, yet again, the Government aims to get at the essential user by increasing their tax liability. Having done it to the company car driver, it is now out for the van driver.
    Obviously (to me), the true reason behind the change is the double-cab brigade who have changed purely for the purpose of saving tax, but still effectively have a car. But the Government's solution is, as usual, to hit everybody, while pointing the finger of blame at a very small minority. I understood from something I read recently that the problem to the taxman of changing to a van was very small, as the number of commercials sold for this purpose is relatively tiny.

    Obviously the downside to all this is that the extra cost to the white van man in the street will be passed on to his customers and the whole thing reverts back to an inflationary vicious circle.
    I hope you're satisfied, Mr Blair, but you should remember what happened to the last Prime Minister who cheated society long-term – she is still reviled throughout the country and will never be forgiven by the voters.

    Mike Wilkinson
    Newton Aycliffe, Co Durham

    Sir – I must say I agree wholeheartedly with Trevor Gelken and his views on the taxing of van drivers and indeed with Nigel Bannister (Fleet NewsNet, May 8).
    I fully sympathise with the potential problem of the parking of vans in the backlash of drivers handing back their vehicles at the end of the day if they are hit with a big hike in taxable benefit.
    I too, in a much smaller way, would have a severe problem in parking our 48 vans. I suspect that 90% of other van-using companies would encounter the same problem too.
    It is easy to foresee industrial estates and surrounding areas cluttered with vans parked all over the place, including nearby residential areas, due to lack of parking places. These same places would then be cluttered with private cars every day by the van drivers collecting their vehicles, having driven to work in probably not very environmentally-friendly cars. All in all this would have a detrimental effect on the environment, particularly at a localised level – in fact the exact opposite effect of what the alleged aims of the Government are with its taxing policy on company vehicles.
    If we were to take this scenario even further, we would encounter what I perceive to be the worst problem of all – security.
    The parking up of vans at and around business premises would create a thieves' paradise where they could walk around at leisure and pick whatever they wanted in the way of contents of the vans or parts from the vans or indeed the vans themselves. I speak from experience on this matter as the only times I have left a van outside our premises at night (an ordinary industrial estate) I have had all three of the above happen.
    The thought of having even 50% of my vans handed back and left outside unattended every night scares me. We all know that even if the police were interested, they would not have the resources to police all such areas constantly throughout the night.
    The upshot of all this would be higher insurance premiums or the employing of a full-time security guard to watch over the vehicles at nights and weekends.
    Either way it would end up as yet another extra cost burden to businesses courtesy of this Government, while increasing environmental damage.

    Steve Borrett,
    Director Town & Country Flooring, Huntingdon, Cambs

    Sir – Since the implementation of the current tax on company car drivers, it has become even more evident that we are the 'cash cows' or 'golden geese'.
    How can the Government use emissions as a measure for van taxation? I consider myself fortunate that my company allows me to drive a car of my choice which is serviced regularly and will be replaced after covering 70,000 miles.
    For the job I do I could not use public transport due to the equipment I have to carry and a car is the only alternative. I choose to tow a caravan all year round holidaying in the UK (yes I also contribute to the UK economy in other ways) and as such want the comfort of knowing I have the benefit of part-time four-wheel drive. If I could not have a 4x4 as a company car I would buy one for private use.
    There must be thousands of vehicles on the road that are not classed as company cars or are privately owned, many of which may or may not be serviced regularly. I do not see the Government taxing them, even though they make a considerable contribution to emissions.

    Steve Bennett
    Details supplied

  • Details of the consultation document are available on the internet at www.inlandrevenue.gov.uk/consult_new/index.htm Responses should be received by July 31

    ACFO should add fuel to list of fleet issues

    Sir – I was pleased to see that the Association of Car Fleet Operators (ACFO) is opening dialogue with Transport Minister John Spellar regarding key fleet issues.
    There can be little doubt that real action is needed to improve the lot of Britain's business motorists and the organisations that employ them.
    ACFO's concern that fleet drivers are currently treated as 'cash cows' is a valid one – all the more so when looking at one area that was not mentioned in the article: fuel costs.
    Forecourt prices may be slipping but they still form a significant part of every fleet's operational costs. This gives fleet decision-makers yet another headache, while the competitiveness of UK companies in Europe is being eroded by fuel duties that remain punitively high.
    An effective fuel management system is vital because without one fleets cannot hope to reduce those costs. However, it would be good if such a system were supplemented by a more business-minded approach to taxation.
    The next time ACFO speaks with John Spellar, it would be worth adding fuel costs to the list of issues. British business would be a lot better off with lower prices at the pumps.

    Danny Clenaghan
    Managing director of Fuel and Business Mobility, Arval PHH

    April 30, 2003

    Show loss a shame

    Sir – Along with many smaller companies in the fleet sector I would like to say how sorry we are to hear that the Fleet Show has been cancelled. The show has long been the best business and networking event in the fleet calendar and it is a shame that the industry cannot support it.
    Many smaller companies have made the show central to their marketing plans, picking up valuable leads which can take them through the year.
    And it is sad that an industry as big as the fleet market which boasts three million vehicles and has hundreds of manufacturer, service and support companies within it, cannot get together to stage one major event. The fleet sector is poorer without it.

    Jim Kerr
    Managing director, JTK Automotive

    April 23, 2003

    Fuel providers must offer more

    Sir – As fleet manager for a fleet of 620 vehicles, I must admit I too have found our current fuel provider rather lacking in the amount of information offered and in the general time it takes to get a query or a problem resolved.
    While I understand the pressures of business and the limits to which everyone is stretched in these days of personnel resources and the cost of technology, the way forward is definitely by offering better and more proactive ways for the fleet manager to manage fuel costs.
    The internet is of great benefit in this regard and as long as the internet products being offered by the fuel provider work, it can streamline processes and make a fleet manager's job much easier.
    Some fuel companies seem rather limited in what they can offer and the fleet manager has to rely on constant emails, requesting ad hoc reports for details that really should be made available to him or her as a matter of course. All we as fleet managers want to do is manage and analyse our own information and in so doing, proactively manage an enormous expense to the point of reducing costs, which is after all, our end intention.

    Sue MacNicol
    Fleet manager, Pitney Bowes

    Camera solution

    Sir – We accept speed cameras as being necessary in some places but it is interesting that I have not seen any protests about cameras at traffic lights. Perhaps the route forward is for those sited at accident blackspots to be highly visible. If we make these units so obvious to see, then if drivers are caught, they should be punished.
    Cameras do work in slowing traffic, but they only work completely if they are visible. If they are continually catching speeding drivers, their role as a speed reduction measure has not worked.

    Martin Savage Director, Mid-Kent Electrical Engineering Co Ltd, Maidstone

    Let's hear it for the small firms

    Sir – Orbit Vehicle Contracts is a small independent contract hire broker. On behalf of all other small companies, I must take issue with your Fleet Forum comment that being a small company means offering a 'dodgy' service unmatched by the 'excellence' of the big boys.
    Your answer gives the impression that the small company is operating vehicles totally on its own book. This might have been true 10 years or so ago but with the increase in funding and operating costs, together with the staggering falls in used car values, the majority of one-man bands are now acting as introducers to the more mainstream companies. Those of us who keep our businesses small can offer a better overall product at a lower cost.
    My customers give one of the main reasons for using us as the fact that we treat them as individuals and are interested in their specific requirements – not often the case with the big boys.

    Mike Crawley
    Orbit Vehicle Contracts

  • Ed – The Helplines comment stated in the first paragraph that it could not provide guidance about specific commercial companies. Instead it concentrated on how to evaluate any contract hire company, not just a small company or broker. As the Helpline said, fleets must simply ensure they do not expose themselves to commercial risk.

    April 9, 2003

    New car discounts: nothing changes

    Sir – I am in the market for a new car and read with interest your recent article on discounts and European prices. In the past I have personally imported five new cars from Germany and in every case have saved substantial amounts of money.
    So now, according to your article, I don't need to go to the trouble of importing and I can even forget the car supermarkets.
    What I want is a BMW 320d SE. The BMW UK list price is £22,675. Drivethedeal's price is £21,668, Springwell Imports quotes £19,721 and Tradesales in Slough £19,499.
    On this basis nothing seems to have changed, or is it just that you can get discounts on less popular cars that the UK dealers can't sell?

    David Higham
    Details supplied

    Uninsured drivers must be stopped

    Sir – We would like to thank Nigel Underdown of the Bank of Scotland for continuing to raise the serious issues around uninsured drivers.
    This was one of the key findings of this year's RAC Report on Motoring, Driving on Company Business, released in January. It found that only 2% of fleet managers check to see if private cars used by company employees for work journeys are safe to drive and more than 50% believe that insurance policies for private cars cover work trips – more often than not, they do not.
    The most practical response to the problem is for businesses to take steps now to formulate health and safety policies for their fleets, and to take steps to effectively communicate and implement those policies.
    The penalties attached to health and safety legislation will only ever increase in severity and amount, and the longer a company delays with such policies, the bigger their potential exposure to harsh legislation becomes.

    Simon Cashmore
    Managing director, RAC Corporate Services

    Fuel advice

    Sir – Stewart Whyte talks in his Helplines in detail about the need to have the right fuel economy figures as well as fuel prices and mentions the regional/local variation when calculating mileage reimbursement. However, he doesn't suggest any sources. Our 'petrolbusters' section of www.theAA.com uses information from every fuel card in the UK and is updated every minute. We know that many fleet managers rely on the AA monthly fuel price report, produced by the petrolbusters team.

    Nick Garton,
    AA Business Services

    March 2, 2003

    I was a victim of tax code errors

    Sir – I read with interest your article 'Tax code errors to cost drivers dear', as I was very nearly a victim of the Inland Revenue.
    As the HR manager and responsible for payroll, I see all the tax codings come in and saw my own, which was quite shocking.
    I was fortunate enough to be issued with a new car last week and quickly called the Inland Revenue to advise them of the list price and CO2 emissions, knowing that I would have a reduction in tax payable due to the lower rating.
    To my horror, the coding notice arrived and was almost twice as high as the previous one, so I immediately called them. I was fortunate to speak to someone who knew what they were doing and they amended their records.
    They told me that somebody previously had incorrectly entered the taxable value at about three times what it should have been. I am now awaiting a revised coding for the new tax year.
    I was fortunate as I knew how to check my coding notice. I dare say that many company car drivers do not do so and could, as was almost my case, pay far too much tax.
    I don't know what the answer is as it is difficult to stop input error. Maybe the Inland Revenue should have systems in place where each person's work gets checked as a matter of course.

    Philip Silver,
    Human resources manager, Comshare

    More hassle with MID website

    Sir – We have been trying since we got our passwords to load our data on to the Motor Insurance Database. In the end, after trying three or four times a day, we handed it all over to our insurance company which finally managed to load the data very recently.
    Now that our fleet is 'legal and loaded' we have today spent an hour-and-a-quarter trying to load eight cars manually on to the system and put in end dates for eight cars. Each time we have completed one transaction for a car, we have received the message that the database 'is very busy and to try later' – therefore having to log in from scratch again.
    I had been under the illusion that getting the data downloaded on to the system would be the hardest part of the process. I hadn't banked on the system not being able to cope with me also trying to make changes. If it carries on at the above rate, I will need to spend one day a week just trying to get changes made.
    Our insurance details are already held by the local police, therefore any vehicle registered in our name can be matched with records they hold – so what there is to be gained by accommodating the database is a complete mystery.

    Andy Bemment
    Fleet manager, via email

    Let's have some driver self-discipline

    Sir – With regard to the proposals to introduce so-called 'annoyance fines ,there is a simple answer. If drivers exercised rather more self-discipline, had more regard for the rules of the road and demonstrated more courtesy to other road users, such fines and other penalties would not be necessary. The answer lies in your own hands. Don't blame others for having to legislate for your own failings.

    Andy Robson
    Robins & Day Leasing

    March 19, 2003

    Why a ban on private cars should not be necessary

    Sir – I write in response to your article 'Call to ban private cars used for work' (Fleet News March 13).
    I very much agree with the sentiments of Nigel Underdown relating to the duty of care issues when using a private car for company use, but if the correct opt-out scheme is implemented, none of these issues will be a problem.
    Within the scheme there should be an appropriate monthly allowance which will allow for business class insurance and a full maintenance package. There should also be guidelines that ensure the appropriate vehicle is chosen for use. When a person decides to opt-out his chosen car should be signed off as being suitable for use.

    Nigel Cowles
    Total Fleet Solutions

    Sir – The health and safety issues surrounding duty of care and corporate responsibility are far too important to be trivialised in an argument over car ownership.
    Quite frankly the suggestion that employees should leap into an unfamiliar rental, pool or colleague's company car instead of using their own is madness and completely misses the point – safety.
    Furthermore, while employees should clearly be properly insured with a suitable and comprehensively maintained car, surely the real issue for the employer is to ensure that they understand their individual responsibilities and that adequate controls are in place to ensure compliance.
    It is simply not sufficient to assume that because the car is company owned and maintained that the employee will therefore be a better and more responsible driver. For example, even though our own online managed schemes include insurance, maintenance, mileage tracking and spot checks, there is no guarantee that an employee is regularly checking tyre pressures or wear, or that he/she is driving responsibly all the time.
    For this reason we are working with a leading health and safety consultant to produce clear guidelines and training materials for our clients and all their employees, including company car drivers.

    Jim Salkeld
    Managing director, Opticar

    MID a good red tape example

    Sir – We have a fleet of 110 cars and 45 commercial vehicles. I have to say that we think the Motor Industry Database is a terrific example of pointless red tape. It's just another burden on business that adds no value.

    John Manson
    Amalgamated Metal Corporation

    SIR – I am not surprised that companies have ignored the registration deadlines for the Motor Industry Database. There are enough issues to be dealt with in the effort to stay ahead in the market than to worry about registration.
    I recently sold my company where I was chairman and CEO and the new owners have stripped out as many of the senior management as they could to keep going – this included the fleet manager who looked after about 45 cars and vans. The job of fleet manager has been given to a lesser qualified and experienced person who probably knows nothing about the new requirements of registration.

    Andre Blond
    Senior partner, AG Consultancies

    March 12, 2003

    What about illegal drivers?

    Sir – I really did have to check upon reading your article on annoyance fines that it was not April 1. When are the police going to wake up to the number of uninsured drivers currently on our roads? When are the police going to take up the issue of vehicles with no MoT or Road Fund Tax?
    If I am to be involved in a shunt with a 'annoying driver', then at least I would like to think that he or she was insured. I write from painful past experience. Give me the 'annoying driver' every time, you can always pull over and let them pass.

    Advanced Driver
    Swansea

    Speed and safety on the motorway

    Sir – How many accidents are caused on the motorway by going too slowly? I am in favour of increasing the speed limit to 80mph, but we should also introduce a minimum speed. It is not unusual to see car drivers going at about 40mph or less, totally oblivious to the problems it causes.
    Perhaps the minimum speed should be set at 55mph, or even higher for cars.

    Martin Savage
    Company director, Mid-Kent Electrical Engineering, Maidstone

    Sir – I find an increasing number of drivers on our motorways using only the middle lane even if the inside lane is empty. This is a hazard, as if a car is travelling on the inside lane faster than the driver on the middle lane, they have to cross all lanes to overtake and then cross all lanes to get back into the inside lane. Surely this could be one for the police?

    Jan Dewey
    Sales administration supervisor, Chas A Blatchford & Sons, Basingstoke

    Sir – I note with interest comments from Spencer King regarding the administrative burden of the EU Fourth Insurance Directive. He feels this is justified by a reduction in uninsured driving. In the UK it is theoretically necessary to be properly insured before being able to obtain a road tax disc, which is displayed on the windscreen in a very easy-to-check format.
    In southern Ireland this is taken even further with the requirement that an insurance disc is also displayed on the screen.
    But neither country has dealt with the problems of uninsured drivers, so it is not readily apparent what a further less direct system will add. We then look at the excessive bureaucratic paperwork involved in having properly insured vehicles while at the same time proving no deterrent whatsoever.
    Perhaps I am taking too simplistic a view, but where might anyone derive any benefit from the new regulations?

    Mike Madden
    Insurance claims manager, John Menzies Distribution

    February 19, 2003

    More on Fourth Directive 'fiasco'

    Sir - I read with increasing frustration about the fleets and fleet managers who have failed to make the recent deadline for the EU Fourth Insurance Directive. I for one have been aware of this for some time through the Association of Car Fleet Operators and initially discussed this with our brokers – who had no information – as far back as March 2000.

    On pursuing our insurers ever since, we were continually told that we would be receiving some information on how they wanted the information presented and the ready-made excuse that the final legislation regarding hire and demo cars was still not in place.

    This was chased almost weekly via brokers and insurers until suddenly in early January 2003 they sent through the information needed, yet still the deadline for registering was January 20 with the threat of a fine if you were late.

    I have no doubt there are numerous fleets out there which have experienced the same attitude of insurers and the Government to this issue.

    Having completed that exercise we then need to look at congestion charging, changes to fuel scale rate taxing and we are all too well aware that a Fifth Insurance Directive is already winging its way towards us. Fleet managers do a very good job and work long hours – it's about time they got some credit for what they do instead of being continually blamed because civil servants are failing in their duty.

    Mick Donovan
    Group fleet manager, Bowmer & Kirkland

    Sir – I write in response to the letters under the heading 'MID system is a fiasco' (see below), regarding the problems readers have experienced when supplying data to the Motor Insurance Database (MID).

    The Motor Insurance Information Centre (MIIC) fully acknowledges that over the past two to three weeks, many users will have experienced difficulties using the MID update site and we would like to apologise to all those affected. We would, however, like to allay any concerns and clarify some points about supplying vehicle data to the MID:

  • The capacity issues experienced recently arose due to a much higher than anticipated level of usage of the central site. This was in part due to people not taking action until they had seen the definitive legislation that was published. In addition, in some cases, user IDs and passwords were issued to policyholders later than planned. This issue has now been resolved and the stability of the site has improved significantly.
  • Where policyholders using the MID site have made reasonable efforts to supply data and have been prevented from doing so by the technical difficulties, it is unlikely that any enforcement action will be taken under the regulations.
  • More than half of all policyholders should be supplying their data to insurers, most of whom offer a range of submission methods, so any issues with MIDUpdate.com will not have affected these policyholders.
  • By January 20, 1.2 million fleet/motor trade vehicles had been loaded on to the MID, with a further million loaded since. In excess of 250,000 vehicles have been submitted direct to the web by policy-holders. Further information on the EU Fourth Motor Insurance Directive can also be found on www.miic.org.uk

    Donald Martin
    Programme manager, Motor Insurers' Information Centre

    February 11, 2003

    Telematics: liberty versus liability

    Sir – I am writing in response to your Guest Opinion article by Arval PHH's Mike Waters on the pros and cons of fitting telematics systems to fleet vehicles (Search FNN, keyword: Waters).

    The item correctly identified some of the positive aspects of fitting a 'black box' telematics system to fleet vehicles. The ability to manage the fleet cost-effectively through timely information should be paramount in managers' minds.

    However, it is important to realise where corporate responsibilities lie and that they usurp any civil liberties issues.

    Any company operating vehicles, of any description, has a legal and moral responsibility to ensure that those vehicles are operated in accordance with company rules, health and safety legislation and, where applicable, the traffic regulations/Highway Code.

    The company may not be the owner of the vehicle but that does not negate its responsibility. This is also the case where drivers are utilising a private vehicle but are receiving mileage allowance to conduct business.

    It is still required that the company provides 'a safe vehicle, safe system of work and a safe workplace and environment', according to the Health and Safety Executive. The most pressing issue is claims that these telematics units cannot be fitted to any vehicle unless the 'owner' authorises the fitment.

    Yet, if a driver has infringed company or traffic regulations, then why should the information available from the unit not be used for disciplinary purposes in the same way as tacographs and mobile telephone records are currently used by the police or employers?

    The Data Protection Act is not applicable in these cases. Employers have a right to insist that modules are fitted to private vehicles if the user is in regular receipt of money for driving that vehicle on business, to ensure that employers are protected against a corporate liability claim.

    Telematics systems can produce a vast amount of information for fleet managers – in many cases too much. But it is for the managers to dictate to their system provider exactly what information they require.

    Roger D Cross
    Marketing director, AutoTrac plc

    Companies must watch out for VAT hitch on road toll

    Sir – Following your recent article looking at VAT on road tolls (Search FNN, keyword: tolls), I was interested to see that the Government is allowing business drivers to reclaim the VAT on these charges.

    However, there is another point that needs to be made in regard to businesses that want to reclaim that VAT (in addition to their drivers). The Sixth VAT Directive from the EU, which is likely to soon become law in the UK, only allows companies to reclaim VAT when the company itself is invoiced – NOT one of its employees.

    Therefore, once the directive is in place, drivers who pay the road tolls themselves and then hand the receipt to their employer will put that employer in a position where it cannot get back the VAT.

    I would thus like to see what plans the Government has in place to prevent businesses losing a lot of money from drivers who pay the tolls themselves. Will all drivers on toll roads need a corporate credit card or similar mechanism?

    Danny Clenaghan
    Managing director of fuel and business mobility, Arval PHH

    February 5, 2003

    MID system is a fiasco

    SIR – I have just read with great interest your front page article regarding registration on the Motor Insurance Database (MID) (Fleet News January 30). I have had my data ready to submit for the past two days but have not been able to do so because the relevant internet page 'cannot be displayed'.

    I think the quality of information that has been given to small businesses in respect of their obligations has been extremely poor. The only compliment I have to give to anyone connected with this fiasco is to the useful helpline.

    Pauline Oakshott
    Company secretary, Rolawn (Turf Growers)

    SIR – I read with some amusement and surprise the article regarding the possibility of fines being imposed for missing the deadline for fleet registration on the Motor Insurance Database.

    I was fully expecting an article based on the fiasco of trying to get the information loaded on the database.

    However, the implication of your article is that companies are going to be fined for missing the deadline. Any threat of penalties or ones actually levied at this stage should be firmly placed at the door of the MID.

    I had been waiting for passwords for some weeks prior to the 'go live' date of January 20. These arrived with me on January 15. It would appear the database has suffered a 'system overload' since that date. Having tried on a daily basis, I am still unable to transfer a file to the database.

    Did the Motor Insurers' Information Centre do its homework properly in the first instance?

    The Norwich Union helpdesk continues to advise that there are problems on the website and the site administrators are working to correct them. I trust my comments give a balanced view of what has been occurring over the past couple of weeks.

    David Lewis
    Fleet and contracts manager, Carlson Wagonlit Travel

    Ed - Fleet NewsNet raised the issue of technical problems with the database when it went live. Its organisers say it is now working properly, but you need to have an up-to-date internet browser to log on. Check www.miic.org.uk for details.

    Over-estimating mileage can cause problems

    Sir – Regarding the guest opinion piece from Ken Davis of Auto Management. His assertion was that 'employees should over-estimate rather than under-estimate the total mileage because additional mileage will incur penalty charges per mile'.

    I would offer a word of caution to companies which seek to promote or encourage the inflation of employees' contract mileage for an aim of avoiding excess mileage charges.

    As an employee, if your allowance is static (i.e equal monthly gross sums) and you inflate your contract mileage, you will find the vehicle running costs will be higher and therefore your monthly vehicle payment will be higher.

    Admittedly, a miscalculation of mileage may lead to a nominal penalty upon return of the vehicle, but don't forget this is only payable if you return the vehicle. You could simply extend the contract to cover a greater mileage.

    Simon Berger
    Director, Seed Corporation
    'Innovative Fleet Concepts'

    January 29, 2003

    Training through the fleet maze

    Sir – Further to the letter regarding fleet management training needing recognition and resourcing (see below) I can only wholeheartedly agree.

    The fleet decision-maker's job is becoming increasingly more complex with managing corporate road risk, the Fourth EU Insurance Directive, alternative fuels, congestion charging, speed cameras, etc, etc. Add to this even more complex issues such as cash alternatives and the potential risks associated with this (cost, business insurance and maintenance issues) and it is obvious the fleet decision-maker's life is not simple.

    Fleet executives must highlight to senior management the high business cost of fleet operations and the requirement for skilled and professional fleet personnel. Without this, even a small fleet can become a massive corporate risk, as well as a financial millstone.

    How do we increase professionalism? Training and promoting industry best practice.

    Chris Chandler
    Director of training, Fleet Audits

    Drink-driving: not just a Christmas problem

    Sir – The latest drink-drive figures hide the issue for fleet decision-makers and others responsible for fleet safety.

    Summer drink-driving is a much bigger problem than it is in the winter.

    Now is the time for those responsible for fleet safety to get out their drug and alcohol workplace policy and check how it is being implemented before the prime risk time arrives.

    However, our experience is that many companies either don't have a policy, or if they do, have not reviewed it recently. When the unthinkable happens, they will at best lose a valued member of the team and could be facing court proceedings for sending drivers out on the road without having assessed a foreseeable hazard.

    Drug driving is also on the increase. A Scottish study recently found that one in 10 drivers under 40 years old have driven under the effects of drugs. Do you know how long to leave it after smoking cannabis before driving? Surprisingly, some of your staff need to know!

    A large proportion of those convicted of drink driving were 'morning after' drivers and were driving company vehicles at the time. This clearly makes it the company's business.

    Roger Singer
    Avoidd Training and Education

    Car test praised

    Sir – This is just a quick note to say thanks for the group test about estates which I saw featured on your website, Fleet NewsNet. I am in the process of choosing a new company car and this feature has given me all the information I need.

    Top stuff.

    Tony Gwenin
    Management development consultant, via email

    January 22, 2003

    Keep a tight rein on repairs

    Sir - I read with interest the letter from Alan Bird of the Vehicle Builders and Repairers Association (VBRA) regarding the length of time it is taking to get insurance company-approved repairers to carry out accident repairs to cars (see below).

    I believe no fleet with more than 500 cars needs to carry comprehensive insurance - it is now uneconomic. The answer is to use an accident management company to administer repairs and lay down a specification as to the standards of repair. Pay the accident management company a fair fee and do not pressurise selected repairers for unrealistic labour rates and discounts.

    By doing this, you will find that a loyalty is built up by the repairer to your fleet, as a customer, and quality repairs will result, which in turn will result in higher resale values.

    Over the years it has been my misfortune to see some horrific repair jobs and I am sorry to say some of them by repairers proudly displaying the VBRA logo.

    Malcolm H Hartley
    Former fleet manager, Northampton

    Training essential

    Sir – Regarding your fleet panel on what the year holds for fleet decision-makers (January 6) – yes, I do expect the fleet professional role to become more difficult. But I have a hope that with the greater burden will come a recognition that effective fleet management requires appropriate resourcing – particularly the requirement for training.

    Carol Green
    Transport co-ordinator, AWG

    BMW offer may tempt user-choosers

    Sir – I read the news that BMW is offering free servicing on its 3 and 5-series diesels over three years/60,000 miles to business customers. Presumably this will tip the scales for many user choosers to select such vehicles on contract hire as it must surely lead to a reduction in with-maintenance contract hire quotes of maybe £20 per month.

    Steve Danby
    Corporate services manager, Mazars

    What makes a good fleet manager?

    Sir - Further to the letter regarding drivers keeping cars roadworthy (see below), it just goes to show - there are fleet managers and there are fleet managers.

    David Carter
    Fleet manager, Microtechs

    January 15, 2003

    Solution to long body repair delays

    Sir - Further to the issue of the time, inconvenience and cost it can now take to get accident-damaged vehicles back on the road.

    Stewart Whyte as usual gave a most comprehensive answer, highlighting some of the concerns policyholders are now experiencing which have been brought about by the actions of the insurers themselves.

    From the Vehicle Builders and Repairers Association's (VBRA) point of view and the repair industry as a whole, we would like to offer alternatives in getting vehicles back on the road as quickly and professionally as possible.

    The vehicle repair industry has contracted dramatically over the past 10 years and is continuing to do so to such a point where it can now be said that the market is in balance with capacity.

    But in the future, due to continuing business closures, there will be a significant shortfall in repair capacity.

    Under the influence of insurer approval schemes, a disproportionate amount of work is being directed into insurer-approved repairer networks where the repairer has little or no option but to accept the work. This is a condition of the approval contract, even when at certain times of the year their lead-time can be many weeks.

    However, this is where policyholders can assert their rights. It is the policyholders' right to be able to select a repairer of their choice to carry out their repairs. They need not be one of the insurer's approved repairers but one that could be local to the operator. They will be able to provide an estimate (only one estimate is required) and carry out the work in much reduced time while providing, in the vast majority of cases, at least the same level of services and in many cases even greater service, being the repairer of your choice.

    However, some insurers are well known for trying to make it difficult and putting obstacles in the way of obtaining authorisation. But a phone call from your repairer with your backing will obtain rapid authorisation for the work to start as your future business with that insurer will certainly concentrate their minds.

    Next time you are given unacceptable completion times, just give your local repairer a call and see what they can do for you. The names and addresses of VBRA members who operate to known standards incorporating the industries consumer code of practice are on our website www.vbra.co.uk

    Alan Bird
    VBRA

    Donation thanks

    Sir – Thank you for your donation representing the money you collected instead of sending Christmas cards this year. I thank you on behalf of Ben for supporting our work in this way. Can I also ask you to pass on our thanks to everyone involved in raising this sum.

    Judy Semadeni
    Donor services assistant, Ben

    January 8, 2002

    E-commerce is a valuable tool

    Sir – Following recent debate about using the internet in fleet management my company is more than familiar with the benefits of e-commerce with regard to contract hiring. I operate 50 company cars through two suppliers. Our most recent supplier is Tuskerdirect, which enables us not only to choose and order our cars online, but also manage our entire fleet on our own personal internet site.

    It is company policy for us to retain two suppliers so we also have another competitive supplier. This not only gives us a choice of who to order from but also gives us a good measure of how competitive the pricing is.

    Although both my suppliers' prices are consistently low, I gain an extra advantage from Tusker's system in terms of time and efficiency savings.

    With the online service we can do all our research on all makes and models in one place. We don't have to wait for someone in a call centre to get back to us and have to chase them while struggling to speak to the same person as the last time we rang. I think a lot of the misgivings people have are related to their own fear of the internet.

    I myself am not the world's greatest computer expert but I always find the system easier to manage than lots of bits of paper and computer files, which I have to continually cross-refer to. The drivers also spend far less time looking for the car they want as the system automatically allows them to only view the vehicles that are in accordance with company policy and within their band allowance.

    The good thing about using an online package is that we can easily keep track of every detail of every car, right down to the radio code, all in one place, which makes maintaining records simple. As you can imagine, this is easier on the memory as well as the administration.

    My experience of e-commerce fleet solutions is that they deliver all the benefits that the internet originally promised.

    Roger Bishop
    Managing director, Bishops Move

    Ed: Increasing fleet efficiency is one of the key issues to be addressed at a forthcoming Fleet News event. Move Your Fleet Online, organised by Fleet News and sister online title FleetNewsNet, offers fleet decision-makers an in-depth briefing on what the internet can do. The event takes place on January 28 at the Heritage Motor Industry Centre, Gaydon, Warwickshire.

  • For more information, contact Sandra Evitt on 01733 468123 or email: sandra.evitt@emap.com

    Fleets should demand action on tyre pricing

    Sir – I read the Fleet Forum comment on tyre pricing (Fleet management December 12) with a great deal of interest.

    For some time, we have been calling on the tyre industry to adopt a more transparent approach to pricing, believing that many current practices are questionable.

    The most common is the 'top 20' method. If an account manager from a fast-fit company visits a fleet manager with the intention of forging a solus deal, the chances are he will start the ball rolling by compiling a list of the 20 most often bought tyre sizes and types on the fleet in the previous 12 months.

    He will quote what appear to be good prices on them.

    However, what the fleet manager is actually doing is giving this supplier leeway to charge almost what they like on every other tyre bought – and because a third of the fleet is replaced by new vehicles every year, a third of that list is probably already no longer applicable.

    It is very easy for your total tyre bill to actually rise.

    We believe that fleet managers stand to gain the best pricing by asking their suppliers to work on a fixed margin and by demanding a price guarantee designed to match or beat the lowest.

    David Goodyear
    General manager, AA Tyre Fitting

    Ignorance of insurance move is rife

    SIR – I am gravely concerned about how few fleet decision-makers know anything about the effect of the Fourth EU Motor Insurance Directive.

    Recent research states that of those fleet executives questioned, 76% had heard of the Fourth Directive and that 67% of them knew the implications of non-compliance. In addition, 36% of them were ready to supply the data.

    However, our experience seems to differ somewhat from this. In the past 10 sales demonstrations Chevin has given to potential new customers, only one knew anything about it. Even at our annual client networking and workshop day in October only four customers out of the 50 who attended had heard of it.

    I find this quite concerning. Does this not make the UK unprepared? After all, the January 20 deadline (by which all company car, van and truck details will have to be logged with the Motor Insurance Database) is only a matter of days away. Considering that non-compliance on this date is not an option and will be a criminal offence, I find this alarming.

    Ashley Sowerby
    Director, Chevin Fleet Solutions

    Cyclists must act on road safety too

    Sir – I read the letter from Alastair King ('Training for safer roads' see below) and believe that it's not the sole duty of the poor motorist to be re-trained.

    The vast majority of cyclists pay little or no attention to the Highway Code and indeed a drive through a large city will highlight the way the laws are flouted by cyclists, who incidentally pay absolutely nothing to use the highway.

    With regard to pedestrian safety, a lot of the responsibility still lies in educating people to be more aware of their surroundings.

    Finally, would he be equally happy to apply the same serious legislation to cyclists and pedestrians who act without due care?

    Tim Heneghan-White
    General sales manager, Haymill Saab

    Drivers should be trusted to keep cars roadworthy

    Sir – Regarding the idea that as a fleet decision-maker I should be making compulsory winter checks on drivers' cars. Don't you think I have got enough to do coping with London congestion charging, hands-free phone kits, providing fleet information to the insurance company and whatever other information a million and one people seem to want to know about our fleet?

    'Fleet manager' is merely a task I carry out, not my job title. I do not even see most of the cars on our fleet from one month to another. Surely if we cannot trust people to keep their own cars roadworthy, be it winter or summer, then they should not have a company car.

    If you start doing compulsory winter checks then why not do the same for the summer holidays when maybe cars are going to be taken abroad? It is just not practical. The onus must be on the driver. It is in their own interest to keep their vehicle roadworthy and safe to drive in.

    Surely if a car is serviced regularly, it should not need a special winter check.

    Name and address supplied

    December 18, 2002

    Road do-gooders are so misguided
    Sir –
    So the 'do-gooders' are up in arms about proposals to widen the M6 and M1 (environmental damage, etc).

    Presumably some of these are the same people who are against the proposals to widen the West Coast Mainline, etc. Surely that is just as environmentally damaging on a local scale.

    Reducing congestion hot-spots will reduce long-term environmental damage as cars work more efficiently when moving at a reasonable speed, rather than in a stop-start driving conditions.

    Surely road improvements are part of an integrated transport policy, the aim of which is not to force people on to public transport at any cost, but to make all journeys more efficient and to provide realistic options for travel other than by road. While I agree that there are many unnecessary vehicle journeys, the vast majority are undertaken due to the alternative transport (including car sharing) options being totally impractical and not cost-effective to businesses and individuals alike.

    Ian Smith
    group accountant, CPiO Ltd

    Great LPG idea
    Sir –
    Liquefied petroleum gas-only auction sales would be a good idea. LPG conversions range massively in terms of quality and support, from back street conversions through to quality conversions warranted by manufacturers.

    An auction would enable buyers to purchase good quality LPG units at the right price without having to worry.

    Stuart Chamberlain, Interleasing (UK)

    Flexibility is becoming more important
    Sir –
    It came as no great surprise to read Nigel Underdown's comments on how company car drivers will be affected by the lowering emissions-based tax bands every year.

    This is one of the many changes that are affecting the traditional three- or four-year company car leasing cycle.

    Drivers, and hence fleets, are looking more closely at packages that are more flexible than standard contract hire, because only then can they change their vehicles and thus improve their own tax positions as the emission bands tighten.

    However, I feel that this is indicative of a much wider trend. 'Flexibility' is becoming a key watchword in HR departments up and down the country, both in terms of work-life balance and employee benefits.

    The time when employees stayed with the same company for their entire career is over, and fleets will have to adapt to this sea change in working practices. There is still a place for contract hire and similar leasing products, but this is the time for companies with fleets to keep an eagle eye on the changes in British working culture. It will pay to be proactive.

    Ken Needham
    Commercial manager – Mini Lease Arval PHH

    Mobile phones: the wrangle goes on
    Sir –
    To add to the debate regarding mobile telephones, we all agree that to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving a motor vehicle is not a wise thing to do.

    Certainly, it can be dangerous because the driver is not concentrating on the road, but perhaps it will help to clarify matters with regard to the current position if I quote Regulation 104 of the (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986.

    This states: 'No person shall drive or cause or permit to be driven a motor vehicle on a road if the driver is in such a position that he cannot have proper control of the vehicle or have a full view of the road and traffic ahead.'

    As far as the use of hand-help phones is concerned, the operative words are 'cannot have proper control of the vehicle'.

    What is proper control? How is this defined? The matter of proper control is subjective and relies upon supportive evidence in order to prove the offence. The prosecutor must show evidence additional to the fact that the driver was using his hand-held phone.

    It is not sufficient to say that the driver was holding his phone to his ear, therefore he was not in proper control.' Evidence, such as the vehicle weaving from side to side, would also be necessary.

    Failing to have proper control could be almost anything – holding a passenger's hand, drinking from a can and so on. But in all cases there must be supporting evidence. A new offence of 'using a hand-held mobile phone while in control of a motor vehicle on the public road' would be an absolute offence and not need supportive evidence. That would make it an offence for which a ticket could be issued, the same as for speeding offences.

    Michael Tarling,
    Director, Drive Alive UK

    Sir – I note with interest the varying thoughts of readers regarding a ban on mobile phone use while driving in the past few weeks. Peter Stockdale (see below) says ban all mobiles, except for taxi drivers and essential users.

    Can you tell me who is an essential user? Somebody doing business getting work for his/her company ranks alongside any taxi driver in my book.

    Essential users can be the police, fire service, ambulance drivers and so on, but surely they are just as unsafe when using a phone, hand-held phones or even hand-held radios while driving.

    I am not in favour of banning the use of hand-held phones while driving unless smoking, using the radio or talking to passengers in the same circumstances is also banned.

    Trevor Howard
    Operations manager, FMC FoodTech

    December 11, 2002

    Darling's plan to ring the changes
    Sir –
    Transport Secretary Alistair Darling's proposal to ask business drivers to assist with reducing road congestion by contacting specified offices when they encounter traffic problems is an interesting concept.

    Certainly, we need some form of help in reducing traffic congestion nationally. However, I can only assume that such contact would be expected to be made by the driver using a mobile phone, since this would afford the most immediate provision of information.

    That being so, how does he square such phone use with the guidelines posted on the Department for Transport's own website, which makes it perfectly clear how the DfT views the use of mobile phones – 'never use a hand-held phone while driving and it is best not to use even a hands-free phone while driving'.

    Also, how does it affect proposals already under consideration for banning the use of phones by drivers while their vehicle is in motion or even stopped with the engine running?

    Please don't anyone suggest that drivers would be expected to pull over and stop in order to use their phones, because we all know that isn't going to happen, especially on motorways.

    Andy Robson
    Robins & Day Leasing

    Advice needed on congestion charging
    Sir –
    As you may be aware, London is set to introduce a congestion charging scheme from February next year.

    As transport manager with City Refrigeration Limited I am wondering if you can supply me with any information on how the congestion charging system is to be administered.

    How will charges be levied are there any exemptions for company vehicles working within the city of London?

    Any information you can supply will be greatly appreciated.

    Tom McInulty
    Transport manager
    City Refrigeration Ltd

    Ed – Full details of the congestion charging scheme are available on the Transport for London website, www.tfl.gov.uk

    Bioethanol duty cut is 'little help'
    Sir –
    Gordon Brown's pre-Budget statement has left a number of major issues unanswered for the UK's fleets when it comes to their fuel.

    Petrol and diesel together still make up more than 99% of the UK's road fuel consumption, and yet there was no sign of any relief to the high fuel duties that are weighing down British businesses.

    The promotion of alternative fuels is a laudable goal, but even here the picture remains unclear. The 20 pence per litre duty cut announced on bioethanol is of little help to those companies trying to reduce their fuel costs and increase their competitiveness in a tightening European market.

    Instead, much like the biodiesel duty cut announced last year, it seems to be nothing more than a sop to the environmental lobby. Although increasing use of bioethanol may benefit some users of tractors and similar vehicles, it does nothing for British fleets.

    Danny Clenaghan
    Managing director of fuel and business solutions
    Arval PHH

    December 4, 2002

    Confusion over phone ban

    Sir – The arguments against phone use by drivers have been put forward repeatedly by road safety organisations, but for fleets these have to be weighed against the need to contact staff when they are out of the office.

    There is, however, a lot of confusion still to be cleared up, particularly with regard to how any new ban on the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving would be enforced.

    For example, different police forces currently have varying views on the use of hands-free kits. Therefore fleets would benefit from a consistent approach from the authorities.

    This is why companies with fleets must examine this issue now. On the one hand, it makes sense to determine the cost and feasibility of using the 'wired in' hands-free kits that are likely to escape the suggested ban.

    On the other, if a fleet is planning to ban any phone use while driving, then it must have a policy in place so that drivers are clearly educated and aware of what to do if they have to make or receive a call.

    Without a clear policy and audit trail in place, a ban on phone use could lead to big problems for fleets. A consistent approach from the authorities must be combined with clear guidance from employers.

    Lorraine Wright
    Director
    Arval PHH Accident Management

    Simple solution is to ban mobiles at the wheel

    Sir – Does the Government really think it can justify a policy of not allowing the use of cheap hands-free mobile telephone sets, but happily allow the use of expensive factory-fitted items?

    . What sort of risk assessment does this involve? The risk of losing favour with the motor industry?

    I am managing director of a company which has carried out the risk assessments and banned the use of all mobile phones while driving.

    The real source of risk while being on the phone while driving is the loss of concentration involved and that will occur whatever phone set- up is involved.

    Is there any jusification for the absurd proposal being put forward? Just ban the use of mobile phones while driving, produce a list of exceptions for emergency services, taxi drivers and whoever else is thought necessary and have done with the job.

    Pete Stockdale
    Managing director
    O Elliott

    More education needed to eradicate poor drivers

    Sir – I am a professional driver and cover on average 35,000 miles a year. I am a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists and have a qualification in anti-hijack and close protection driving.

    Admittedly, I am more qualified than most but my experiences of day-to-day driving and the sheer laziness of other drivers is astonishing.

    The number of drivers who seem to have forgotten what directional indicators are for or how they work never ceases to amaze me. Even drivers of 40-foot HGVs, who one would think are at the pinnacle of driving skill, fail to use indicators on many occasions.

    As for the normal domestic and pleasure driver, well say no more. You only have to drive on any motorway at the weekend to see the difference.

    A simple way to stop congestion on motorways would be to have another driving test just to be allowed to go on them. It may be impractical, but it would perhaps improve the driving standard on motorways.

    Also here we are again at the time of year when fog is common. This coincides with drivers turning on the most incorrectly used car fitment, the rear fog lamp.

    There should be more information given to the driving public about the correct use of these lamps, as for days after any fog has disappeared you can see the idiots still driving round with their rear fog lights on, blinding any following drivers, even when there is a big amber light shining on the dash board to remind them that they are on.

    Whatever happened to the public information films that used to be shown in the dim and distant past on TV?

    We need to remind people about fog lights and their correct use, remind drivers to use indicators and the correct use of them and tell them the correct positioning when approaching a roundabout and actions when making directional turns.

    Nick Welch
    Pinnacle Insurance

    Training for safer roads

    Sir – Your article on crash test safety acknowledges that little progress is being made on pedestrian safety

    . As one who cycles to work and whose children walk or cycle to school, I am more concerned with the safety of those outside the car.

    More than 90% of accidents are caused by driver error. The more drivers are made to feel safe with crumple zones, airbags, side impact bars et al the more they feel comfortable with taking risks.

    I think that increasing driver safety probably itself reduces pedestrian and cyclist safety even further. People start to use cars even for short journeys, creating more congestion, increasing the risk of accidents and making walking and cycling even less attractive.

    Of course I want our employees who drive for work purposes to be safe.

    But avoiding accidents by defensive driving techniques, and some serious action by legislators and courts to deal with drivers who behave as if they own the road (and that the rest of us have no right to be on it), would be much more effective.

    Alastair King
    Personnel manager
    Church Pastoral Aid Society

    LPG move is a viable option

    Sir – I assure Peter Connah ('Why my fleet rejected a move to LPG see below') that his reasons for rejection of gas as an alternative fuel are wildly inaccurate and do not bear close scrutiny with the actual facts.

    I should know, having managed a fleet which used LPG-powered Volvos as pool cars. The savings were considerable and I have purchased one for my partner, such was the impression made.

    Also, try speaking to the London Borough of Merton which has all its vans, dustcarts etc fuelled by gas.

    Geoffrey Aswani
    Former commercial director TLG

    Excellent move for Fleet Show

    Sir – It was great to read the 2003 Fleet Show will be going back to the Silverstone venue.

    The recent beneficial changes to the Silverstone location (car parking, access and so on) plus the ability to drive the cars on both road and track will make this again a truly important event – which few if any can afford to ignore.

    I have already booked the dates in my diary. Congratulations to the Fleet News team.

    Well done.

    Nicholas J M Bennett
    Head of the compensation & HR practice
    Buck Consultants, London

    November 28, 2002

    Merry Christmas, you're redundant

    Sir – We refer to the question raised in Fleet Forum, 'I'm worried my fleet job will simply disappear' (Fleet Management section).

    This article could have been ghost-written for our exact predicament.

    The advice given in the article we followed five years ago when our company was formed by the amalgamation of two competitors, and in fact secured our roles within the combined organisation.

    However, now we find ourselves in a similar situation following the sale of our company to another in our industry. To quote Stewart Whyte, despite all our expertise the 'parent company knows best' and there are definitely 'no guarantees'.

    Between the two of us we have more than 20 years' experience in managing a large car fleet operation – so are not strangers to change – in fact we relish the challenge. This time round, however, we were not given the opportunity to embrace the new company, as roles that capitalise on our skills and competencies did not exist within the new structure.

    We have been advised that there is no plan to have a full-time dedicated fleet manager, despite a substantial fleet size.

    So, our Christmas present is redundancy, but who knows what's around the corner? As so often happens a New Year brings with it new opportunities.

    We would both be interested to hear from anyone in a similar situation or a company with a position that needs filling.

    Name and address supplied

  • Ed – Offers of work or requests for CVs will be passed on to the letter's authors

    Setting the record straight on switching to LPG power

    Sir – In response to the letter from Lancaster Partners ('Why my fleet rejected a move to LPG' see below) the factors on which Lancaster Partners based its decision are incorrect.

    Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) vehicles emit approximately 12% less carbon dioxide (CO2) than petrol vehicles when running on LPG, even though they may have lower fuel economy.

    Also, the drop in fuel economy is no different to carrying a passenger in the car. The new Vectra LPG, in fact, has a lower CO2 figure than the 2.0-litre diesel variant. LPG vehicles emit lower oxides of nitrogen and particulates that are blamed for damaging air quality in urban areas.

    On the issue of safety, all Vauxhall LPG vehicles are fully validated and crash tested to ensure that safety standards are met, as well as meeting European regulations for equipment.

    Within the aftermarket, Liquefied Petroleum Gas Association (LPGA) approved installers have to comply with stringent codes of practice for their installations. Approved LPG vehicles do not incur a premium on insurance costs and are inspected in the same way as any other damaged vehicle.

    I agree that having the spare wheel in the boot to make way for an LPG tank in the spare wheel well can reduce storage space. But the move to emergency tyre repair kits is now being evaluated by most of the major vehicle manufacturers not only for LPG but also for standard petrol and diesel vehicles. Some well-known vehicle manufacturers have already replaced spare wheels.

    I would disagree that sites where gas is available are the most expensive for purchasing petrol.

    Furthermore, with LPG priced at 38p/litre on average, the savings are at least 30% over petrol vehicles and large fleets have made substantial annual savings. When using LPG, the aim would be to drive at least 90% of the time on this fuel, which is how the savings accrue.

    The range of most LPG vehicles is at least 300 miles, some 18% lower than a petrol vehicle, but a full tank of LPG would cost about £17 compared to £35-40 for petrol. The savings can be easily calculated.

    There are advantages within the company car tax system. LPG vehicles qualify for an extra 1% reduction in their tax band based on their CO2 emissions, which is not available for petrol vehicles. Also, diesel vehicles that do not meet Euro IV emission standards incur a 3% penalty on their charge.

    It is true that gas cars are not allowed through the Channel Tunnel but we are hopeful that in the future this will be changed. The decision is one for Eurotunnel to resolve. Of course, cross channel ferries have no such restriction.

    The latest information from CAP is that the residual values for LPG vehicles may well carry a small premium and, at worse, will be equal to those of petrol vehicles, so this should negate the argument about higher holding costs, particularly when Government grants are included.

    In our experience, fleets that have changed to LPG are achieving large savings as well as finding the vehicles safe to run and drive with no noticeable difference in performance.

    Based on this evidence, Lancaster Partners might like to reassess its calculations.

    Ian Blinder
    Manager, special vehicles,
    Vauxhall Motors

    Data guidance on 4th Directive

    Sir – I write in response to the letter from Ian Witham of Motor Data Solutions (4th Directive debate hots up, see below) regarding supplying data to the new Motor Insurance Database for the 4th EU Motor Insurance Directive.

    I can confirm that the open nature of data in cfc software means that the information can easily be exported in any known format in use by motor insurers.

    Although the formats used are very simple and most customers will be able to configure the files themselves, it is our intention to provide this service as part of a routine product service pack.

    Jason Francis
    Managing director
    cfc solutions

    Congratulations on the FN50

    Sir – Congratulations on producing the FN50 again. As always you have provided an interesting and informative view of our industry that continues to go through rapid change.

    I am always intrigued by the significant number of companies which either refuse to provide you with any financial information, or give you the results of their parent companies, frequently much larger organisations that operate in many varied businesses, often unrelated to contract hire.

    Do these companies not know what returns they are making from their business? Or do they have something to hide?

    Jon Walden
    Managing director
    Lex Vehicle Leasing

    November 21, 2002

    Why my fleet rejected a move to LPG

    Sir - I have followed the debate over alternatively-fuelled cars for some time and in fact investigated changing some cars in our fleet to LPG.

    We rejected it for the following reasons:

    1. I believe the cars emit more CO2 while running on gas due to their poor fuel economy.
    2. Safety. How can we be confident that the installer has performed a 100% perfect conversion? I also understand that following an accident, the gas installation has to be examined by a qualified engineer, leading to a longer period off road.
    3. The loss of storage space having the spare wheel in the boot (we do not go along with the idea of an aerosol to fix a puncture).
    4. Driving 700 miles per week (my weekly average), the driver would run both tanks dry before filling up, thus negating the cash advantage. A tank of LPG would only last two days, compared to currently four days on petrol.
    5. Where gas is available, it is often at sites where petrol is the most expensive. I am currently paying 71.9 for unleaded, the LPG station is charging 77.9 for the same fuel.
    6. Gas cars are not allowed to use the Channel Tunnel – an issue for about one third of our cars.
    7. Residual values. Due to low secondhand demand I agree with Martin Ward of CAP that these vehicles are a blip.

    At the moment I can see only one advantage and that is if the London charging scheme allows LPG cars to be allowed in free.

    However, as we are based in Stockport thankfully very few journeys are made into the charging area.

    I would be delighted if any of my above points could be disproved but judging by the recent report on attitudes to alternative fuels among leasing companies in the FN50 survey, it would appear that I am not alone in my thinking, especially in view of the low numbers of LPG vehicles on the road.

    Peter Connah
    PA to MD
    Lancaster Partners
    Stockport

    Sir - I think that Barry Smoothey ('4th Directive debate hots up', Fleet NewsNet letters, November 8 below) is unnecessarily harsh in criticising your coverage of the 4th Directive.

    He is, of course, right to point out the importance of this new legislation. But whether or not he is aware of it, fleets and insurers are still waiting – with only nine weeks to go before the legislation comes into force – for full details.

    Both through Fleet Audits and my work with the Association of Car Fleet Operators, I have been involved in discussions with Department for Transport and the MIIC/ABI. But the fact remains that as I write, there is still no clean draft of the Statutory Instrument which will enable the legislation, no proper clarity on any exemption period for vehicles brought under a fleet policy on a short- term basis and not even any idea of what the penalties for non-compliance will be.

    In fairness, Fleet NewsNet has tried to advise readers of at least the broad implications, at the earliest opportunity.

    No-one should blame Fleet NewsNet (or other publications) for failing to provide details of the legislation, when that detailed legislation has not yet been put before the fleet market – or even the insurers!

    Stewart Whyte
    Director
    Association of Car Fleet Operators

    November 8, 2002

    4th directive debate hots up

    Sir – Having read the article 'Legal threat over EU insurance law', I feel that Fleet NewsNet has failed in its responsibility in getting across the impact and implications of the 4th EU Insurance Directive.

    As a site dedicated to the fleet market, your duty is to keep fleet operators abreast with all elements that affect their role.

    I recall writing to you six months ago congratulating you on your efforts in getting across the change in company car taxation but pointing out that you were not giving out any information with regard to the 4th Directive, which I felt you should be as the cost in administration and the potential breach of legislation would have a greater impact than change in company car taxation in relation to determining whether or not an employer maintained company cars or considered further changing to cash for car.

    Barry Smoothey,
    Commercial motor manager
    Sutton Winson

    Editor's reply – Fleet NewsNet first raised the issue of the compliance procedures of the 4th EU Insurance Directive in April 2001, and since then has published several articles, features, analyses and guest opinions on the subject. Research we conducted on behalf of the Motor Insurance Database indicates that 75% of the fleet decision makers who use Fleet NewsNet are aware of the Directive.

    I agree that it is an important issue, but there is a fundamental difference with the change to company car tax where ignorance might have led to employees being stranded in tax-inefficient cars for the next three years.

    The Directive is an area where action by either a fleet decision-maker within an organisation or their insurer can ensure corporate compliance – and the clock is ticking down to the January 20, 2003 deadline.

    Sir – I read with interest the articles from Derek Mason of Zenith Vehicle Contracts, and the earlier article quoting Jason Francis, of cfc, concerning the 4th EU Motor Insurance Directive.

    Fleet managers may like to know that the practical methods for supplying data to the Motor Insurance Database all rely upon the insurer concerned providing their own specific approach.

    Unless fleet software providers are prepared to adapt their systems to send data in any one of 20 or more formats to the various fleet motor insurers, their customers will not be guaranteed that a new version will necessarily be compatible with their insurers' requirements. Many fleet managers will find that the most cost-effective way to address this issue is to use their fleet management software system as the source for the information, but to actually transfer it as a spreadsheet to their insurer.

    If either fleet managers or fleet software providers would like to receive our free fact sheet on the issues of connecting their systems to the MID, we would be very happy to oblige. Log on towww.motordatasolutions.co.uk

    Ian Witham
    Director
    Motor Data Solutions

    Free fuel no longer a benefit

    Sir – I much appreciated Simon Harris' article, 'Dual strategy needed for free fuel rules'.

    He gave us a clear illustration of driver break-even points for private fuel benefit. I wish to take the illustration further and consider the overall costs, being those of the employee and employer.

    We need to add together the tax payable by the driver on his or her benefit-in-kind charge to the cost of the fuel and Class 1A National Insurance (NI) paid by the employer. More often than not, the whole of the costs equate to more than twice the pump price.

    Our advice to the vast majority of employers, is to implement a private fuel buy-out which ensures that drivers are no worse off. Cash allowances in lieu of private fuel may be subsidised by drivers' notional tax savings.

    Employers may make very healthy savings where the gross cash allowances are less than their current private fuel and Class 1A NI costs. These savings may in turn be shared with the drivers.

    Clearly, the provision of fuel for private motoring is, in most cases, no longer cost effective and employers must be advised to take a serious look at withdrawing this 'benefit'.

    Mark Allen
    Senior Consultant
    KPMG – carWISE Team

    Realising the downside of diesel

    Sir – How refreshing to read a letter on the inherent dangers of diesel emissions ('Dangerous diesel needs prosecuting').

    The particulates and ultra fine particles emitted by all diesel engine exhausts have been scientifically proven by our American cousins to be rich in the carcinogens responsible for lung cancer and also a major contributor to the cause of asthma.

    It is no coincidence that the rapid increase in the number of asthma sufferers in the UK, especially children, has occurred over the same 10-15 year period as the rise in popularity in the diesel powered car. Diesel's lower carbon dioxide emissions offset global warming but this is won at the expense of major damage to the air. Why do car makers and motoring journalists continue to promote the financial economies of diesel engines without telling us that the cost is paid for by the damage to our health?

    Les Greaves
    Centaur Group

    Count up those illegal cyclists

    Sir – Further to recent debate regarding whether or not motorists should be made automatically liable for any accidents involving cyclists, now that the clocks have gone back an hour just make a note of how many cyclists you see who are riding in the dark without any form of lighting on their bikes, and then decide if motorists should be liable. I'm already into double figures.

    Andy Robson
    Robins & Day Leasing

    November 3, 2002

    Sir - In response to Transport 2000's attempt to force a Judicial Review of painting speed cameras yellow, allowing drivers to slow down. Perhaps it should look at the less conspicuous camera sites, many of which have long skid marks close by, indicating panic braking by drivers on seeing the cameras.

    Is this not more dangerous?

    Transport 2000 states that speed is a 'contributory' factor in a third of fatal incidents. Just how many are attributable to excessive speed or more importantly, lack of driving ability?

    Adrian Don
    Keyfleets Stockton on Tees

    October 31, 2002

    Driver record warning

    Sir – I write with a warning to all dealerships (franchised or not) who run company vehicles.

    We regularly receive speeding/parking tickets for courtesy cars, rental vehicles and demonstration vehicles. Our company policy and procedure is to ensure a loan car form, rental agreements or unaccompanied test drive form is duly filled in on each occasion.

    This enables us to comply with current legislation and communicate the details of the person in charge of the vehicle at the time to the authorities.

    However, we recently received a fixed penalty speeding ticket.

    Upon investigation the person in charge of the vehicle at the time (it was 'his' demonstrator) was unable to produce a form for the date and time in question and nothing was on our files.

    We therefore gave this salesman's details as being the person who had charge of the vehicle at the time.

    He subsequently denied this and the ticket came back to our company. A summons was issued to the company and, despite accompanying our plea with reams of internal paperwork, copies of company policy and procedures and the staff contract, we received a fine of £280 plus £35 costs for 'failing to name the driver.'

    Has anyone else found their company in the same situation? I would be interested to hear their opinion.

    Paul Clist
    managing director, Clist & Rattle
    (MG Rover, Skoda and Renault franchise holders)

    Parts problem is an old one

    Sir – In response to your Fleet Panel question last week, regarding any deterioration in parts' supply times, there have always been manufacturers who have experienced difficulties with parts supply but in real terms this has not altered a great deal over the past few years.

    There are however three factors that should be considered, the first being that it would seem logical to assume that as manufacturers strive to 'share' design with their competitors, then the parts supply situation will directly improve as a result.

    The less positive view could be that as pressure has mounted to fit only original parts to vehicles within their ever increasing warranty periods, then the loss of support from the non OE parts sector could be increasing the demands on the manufacturers to supply original parts to a level that they cannot always sustain?

    The last point worth considering is that with the increase in imported vehicles into the UK then the likelihood of parts shortages will increase, particularly where the design of the vehicle was originally geared to specialist overseas use.

    Peter Eldridge
    fleet manager
    Motorcare Holdings

    What a pickle we seem to be in

    Sir – What a pickle the country seems to be in. On the one hand we have the Government trying to tax people out of new model, low-polluting and mostly well-maintained company cars and perhaps pushing many of them into vehicles which will be maintained according to when the driver thinks he can afford it.

    On the other hand we have MPs calling for fleets to adopt speed limiters – soon there won't be any fleets left for them to be installed on – or hadn't they noticed?

    Recent reports on Fleet NewsNet state that more than half of all vehicles on the motorway break the 70mph limit, 18% exceed 80mph and 65% exceed the 30mph. I would suggest that it is more scientific than that. Anecdotal evidence suggests there are many who travel at 45mph in a 60mph area and continue at the same speed in a 30mph zone.

    Conversely there are also plenty who ritually exceed the maximum national speed limits but observe much more faithfully the speed limits in urban areas. If there is any truth in this isn't it telling us that the majority of regular, and probably higher than average mileage drivers, have lost respect for the posted limits?

    Rob Chisholm
    AVC

    October 28, 2002

    Fleet management software can help with 4th directive

    Sir - I read with interest the articles from Derek Mason, of Zenith Vehicle Contracts, (25/10), and the earlier article quoting Jason Francis, of Cfc, (15/10), concerning the 4th EU Motor Insurance Directive.

    Fleet managers may like to know that the practical methods for supplying data to the Motor Insurance Database all rely upon the insurer concerned providing their own specific approach. Unless fleet software providers are prepared to adapt their systems to send data in any one of 20 or more formats to the various fleet motor insurers, their customers will not be guaranteed that a new version will necessarily be compatible with their insurers' requirements.

    Many fleet managers will find that the most cost effective way to address this issue is to use their fleet management software system as the source for the information, but to actually transfer it as a spreadsheet to their insurer.

    If either fleet managers or fleet software providers would like to receive our free fact sheet on the issues of connecting their systems to the MID, we would be very happy to oblige.

    Ian Witham
    Director
    www.motordatasolutions.co.uk

    October 24, 2002

    New car sales: a false economy?

    SIR – This year new car sales in the UK are predicted to break through the 2.5 million mark for the first time, thereby firmly establishing the country as the second largest car market in Europe.

    But is the fact that the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders is estimating that new car sales this year will total 2.51 million – 2% or 50,000 units up on 2001's record figure – a cause for celebration?

    I don't think it is. And the reason I say that is because I don't understand what is happening with all these cars.

    The shiny new cars are certainly not all being driven away from franchised dealers' forecourts by happy private buyers or company car drivers.

    Similarly, they are not being delivered in the quantities talked of by contract hire and leasing companies to end-user fleets.

    Talk to industry insiders and it is not difficult to discover that row upon row of unsold – but registered – models are lined up in store in fields across the UK. Legislation passed by the Government following the 'rip-off' Britain campaign of a couple of years ago was partially aimed at ending the monthly fiasco of so-called 'false' registrations.

    This was the practice where some manufacturers registered vehicles at the end of each month to boost market share in the knowledge that the cars had no home to go to – it was a policy, though, which at least one manufacturer was brave enough to criticise.

    I'm afraid to say that I believe something similar is again taking place as manufacturers, through their actions, refuse to reduce production levels to meet real-world demands and are treating the Government's new legislation with contempt. Let's look at the facts. Industry figures reveal that in the first 10 days of September new car sales were about 17% down year-on-year. A week or so later sales were still 14% down.

    However, when the final numbers for the month were announced they showed the market had dipped just 2.4% down from 443,265 units to 432,661 and, in fact, fleet business was up 7.2% with private sales taking the brunt of the drop.

    Talking with manufacturer sales staff, franchised dealers and colleagues in the contract hire and leasing industry it has been clear for sometime that, amid global economic uncertainty, the new car market was becoming an increasingly tough market.

    So how come the market turned so dramatically towards the end of September? Manufacturer incentives to dealers probably played a part and I'm sure some orders for October were pulled forward.

    But I don't believe those two measures alone counted for the dramatic turnaround? What worries me is the 'wrong' signal such a buoyant market sends to the Government and that thousands of unsold cars scattered around the country will eventually be drip-fed into the new or nearly new used car market.

    Is it not strange that cars just over the minimum three-months laid down by Government to avoid the new pre-registration rules are now hitting showrooms with 'delivery mileage' and at vastly reduced prices.

    Such a development will clearly hit already fragile residual values as we move into a time of the year when retail demand for used cars traditionally reduces. What a way to win support from your existing customers who are seeing their valuable assets depreciate more quickly.

    Manufacturers, dealers, contract hire and leasing companies and the motor industry at large are all striving to make money. But the economy that goes with a true 2.5 million new car market is simply not in place.

    We must not be lulled into a false sense of security that a 2.5 million new car market provides. It is a hard market place and the buoyant picture painted by September's new car sales figures is not one I, or colleagues in the industry, recognise.

    Nick Brown
    Managing director
    Black-I

    October 16, 2002

    Clean fuels make sense

    Sir – Regarding the issue of 'should fleets invest in alternative fuel cars to avoid future congestion charges in Britain's major cities'? The answer has to be a resounding yes – it makes sound business and environmental sense.

    The figures stack up. London congestion charging will cost at least £5 a day, five days a week for each vehicle entering the zone. On an annual basis a fleet of 100 vehicles entering London once a day will cost £130,000 per annum. Yet alternative fuel cars and vans will be exempt from the charges.

    Moreover, the purchase of a clean fuel vehicle is easy and inexpensive. Although the vehicles might cost slightly more, grants are available through PowerShift to meet up to 75% of the additional cost. And if you are buying more than one car or van, block grants are available so the paperwork only needs to be filled in once.

    When you consider these figures – combined with lower fuel costs – liquified petroleum gas (LPG) costs about 38 pence per litre as opposed to diesel which costs about 78p per litre – the savings really begin to add up.

    With LPG vehicles readily available from manufacturers and LPG now available at more than 1,100 petrol stations and refuelling sites, there are great incentives for fleet decision-makers to make the change.

    As well as making sound business sense, clean fuel vehicles make good environmental sense. They also have the advantage of being a straightforward way to improve a company's reputation for social responsibility. The benefits are immediate and clear – there is nothing to lose and everything to gain.

    Jonathan Murray
    Director, TransportEnergy

    Vehicle safety is a two-way affair

    Sir – Regarding your question about who should be responsible for ensuring company cars are safe to use, the driver or the employer.

    Day-to-day maintenance is very definitely the responsibility of the driver. I have produced a monthly mileage return which asks the separate questions, 'have the oil/water/tyres been checked?, has the car had a service?, has there been any change to licence status?'

    If nothing else, answering makes the driver think.

    I try and 'sell' the idea of returning this form every month as a hard copy proof that they have reasonably maintained their vehicle if the worst ever happens. These checks are also mentioned in the driver health and safety part of my company car handbook.

    Your headline was correct – safety is a two-way affair.

    Lesley Longworth
    McCann Healthcare

    Questioning the congestion charge

    Sir – I was very interested in your article 'Car rental faces fatal blow from road tolls' and it started me thinking beyond short-term car rental to fleet replacement cars/courtesy cars for accident and mechanical repairs.

    My question is, if a London resident's car is off the road by reason of breakdown or accident for two weeks does Transport for London (TfL) allow free substitutions or does the resident have to pay £10 to register the hire car/courtesy car to benefit from the 90% discount and then have to pay another £10 to re-register their own car?

    If TfL does not allow substitutions the resident registers the hire car/courtesy car and with all the normal pressures and commitments in life plus all the hassle involved in re-registering their car, forgets and doesn't re-register, then I presume they are going to get charged on the full rate until they do.

    I imagine there will be a number of disgruntled residents who, if they are company car drivers, I presume, will try and pass these costs on to their employers as expenses etc, etc.

    Geoffrey Timms
    Diageo

    What happened to all the ladies?

    Sir – Regarding your article 'Real world driver training'.

    You had a test group of six drivers. Drivers of the female persuasion were notably absent. Are the boys afraid of the competition, or of verifying the popular belief that women are much safer drivers? A female colleague has suggested an alternative reason; that the girls were getting on with the work while the boys were playing with their toys?

    Dug Brown
    'Equal Opportunities Ambassador', Somerfield

    Get the facts before opting out

    Sir – I read with interest the letter from Mr Tipper, 'Accountants do not always favour cash over car'. (see below).

    Most reputable accountants now have a way of computing whether a company provided car is better than a cash allowance. In the case of the low business miles Mercedes-Benz CLK driver in Mr Tipper's example, the solution is clear.

    A vehicle of this type would often cost say £8,000 per annum to run, taking into account depreciation, interest, maintenance and insurance.

    The simplistic and accurate way of deciding on the car versus cash scenario is for the taxable benefit to be compared to the cost of the company providing the car.

    With a list price of £32,000, a 25% benefit would be neutral at £8,000.

    Under the old rules, the driver would have been taxed at 35% and should have opted out of the car scheme, whereas with a CLK 270CdI with low emissions would mean he or she should retain a company car under the new rules as the benefit would be 21% (£6,720).

    The advice we give uses the tax calculations as a base but also considers the important factors such as the lack of control over reliability once staff opt out of a car scheme, the risk of employees driving cars which portray the wrong image (either way) and the loss of flexibility once the group insurance scheme is ended.

    My message would be to collect the facts from the fleet manager and/or motor dealer and then consult your accountant. The accountant will stand by his advice - will the fleet manager do the same?

    Mark Lane
    Director - specialising in Motor Trade
    Tenon Ltd

    Just where is safe these days?

    Sir - Every day I read some new evidence of a health hazard on some product or another (Lung cancer fear over diesel fumes, Fleet NewsNet September 12) – can anyone name anything that is not a risk to our health? I would stay at home but this is a risk in itself as most accidents happen in the home!

    Keith Sinclair
    Technical manager
    H.C.E.Ltd

    Dangerous diesel needs prosecuting

    Sir - All diesel engines emit dangerous carcinogens including nitrobenzanthrone3 which is one of the most lethal substances known to man. They should be banned and the manufacturers prosecuted in a similar way to asbestos cases.

    Roy Milnes, via email

    Safety a two-way affair

    SIR – Regarding the question of who should be responsible for ensuring company cars are safe to use – the fleet manager or the driver?

    Ultimately, it should be the driver – how often does the fleet manager drive any of the cars that come under his/her wing? Having said that, it should be a two-way communication. In my case, I get notification of the MOT running out on a vehicle, pass this on via email to the driver and check that it has been carried out and the paperwork forwarded to the relevant person.

    Tax discs come to me to be forwarded and accident report forms to be dealt with.

    Day-to-day maintenance and services must be the responsibility of the driver. I can help with finding the right sort of garage but it is down to the driver to book the car in. They know the mileage they are doing and where they will be on a certain day, so it is easier for them to take ownership of servicing of their car.

    When meetings are held at our head office, where I am based, I wander around the car park looking at cars I don't see very often, checking for damage, cleanliness etc. The drivers are spoken to if I have a concern.

    Day-to-day maintenance, tyres, fluid level checks, must be the drivers' responsibility – they are driving the vehicle and surely want to check all is okay before they set off on a trip, maybe not every day, but once a week.

    Of course, out here in the real world of fleet management, whilst most drivers do take responsibility, there are an awful lot who don't and these drivers cost their companies a lot of money in preventable repairs to vehicles. Or am I peculiar in the problems I encounter with my drivers?

    Name and address supplied

    Your accountant isn't always right

    SIR – Why is it that accountants always seem to favour cash over car? I listened intently to David Rawlings (Fleet News Hit for Six Conference, September 24), for whom I have the greatest respect, stressing the importance of evaluating both options carefully before deciding which is most appropriate.

    Clients frequently ask for advice on this subject and I recently received a call from a director who currently covers few business miles in his Mercedes-Benz CLK 230 Kompressor. His personal accountant had recommended that he took the cash (neutral) option offered by his company as under the new rules for calculating BIK he would be paying much more tax.

    Under the old rules, this director was taxed at the highest rate of 35%, benefiting only recently from the over-four-years-old discount. With a CO2 reading of 237 g/km, he is currently taxed at 29%, increasing his BIK by £1,000. However, by replacing with a Mercedes CLK 270 CDi, he will be taxed at 21%, reducing his BIK by £5,040 when compared with the old rule before he received the discount.

    Needless to say, we've been instructed to order the car, proving that where cars are concerned, it is important to obtain your advice from your fleet manager rather than your accountant.

    John Tipper
    Managing director
    Tipper Fleet Services, London

    Charging scheme disriminates against small fleets

    Sir - Congestion charges are getting closer and operators have the chance to register vehicles on the Transport for London website (www.tfl.gov.uk) from 14th October. A previous article on Fleet NewsNet has made reference to the fleet schemes available. However, these are only of any use if the fleet size is 25 vehicles or more.

    Whilst many companies may be able to achieve the 25 vehicle total by adding on the company cars they will not be able to benefit from the Automated Decrementing Scheme and will need to apply additional resource to collating daily lists of vehicle movements for the Notification Scheme.

    Whilst, at first this may appear not to be too much of an arduous task, it could well be a resource that a small company cannot afford.

    Can pressure be applied on TFL to allow the Automated Decrementing Scheme to address this, even if it attracts a slightly higher premium at the point of annual registration?

    Martin Macklin
    General manager operations
    Leathams Plc London

    Views on safety checks

    Sir – I was interested in your article on the Inland Revenue introducing fortnightly safety checks on vehicles, but I am surprised that all large fleets don't already do it. Indeed, it should be encouraged by contract hire companies and everyone else in the industry.

    Liverpool City Council vehicles generally cover low mileage annually but have had interim safety inspections since I was fleet manager in 1995. Under no circumstances should you put any driver to work in a vehicle and expect not to see it for a year irrespective of mileage.

    John Carrington
    Fleet Management Unit,
    Liverpool City Council

    Sir – I agree with regular health checks for pool cars because they are abused as no particular driver takes ownership. However, getting a third party in every fortnight I think is a little excessive and could become very expensive.

    Why not try using a daily circle check sheet, similar to that used by HGV drivers? This way the fleet can be audited daily if necessary and because the driver puts their name to it, a little more care over the car is exercised.

    Lee Goodall
    Fleet Manager, Superdrug

    Greatest threat to lease firms

    Sir – Whilst I would not doubt the use of the web has made savings across all aspects of fleet management, John Maslen's article seems to imply it is only the rental companies' 'implants' that will suffer.

    In fact, the greatest potential saving for many fleets will be to take back control and management of short-term vehicle hire from contract hire companies. One fleet I looked at recently was paying over £14,000 extra each year to a lease company for 'built-in' cover. Analysis of actual hire required came to half that figure. From this example it appears the greatest threat will be to the lease companies.

    Bill Pinkney
    Transport Consultancy Services

    Tailor-made rental solutions

    Sir – Regarding your article on the threat the internet poses to rental implants, the reality is that no one solution fits all customer requirements all of the time.

    Our job as a vehicle rental solutions provider is to respond to the way our customers want to manage their rental needs and to give them a complete suite of integrated systems and services. It is not just different customers who have varying needs – different parts of the same organisation will often want to manage their rental requirements in an individual manner.

    It will be interesting to see if Nick Brown's predictions come true. We will continue to work with our customers and recommend the optimum solution(s) they need – whether that is voice, e-business, specialist teams or fax.

    Paul Brown
    Marketing Director
    National Car Rental

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