FLEET managers have given their views on the key issues facing their fleets and the industry in general during an exclusive Fleet News Round Table, held in association with National Car Rental. The discussions have created an agenda for action for the future, as Fleet News’ editor John Maslen reports
Administration and data protection manager, RNIB
Fleet contracts and admin manager Computacentre
Vice-president commercial development, National Car Rental
Vice-president commercial development, National Car Rental
Head of fleet services, Royal Mail
Fleet manager, Whitbread
Company secretary, Corgi
Fleet manager, BSkyB
European fleet manager, NextiraOne
What would you like to see from the Government in future?
Phillippa Caine: I am desperate to see stronger sentencing for uninsured drivers. It is a far bigger problem than we appreciate, but I think there is too strong a reliance on traffic cameras. The police will pick up reckless and dangerous driving, cameras won’t. And we need to enforce the ban on the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving.
Sally Woods: We need consistency in areas such as alternative fuels and company car tax. Congestion is a huge issue for Royal Mail. We need something that will address congestion now, not in 10 to 15 years’ time.
Diane Miller: We’ve got to tackle the use of hand-held mobile phones. I have seen it so many times. It has got to be enforced. We also need to tackle
aggressive behaviour on the roads. There should also be more working-from-home initiatives to help reduce congestion.
Sally Woods: It’s the Government’s responsibility to educate. Research shows that using any phone while driving is as dangerous as driving over the limit with alcohol. Why isn’t the Government telling people that?
Alan Miles: The Government needs to look more closely at road layouts and junctions and be smarter to get rid of congestion hotspots. And in the morning we could possibly get trucks off the road between, say, 8am and 9am through vehicle scheduling. We also need more safety awareness advertising on television.
Sara Cook: Maybe you could have designated routes for heavy good vehicles. At least that would allow other road users to plan their journeys more effectively. An interesting idea would be to let lorries share bus lanes. Cabs already use them.
Nigel Trotman: Some of the policies we are seeing are causing total confusion. Take the PowerShift scheme, for instance. As someone trying to get more hybrid cars on to the fleet, no-one knew any answers or what the process should be when the scheme was put on hold. The Government must listen to us, not just pay us lip service – actually listen. We make a significant contribution to the economy of the country and can have more influence on what happens on the roads than anyone else. We do know what we are talking about.
Anita Gray: I would like to see incentives to stop parents driving their kids to school. It just clogs up the day. Also, you don’t see any safety incentives aimed at children, such as the Green Cross Code.
Sally Woods: Pressure should be put on local authorities to show that buses are more acceptable than driving your children to school.
Sara Cook: I want to see clarity on congestion fines, speeding fines and Government health and safety guidance. And it is amazing that people doing their driving test aren’t trained to go on the motorway. This is just one of the areas where the driving test could be improved.
What is your greatest challenge for the year ahead?
Alan Miles: Minibus operations – with duty of care and all its implications for the carriage of our clients, there are a lot of issues and challenges to address in the year ahead.
Sara Cook: Risk management is a key issue for BSkyB. We have quite a proactive health and safety department. I work very closely with them to keep the message in the boardroom and to educate people in the business how seriously safety issues should be taken.
Phillippa Caine: We are looking at introducing telematics into vehicles. Suppliers’ proposals are staggering, as they include live traffic information and sat-nav. It will save a huge amount of time. Getting the safety message across to the audit committee has been successful, and the non-executive directors are incredibly influential. My challenge is to sell the idea to the drivers.
Diane Miller: My main problem is worrying about risk management, especially when this has to be combined with reducing costs. It comes down to training. Would you expect an accounts clerk to do the end-of-year accounts for your multi-million pound business? The answer is no. It’s the same argument for fleet management.
Nigel Trotman: My challenge is all about change. We have gone through huge changes in terms of size and shape. We are also introducing a significant change in policy that should save us £1 million a year just on fleet.
Does a fleet manager have to take responsibility
for private cars?
Phillippa Caine: I don’t use the term ‘company cars’ because it makes drivers who have taken the cash option feel excluded. We refer to company car drivers and casual car drivers where we fund a vehicle. For anyone who uses their own car, we practically put up hoops of fire for them to jump through.
Sally Woods: The private cars question is raising the profile of health and safety when competing for funding with other larger parts of the business. The other issue is how to treat named drivers on company car insurance. What training should we provide for company car drivers and for people driving their own cars for work?
Alan Miles: We have 20,000 volunteers and we are looking at the issues that brings. We have to educate them that checks are to protect the RNIB and its reputation, and that they also safeguard them.
Anita Gray: I have 1,200 cash takers and we need to educate them about duty of care. When I contact them and ask to see their documents they are astounded. They ask what it has it to do with the company as they have taken the cash option. When you explain it, they understand.
Is fleet management a formal position for a trained professional, or is job-based learning better?
Phillippa Caine: I have had no formal fleet training, but I did train as a chartered secretary. You need to understand administration. I got a lot of my knowledge after I went to my first meeting of the Association of Car Fleet Operators. Just about everything I know about fleet I learned from ACFO and Fleet News.
Diane Miller: I have a Diploma from the Institute of Car Fleet Management. Nowadays, I would not have got the job I have without it. It does help, because I am being stretched. When you have a fleet manager in some companies all you need to be is a good administrator. In a role like mine, where I’m on my own, you definitely need training.
Alan Miles: I have done the ICFM Diploma. Most people in human resources and accounts are appropriately qualified, so I’m surprised some fleet managers consider themselves as little more than clerks.
You need to do as much as you can to get the complexities, value and seriousness of the job recognised in much the same way as HR and finance. On-the- job training can help, but you can pick up bad habits. However, formal training is not for everyone, although it has a definite role to play in bigger and more complex companies. I believe the days of the unqualified fleet manager walking into a reasonable-sized job are numbered.
Sara Cook: Fleet fell into my lap. I was lucky that management was very supportive of training and pushed me to find what was available. I opted for an ICFM Foundation course because it offered long-term prospects.
Anita Gray: Training is very important. You don’t leave college and say ‘I want to be a fleet manager’. In a former role, I was lucky to have a very good mentor. I’m doing the ICFM Foundation course now.
Sally Woods: We have a whole swathe of transport experts. The organisation is focused on the Certificate of Professional Competence because of the size and range of its fleet. But people have qualifications and they are trained in-house. It is now almost expected that to be in the role I’m in you have served your time in operations. You can’t manage the fleet from a corporate responsibility point of view if you have not run a delivery office or a mail centre, got your hands dirty, worked six days a week and got up at 5am. If you don’t do it, you don’t understand the practical issues of the policies you are implementing.
Nigel Trotman: ACFO was invaluable to me when I started. If I was going right back to where I started I would have done formal training. It does make it a lot easier to establish credibility in the business if you have that piece of paper.
Sara Cook: Where the fleet role is changing and fleet managers are taking on extended roles like hire cars, the problem is having the time to do it. We are flat out all the time just looking after company cars.
Neil McCrossan: Far too many firms are giving company cars, rental and travel to people they think are under-utilised. Duty of care and health and safety underwriters will start to demand training because they are managing significant elements of risk.
Which products would make your life easier?
Sara Cook: Cruise control – I would put it in every car at all levels. Adaptive cruise control –when you learn to trust the system – is great.
Sally Woods: I want to see more anti-accident devices and one product that’s right for us is vehicle tracking for the entire fleet. But there’s no point having this type of technology if you don’t use it.
Neil McCrossan: A magic one for us would be telematics that you can leave in the car when you sell it. Swapping these systems costs the business too much in downtime. A factory-fit item would change the shape of the rental industry.
Alan Miles: In theory, there are no problems with tracking, but on the logistical side, there’s so much data that unless you have resources to act on it there will be problems. If you have a fatality on your fleet and investigators find that the vehicle involved has a tracking system, they will look at the data. If you’ve not picked up on a pattern, that will give them a nice lead-in on corporate liability.
Phillippa Caine: Lock out the data you can’t manage. I just want to know where the cars are – and I have exception reporting on speeding and excessive braking.
Sara Cook: Because of the costs associated with installing these systems, you have to do your homework and make sure the management information you get is appropriate.
Sally Woods: With telematics, there has to be benefit to the individual, such as sat-nav or an emergency button, to offset the fact they are being tracked.
Phillippa Caine: I would like to see hand-held devices that analyse the safety of the car. In a car park you could press a button and all the vehicles would report back tyre pressures, oil levels and safety issues. You can do it with lorries.
Alan Miles: I would love to see, nationally, a company under-taking smart repairs under a major brand like the AA, RAC or Kwik-Fit.