Fleet News

Fleet News Forum: Thrashing out the big fleet issues

Risk management continues to be a serious issue for fleets, especially with legislation such as the Corporate Manslaughter Bill expected to be passed soon.

The panel

Nathan Green, fleet manager, Fujitsu Telecommunications
Ian Woolley, head of vehicle management, NFU Mutual
Leigh Weston, central service manager, Sandvik
Amanda Willmore, facilities team leader, Adult Learning Inspectorate
Kevin Boxall, fleet operations manager, National Grid
Julie Ward, fleet manager, PDSA
David Dilkes, operational risk manager, West Bromwich BS
Lorraine Farnon, divisional vice-president and sales, National Car Rental

What challenges are you facing in trying to keep up with risk management issues?

  • Nathan Green: It’s the associated costs of training and convincing directors. Until it becomes law it’s difficult to understand where it’s best to spend money. Legislation is a grey area.

  • Ian Woolley: It’s trying to keep up with legislation and sorting out myth from fact.

  • Leigh Weston: In the absence of case law we can’t interpret it. It’s about ‘reasonableness’ – we need to know if the measures we put in place are going to be reasonable.

  • Kevin Boxall: We have an embedded safety culture. There is director ownership and a lot of support at board level. National Grid is in a good position. It only takes the first test case for companies to go mad. I don’t think there is an easy answer.

    Protecting the environment is an important factor in business operations. How do your fleets balance the need to provide effective company transport and reducing the impact of your fleet on the environment? Is it an impossible challenge? Does the Government invest enough in helping fleets to become green?

  • Amanda Willmore: We do a lot of work in this area. We’ve capped the emission levels of our cars to 180g/km of CO2 and staff still get a wide choice of cars to choose from. Hire cars must fit into that policy too and we also promote video conferencing and car sharing.

  • David Dilkes: The Energy Saving Trust came in and did an assessment on our company and we came out of it pretty well. The problem can be executives opting out and buying big mean machines. It’s about culture. I don’t think the Government is doing enough.

  • Ian Woolley: We’ve noticed an increase in our drivers choosing diesel, it’s about 68% of our fleet now.

  • Kevin Boxall: We are experimenting with additives to improve fuel economy but you have to ask how it will work across the fleet. Can it be as easy as dropping a capsule in to the fuel tank – and if we do realise a solution how do we get it into 6,000 vehicles? At this stage, we’ve not looked at what the implications would be to warranties.

    Fuel costs and mileage rates are a constant problem for fleet operators. What is the biggest issue in this area facing your business? If you use pay and reclaim, are drivers providing VAT receipts, or if you use Advisory Fuel Rates, how are drivers reacting?

  • Leigh Weston: We use pay and reclaim and if they don’t have a VAT receipt they don’t get paid.

  • David Dilkes: We use Inland Revenue rates to reimburse staff but we have had one or two people asking why we haven’t put them up as fuel costs rise. I think the HMRC rates are reasonable.

  • Ian Woolley: The HMRC rates are advisory rates anyway.

  • Amanda Willmore: Drivers have the choice of going to the HMRC to get back the difference.

  • Julie Ward: I think the top rate of 40p is over generous. If we paid the 40p then our costs would increase by 43%.

  • Ian Woolley: I’m sure if they drive a car well then drivers can make money out of the Inland Revenue rates.

  • Leigh Weston: The HMRC will audit the figures so that could be an expensive lesson learned for some companies.

  • Kevin Boxall: I think most people don’t over-egg it.

    What does the future hold for the company car on your fleet? Is opting out still a growing force?

  • Leigh Weston: We operated an ECO scheme a few years ago and it was more trouble than it was worth. Now we offer a company car and if people don’t want it, they don’t have it. There is no alternative.

  • Julie Ward: We looked at a scheme but knocked the idea on the head. It promised lots of savings but we realised, in reality it wasn’t going to be as much. It wasn’t worth it. We class a job-need car as one doing over 10,000 business miles a year.

  • Ian Woolley: Ours is 8,000 miles. I think the company car is here to stay.

  • Amanda Willmore: We offer a cash allowance but drivers can opt back into our company car scheme. We are seeing that.

    What role does the internet and technology play in your day-to-day fleet operations? What percentage of communication with suppliers is now via the internet?

  • Kevin Boxall: If the data is not accurate, it’s a nightmare. We put links to Fleet News stories relevant to our drivers on an intranet site. We also put our new fleet choice on it.

  • Ian Woolley: Technology helps enormously with internet links to relevant sites such as the DVLA, HMRC, Fleet News and ACFO. The downside is the amount of emails you get. We’ve got an intranet site with links to manufacturers we use.

  • Nathan Green: We reduced time by using online quoting. Otherwise it’s a massive amount of work.

  • Lorraine Farnon: Online is vital to our business. A total of 30% of our corporate business is done online and 25% of consumer is through the web.

    In-car gadgets, ranging from phones to sat-nav, are a significant distraction for drivers. Do your drivers have access to this equipment and if so what issues has it caused and how are you tackling them?

  • Nathan Green: We don’t advocate hands-free kits of any description, although we do allow Bluetooth options.

  • Julie Ward: Our drivers can receive a hands-free call, but not make one.

  • David Dilkes: The problem is equipment getting stolen. We’ve had two sat-nav units taken, one was left on display. We’ve also had laptops stolen from cars, including when the vehicle’s been parked in a hotel car park.

  • Leigh Weston: Our drivers are not allowed to leave equipment in their boots overnight. Sat-nav has to be programmed before they start moving.

  • Kevin Boxall: We’ve had incidents of smash-and-grab at traffic lights. It’s always going to be an issue.

    Smoking in company vans is banned in Scotland, while drivers can’t smoke in company cars or vans in Ireland. With smoking bans set to arrive in England next year, what is your company doing about its policies?

  • Leigh Weston: We don’t allow smoking in any of our cars.

  • Julie Ward: Our policy says we prefer drivers not to smoke in cars because it affects the residual value. We have stickers on the window asking the public to call us if they see one of our drivers smoking.

  • Lorraine Farnon: Where there is not an enforced law it is very difficult for us. Enforcing it where there is law is difficult too. We put stickers on dashboards in vans reminding drivers not to smoke in Scotland.

  • David Dilkes: Smoking in vehicles is a health and safety issue – is it not careless driving?

  • Ian Woolley: It’s ridiculous to have one law in Scotland and another in England. Just ban it.

    If there was one new service a company could provide you to help you do your job better, what would it be?

  • Ian Woolley: Comparing lease costs from different companies can be time-wasting. Something to help us would be good.

  • Kevin Boxall: Tendering is quite tortuous too.
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