Fleet News

News review: 2006

January

THE year started with a damning report on the state of the government’s own progress towards greening its fleet.

More than two-thirds of government departments were failing to hit their own targets for the introduction of environmentally-friendly business vehicles. The Sustainable Development Commission castigated Whitehall for the failings in a paper entitled Leading by Example? Not Exactly… .

And Fleet News spoke to government departments, some of which didn’t know who looked after their cars.

February

PERHAPS aware of the criticism surrounding its leadership of green motoring, February saw the government introduce greener vehicles for ministers.

An early indication of measures to be unveiled in the budget showed that top-ranking officials were to be given a choice between environmentally-friendly icon, the Toyota Prius or a biodiesel-powered Jaguar XJ. A change over the current cars was needed because the Vauxhall Omega was no longer built or, in the case of its MG Rover vehicles, the parent firm had collapsed.

Roy Burke, chief executive of the Government Car and Dispatch Agency, said all cars purchased by the department would now be green.

March

FLEETS were warned they were wasting hundreds of millions of pounds by running inefficient opt-out schemes.

A major taxation review by HM Revenue and Customs revealed that company car schemes could be a better alternative. The analysis of tax income showed drivers receiving a cash option were paying out £360 million in taxes and National Insurance Contributions on their benefit.

Rather than using tax-efficient ways of paying staff, such as employee car ownership schemes, most fleets simply paid out a lump sum, which then lost at least one-third of its value in taxes and NICs.

April

BUDGET-busting fuel rises were predicted as crude oil prices soared towards record levels. The cost of oil rose to more than $70 a barrel because of concerns over possible military action against Iran and rebel attacks in Nigeria that shut down a quarter of the country’s oil production.

There was no sign of the situation improving, and industry experts were warning that fuel prices could hit £1 a litre by the summer.

Fleets were told it was time to focus on formal fuel policies to make sure all drivers were aware of their responsibilities to buy and use fuel wisely.

May

A £1 million scam sparked a debate over the security of fuel cards.

Hundreds of customers at Shell petrol stations had their credit and debit card details copied and money withdrawn from private accounts.

The scam involved chip and PIN cards, and led experts to claim that drivers using fuel cards were much less at risk, because personal details like bank account information was not stored on the card. This made them less attractive to criminals.

However, there were warnings that if more people migrated to fuel cards they could become more of a target.

June

THE government was under fire from fleets as it decided not to provide grants for alternatively-fuelled vehicles. Transport minister Stephen Ladyman said there would be no funding for the long-awaited Low Carbon Vehicle Fund, which was expected to replace the Powershift grants scheme.

Fleet operators association ACFO said it was dismayed, while the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said the move sent out completely the wrong message.

Ladyman said instead of the scheme, money would be invested in a public green campaign.

July

UNREALISTIC schedules force van drivers to drive too fast, skip rests and take unnecessary risks, making them a danger behind the wheel.

That was the message from the AA Motoring Trust, which released the results of a study into driver attitudes and how companies tackle safety. It applauded many companies for their efforts, but also highlighted serious flaws which put all road users at risk.

It found that where companies were doing well in terms of driver training, the positive effects were often cancelled out by a lack of communication between staff and management.

August

A LEAKED letter from the UK’s top transport official suggested road pricing trials could start in 2007, using national standards and pricing.

Transport secretary Douglas Alexander wanted a bill passed through parliament that would pave the way for a pay-as-you-drive scheme, although experts predicted that a full scheme was still 10 years away.

The letter was written by Alexander to cabinet colleagues, and said he wanted his department to set prices and national standards in order to avoid driver confusion.

September

ONCE again the government was slated for its green approach, this time over its plans for fleets to use more biofuels.

Nearly a year after the government announced its policy for 5% of all fuel to come from renewable sources, a House of Commons Select Committee said the approach was piecemeal, lacking in ambition and lagging behind other European nations.

It added that the government needed to double its efforts to encourage take-up.

Part of the problem was the lack of long-term commitment from the government to a particular type of fuel, and its reluctance to promote one type over another.

October

CARMAKERS and leasing firms came bottom of a fleet satisfaction survey.

The Fleet News study, carried out in association with All-In-One Leasing, canvassed 170 fleets on how they rated suppliers, based on whether they would recommend them to a business colleagues. The companies performing best were windscreen replacement firms and breakdown services suppliers possibly because of the ‘emergency’ nature of their work, but contract hire companies and manufacturers proved the least satisfactory.

November

FAR from wanting less legislation piled upon them, fleets called on the government for more to give them extra clout in the boardroom.

A Fleet News survey found fleets wanted more support from Whitehall to ensure clarity over what managers should be doing to protect at-work drivers.

National Car Rental said the survey sent a clear message that the vast majority of the industry wanted corporate manslaughter legislation to help force an issue that managers felt was not getting board-level attention.

December

CHANCELLOR Gordon Brown kept fleets and drivers in the dark over the future of employee car ownership schemes.

The industry was expecting an announcement about the future treatment and taxation of ECO schemes in the pre-budget report, but Brown said it would instead be included in next year’s budget.

However, the government did say that current CO2 emissions of ECO cars were about 20g/km higher than the average company car, suggesting that the Treasury is planning to make major changes to the scheme as the choice of higher-polluting cars was one of the catalysts for the review.

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