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Police fleets slash fuel bills in advance of spending cuts

Britain’s police fleets have cut their annual fuel bill by £4.6 million despite travelling 7.6 million miles more in a year.

Impressive figures, especially when the 5.6% saving was made against the backdrop of a volatile fuel market, resulting in record prices at the pumps.

In April 2009, a litre of diesel cost 102.7p and petrol was 101.5p per litre, but 12 months later prices had soared at Britain’s forecourts.

Diesel had gone up by 15.5% to 121.6ppl and petrol had climbed by more than 20% to 127.4ppl, making the police’s savings even more remarkable.

Their strategy has revolved around investing in newer, more fuel efficient cars, downsizing where possible and increasing the ratio of diesel vehicles to around 85% of the overall fleet, according to exclusive research by Fleet News.

“We are all introducing more fuel efficient vehicles to reduce costs and also downsizing vehicle types where possible,” explains Richard Flint, chairman of the National Association of Police Fleet Managers (NAPFM). “The key is to challenge the need for larger, high-powered vehicles.”

Britain’s police forces operate a combined fleet of 35,420 cars, vans and motorcycles, plus thousands of additional specialist vehicles, including HGVs, quad-bikes, tractors and trailers.

They cover around 600 million miles a year and spend £78.2 million on fuel, so even the smallest efficiency savings can pay big dividends.

“Bedfordshire Police has employed a number of measures to improve fuel efficiency and reduce our carbon footprint in relation to our fleet of vehicles,” explains Ian Godolphin, head of the Chiltern Transport Consortium.

“Firstly, we change approximately 18% of our vehicles on a yearly basis. This provides a 10% fuel economy as we sell on cars that are less fuel efficient and purchase new models with improved technologies.

“Secondly, we have a policy to check the emissions of every vehicle on a yearly basis from new. This allows us to identify when vehicles become less efficient and take action to reduce the impact of the loss in efficiency at the earliest opportunity.

“Finally, we have carried out a large amount of research into the most cost effective way to purchase fuel.

“The purchasing of fuel for police vehicles falls under a national contract and by taking the time to analyse the price of fuel locally alongside the benefits offered by the contract we can direct our drivers to the most economic fuel sources.”

Godolphin says it’s an amalgamation of these measures across the fleet that has enabled Bedfordshire Police to do “more miles for less”.

From April 2009 to April 2010, its fleet of 320 vehicles covered 4,224,500 miles – 47,690 more than the previous year, yet it cut its fuel bill by more than 7% and saved £45,205.

Suffolk Police is purchasing smaller, cheaper vehicles wherever it’s feasible, for example last year it replaced 31 Ford Focus cars with Ford Fiestas.

“We are constantly working to improve the efficiency of the fleet and are gradually replacing petrol vehicles with diesel vehicles whenever possible,” says Anne-Marie Breach, from Suffolk Police. Currently, 83% of Suffolk’s fleet is diesel.

But while Britain’s police vehicles are covering more miles for less money, each mile travelled is also becoming more efficient.

“Overall much closer scrutiny is been applied to the need for vehicles and also optimising the utilisation of the current vehicle fleet, which includes increasing use of telematics if affordable,” says Flint.

Kent Police has been using a vehicle tracking system for a number of years and this has already delivered efficiencies for the fleet. In addition, it implemented a diesel only policy two years ago.

Petrol vehicles are only purchased subject to justification and approval against a very specific set of requirements, while the home-county constabulary is also increasing its focus on bikes.

Meanwhile, South Yorkshire is in the process of installing a telematics system which is taking shape as an upgrade to its existing radio network, allowing for more accurate tasking of valuable resources.

But what’s good for the bottom line is also good for the environment. Smaller, more fuel efficient, diesel-powered cars are helping to drive down the police’s carbon footprint.

Charles Murphy, force transport manager for Staffordshire Police operates 430 cars out of a 551-vehicle fleet and has average emissions of 141.7g/km on his car fleet.

“The difficulty we face is that operationally our cars are used in varying circumstances – we can be crawling along in a parade or involved in a high-speed chase,” explains Murphy.

“We have to keep watching for the latest developments, we have to be open-minded, we can’t afford to take our eye of the ball as the economic and environmental gains can be huge.”

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