Fleet News

Buy British plea ‘unrealistic’

Sentiment is one thing; reality another. That is the fleet industry response to a call from the Unite trade union that public sector fleets should support the British motor industry by buying more vehicles manufactured domestically.

The call came in a new report from the UK’s largest trade union that suggests 70% of vehicles procured in the UK by Government departments and local authorities were sourced from overseas, rising to 72% with police fleets.

The report was published shortly after General Motors had announced that it was ‘backing Britain’ with the decision to build the next generation Vauxhall Astra at the Ellesmere Port plant of its UK subsidiary.

With the British automotive industry riding on the crest of a wave – following other UK investment announcements from the likes of Indian-owned Jaguar Land Rover and Japanese-owned Honda – but the national economy at rock bottom, Unite believes domestic business would be boosted if the public sector bought British.

It is calling for a purchasing strategy influenced by a positive procurement policy encouraged by central Government.

The public sector spends around £220 billion each year on procurement and Unite national officer Roger Maddison said: “The Government could boost demand at a stroke by introducing a procurement strategy to support UK motor manufacturing.”

But, retorts the public sector, business is not as straightforward as that with procurement rules dictated by European regulations and the requirement to evaluate bids on the basis of price and wholelife costs.

Phil Clifford, fleet and technical manager at St Edmundsbury Borough Council in Suffolk, said: “It is an issue that crops up every so often, but it is not realistic. If everything was equal we would buy British, but compliance is a major issue and we are tied by European procurement rules.”

It’s a view shared by Damian James, head of operations at Bracknell Forest Council and a director of fleet operators organisation ACFO. He said: “I agree entirely with the buy British sentiment, but we must operate vehicles based on wholelife costs and obtain value for money for taxpayers in accordance with procurement rules.”

Unite says it is working to get a commitment from Government to propose guidelines that encourage buying locally.

The union declined to comment to Fleet News on how fleets might achieve the balance of ‘buying British’ while also obtaining value for money through wholelife costs.

Instead, assistant general secretary Tony Burke said: “It is inconceivable that countries like Germany or France would allow the public sector to buy the majority of vehicle fleets from overseas. We believe that the UK Government can encourage public sector bodies to support UK manufacturing jobs through their procurement strategies.

“There needs to be a debate about how best the UK can procure high-quality vehicles while supporting UK jobs. The UK has a selection of top vehicle and component manufacturers – it should not be too difficult to achieve.”

Meanwhile, the union targeted police fleets as a segment of the public sector that could do better in terms of buying British. It highlighted in its Driving Growth report that:

  • Merseyside Police procured 11.5% of vehicles from UK-based manufacturers but with only 8% of the total from Vauxhall despite the Astra being built in its area at Ellesmere Port (actually in Cheshire – Ed).
  • West Midlands Police procured 30% of vehicles from UK-based manufacturers but only 2% from Jaguar Land Rover, which produces vehicles in its locality at Solihull and Castle Bromwich.
  • Wiltshire police procured 2% of vehicles from UK-based manufacturers despite Honda having a plant in Swindon.

The report argued: “Unite doubts that the Italian police will ever be buying police cars from Vauxhall yet the police force in Wales bought their vehicles from Audi.”

But Richard Flint, head of transport at North Yorkshire Police and chairman of the National Association of Police Fleet Managers, countered: “We are tied by Home Office rules and have to go out to European tender. Any company that has a base in the European Union can bid and we evaluate their response based on vehicle wholelife costs. There is no weighting with regards to vehicles that are manufactured in the UK.

“Sentiment is one thing, but reality is another and it is all about obtaining best value for the public purse within procurement rules set by Government.”

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