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Public sector efficiencies create Welsh superfleet

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A public sector push for efficiency in Wales that is driving a major reshaping of vehicle demand has created a new Government ‘superfleet’.

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) is a new Government body with more than 2,000 staff that has been created to manage Wales’s landscape, forests and water resources.

It has been formed from the merger of Environment Agency Wales, Forestry Commission Wales and Countryside Council for Wales and is expected to save the Welsh Government £158 million over the next decade.

The combined fleet of the new body is estimated to be more than 1,000 cars and vans, with Natural Resources Wales now officially operating the fleet vehicles for the three legacy bodies.

All vehicles have common Natural Resources Wales branding.

As the new body has just been launched, fleet managers still remain in place for the individual legacy fleets to organise vehicles that are spread across a range of different sites across Wales, including head offices.

Although there have been no formal announcements, it is thought that a fleet director will be installed to provide strategic direction across the separate fleets as the new organisation develops.

NRW’s new chief executive Emyr Roberts said the changes would offer a more joined-up approach for the public.

At the launch of the NRW, which has a budget of more than £170m a year, he said: “We think by integrating their work we can do things better.”

As part of the changes, the Environment Agency has passed responsibility for hundreds of vehicles to the new NRW.

The Environment Agency now operates solely in England.

Similarly, the Forestry Commission has handed over its Welsh assets, although it still operates in Scotland in addition to England.

Wider savings drive

The move is part of a wider strategic drive for efficiencies in Wales driven by the Welsh Assembly.

More than 70 public sector organisations agreed to join Wales’ new National Procurement Service.

The National Procurement Service (NPS) for Wales, which will launch in November, will set up and manage contracts for common and repetitive spend across the public sector in Wales, including fleet.

It will also develop local supply chains to maximise the opportunities for Welsh businesses to benefit from public sector spend.

Common and repetitive goods and services comprise about 20-30% of the total public sector procurement expenditure of £4.3bn and in addition to fleet include items such as stationery, office furniture, professional services, IT hardware and software.

The Welsh Government, all local authorities, health boards, universities, colleges, fire and rescue and police authorities in Wales will join the new service.

In keeping with this focus on efficiency, the Welsh Government says that as one single body, NRW will be more efficient and create significant savings, while, as part of its ‘Sustaining a Living Wales’ programme, ensure the most sustainable and effective management of Wales’s natural environment through a more integrated approach.

Long-term warning

Damian James, the newly-appointed chairman of ACFO (see page 7), the fleet operators’ association, said the cost-saving focus that is sweeping across the public sector made sense, but he issued a word of caution.

He said: “I can’t comment on individual decisions, but you can see the sense in the changes that are taking place. It seems to be driven by potential cost savings, particularly in the short-term.

“What all organisations need to consider is how these changes develop in the long-term.

“If departments and managers are asked to do more without an increase in resource, then it may lead to a growth in outsourcing of services and that needs to be managed carefully.

“Fleet managers may also be given additional responsibilities that limit the time they spend professionally managing the fleet and this also needs consideration.”

A growing trend for superfleets

The creation of the NRW is the latest in a series of announcements of superfleets in the public sector as it fights to respond to budget cuts.

Last year, eight Scottish police forces and the Scottish Police Service Authority merged to create a 3,500-strong vehicle operation.

And, even where forces remain separate, their fleet departments may be collaborating on spend.

For example, Chiltern Transport Consortium was formed in 2003 through collaboration between Bedfordshire Police and neighbouring Thames Valley Police.

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