Head of Fleet Provision at North Lincolnshire Council, John Luty, still gets a buzz out of the fleet decision-making process, here he explains all to Public Sector Fleet Manager...
What are the main issues you face in your day-to-day role?
I think that I am fortunate in having a varied role with responsibilities that include vehicle procurement, fleet management and compliance, vehicle maintenance and driver training and, due to this varied nature, there is no single issue. Like all local authorities we have our fair share of budget pressures, but I just see this as an indirect challenge on how we are delivering the service and by looking at alternative methods of working we are hopefully keeping ahead of the game.
Also as we have a significant workforce who drive as part of their duties but are not employed as “drivers” the vehicle just becomes “tool of the trade”. Therefore the management of occupational road risk and legal compliance is also high on my list of priorities and I am pleased that we have taken driver training back in-house with the development of a driver training section to ensure that we have control over our training.
How does the fleet department provide services for other public sector organisations?
We provide diesel fuel to Humberside Police from our own bunkered stocks and this has avoided the capital expenditure for the Police in installing fuelling facilities in their own premises. We have also recently reached an agreement with Humberside Police to carry out the inspection, servicing and repairs to their unmarked vehicles that are based within North Lincolnshire.
Our agreement is on a full cost recovery basis and, whilst we will not get rich from the arrangement, it’s my view that collaborative working between public sector organisations goes further than trying to make a profit.
Additionally, we also provide vehicle maintenance to a number of local academies that have opted out of local authority control.
Does your council fleet have to cope with any geographical challenges and what types of vehicle are deployed in order to deliver frontline services?
Not really it’s fair to say that North Lincolnshire is a fairly flat county, however we did suffer in the tidal surge of late 2013 and as we look at fleet replacement we are seeing what steps we can take to improve our resilience to bad weather, be that snow or rain. We have just replaced a number of precinct-sized road sweepers and specified these to take a small snowplough blade and we’ve adopted crew-cabs on a range of 4x4 pickups so they can be used to ferry people in the event of future flooding instances.
Are you running any carbon-cutting initiatives and do Electric Vehicles have a presence on your fleet?
Yes, we carried out an internal green fleet review a couple of years ago and this identified a number of actions; driver training is one of the key factors for us as it is widely documented that safe and fuel-efficient driver training can realise fuel savings in the region of 10%. This is, coincidently, supported by a pilot study we carried out some time ago in-house, and that’s a significant saving in both financial and emissions terms when you are burning a million litres of diesel a year.
We also looked at electric (battery powered) vehicles but at the time the numbers didn’t really stack up for us, however as the technology becomes more readily available and affordable I’m sure electric vehicles will find their way into specific areas of our fleet and one of the actions from the review is to keep a watching brief on the market.
The rising cost of fuel is a major concern for fleet operators, what are you doing to combat this?
Referring back to driver training not only reduces the fuel usage and cost but also improves other areas such as accident reduction and general wear and tear on vehicles.
We are also looking at limiting the top speed of vehicles across the Council’s fleet and specifying stop-start technology when available.
We’ve also recently commissioned some new fuel tanks as previously we had old small capacity underground tanks and we paid a small load surcharge on every litre of diesel we purchased, stock control was also an art in its own right.
Is it possible to reduce costs and still run an efficient fleet?
I think that these two issues are inextricably linked, but you have to fully understand where the costs are and work with colleagues within the operational teams to ensure that the decisions that are taken benefit the whole organisation and not necessarily an individual budget.
How much does technology affect your role and what initiatives have you rolled out recently – or plan to roll out – utilising new technology?
We have been running a vehicle telematics system in approximately 20% of the vehicle fleet since October 2009 and feedback from colleagues is that this has completely eradicated vehicles being “off route”. We are also able to monitor speeding infringements and take corrective action.
Of course those are only a couple of aspects of the functionality of telematics, the real benefits come when you can integrate the telematics with on-board vehicle systems such as intelligent salting that allows the pre-programming of winter salting routes that can be downloaded to any vehicle within the salting fleet allowing the driver to concentrate on driving without worrying about spread patterns or rates.
Or back-office systems that may hold information on refuse vehicle rounds, such as properties that may require assisted (backdoor) collections which are flagged to the crews as the vehicle approaches.
We are looking to roll telematics out across all of the branded fleet in the coming year and we are just finalising a specification for companies to tender against.
How do you make decisions about which vehicles and equipment you source for your fleets?
Initially we agree a specification with the operational teams taking into account their needs but also looking across the wider council area to see if there is an opportunity to improve vehicle utilisation;
For example, one of our grounds maintenance teams used a motorcycle quad for weed spraying during the summer months, however in winter it was under-utilised so when it was due for replacement we looked at an upgrade that allows it to be fitted with a snowplough blade and pull a de-icing unit for pavement areas. The vehicle comes into the workshop at the end of autumn has the “winter kit” fitted and is then operated by the highways team over winter in early spring the machine is “de-wintered” and returns to weed spraying.
Another example of how we work with the operational teams is a few years ago I discovered by talking to a sweeper driver that covered outlying villages that he was returning to base to offload well before the end of shift due to being full, but that the he didn’t have time to refill with water and return to sweeping. I worked with operational colleagues and when the sweeper was due for replacement we specified a larger vehicle that allowed the driver to sweep for longer and, although there was an increase in the capital cost, this was more than offset by the efficiency gained by enabling the vehicle to sweeper a greater area each day.
Once we have the specification of new vehicles agreed we will launch a tender and we will quite often request that the suppliers include within their responses the full planned maintenance schedules broken down into hours and parts for the particular vehicle they are proposing. We then take this information and apply our own internal labour rate and parts costs to build up a whole life planned maintenance cost which is then added to the capital cost to give a cost that we will evaluate all of the responses against.
The other advantage of pulling in this maintenance information is you can see how much downtime you are starting with.
Finally, the 1997 changes to the driver licence categories as more and more employees only have an entitlement to drive vehicles up to 3.5 tonnes and whilst we’ve known about this for a long time it is becoming an issue with newer employees.
What is the most rewarding element of your role?
I suppose I’ve got to that point in my career where I want to see that if I’m not making “the decision” I’m having an input into the decision making process and therefore when I produce pieces of work around fleet and driver policy that is adopted across all of the organisation that gives me a buzz .
…and what is the most frustrating?
Inertia in people and organisations, there is no doubt that we are living in a world that is changing at a rate never before seen and unless we embrace change and learn to move with the times we will be left behind.
On a lighter note…
If money were no object, what would be your ideal car?
An Aston Martin not only do I think they make the most beautiful cars but I suppose there’s a bit of “Bond” in all of us trying to get out!
If you were stuck in traffic, who would be your ideal passenger?
My Great Grandfather. His stories and experiences would really be worth listening to – he was a First Engineer on steamers running out of Hull to the Baltic ports at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries. Not only he would have been involved in the “cutting edge” technology of the time as steamers replaced sailing ships, but he would have travelled when it was unheard of for the average person. Whilst on Admiralty Service he was torpedoed and sunk twice during the first world war.