PSFM’s Sue Hurst last interviewed Mark Green, Fleet Manager at The Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead council, back in September 2011. Now she has caught up with him again for an update on his role, the fleet department and if anything has changed in the past three years...
Describe your role as fleet manager for the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead?
Recently my role has changed as part of the council’s restructuring. Historically our Fleet and Transportation teams have operated independently, one of the restructure changes was to embed Fleet into the Transportation team making one streamlined department, providing a first class service to our borough.
It’s been six months since the changes and I am now part of the new Transportation team helping to shape the Council’s School to Home Transport, Dial-a-Ride, Shopmobility and many other services (too many to list) as well as my normal responsibilities looking after the council’s vehicle fleet and its drivers. For my sins, I am also the sole CPC holder on the council’s Operators Licence.
Does your council fleet have to cope with any geographical challenges and what types of vehicle are deployed in order to deliver front line services?
There is a certain large river, the Thames, that flows right through our borough that misbehaves on an annual basis. How badly local residences and property are affected by flood water is dependent on the volume of water flowing down from the Oxford area and the local water table.
We have a concise Emergency plan for this annual event: We use 4x4 vehicles for scouting during any flood, generally these vehicles will be, but not exclusively, of the pick-up Ford Ranger-type so that scouts can be loaded with sand bags or even commodes for residences.
HGVs with cranes are also used to deliver the vast majority of sand bags. These vehicles are reloaded on a 24 hour basis during any episode of flooding. >>>
We also have good working relationships with local farmers who are more than happy to use their tractors with trailers to collect and deliver sand bags for those hard to get to areas in the outer reaches of the borough.
The last time we spoke you were running two EVs. How did these work out for you and have you taken on any more over the years? Also, do you find that the infrastructure to support EVs has improved?
Our two Nissan Leaf EVs – affectionately named Damian and Gertrude – have both been a real success story for us due to the demographics of the borough.
Both vehicles were assigned to our Highway inspections team as pool vehicles to reduce the cost of our Grey Fleet mileage and both vehicles have completed in excess of 40,000 miles since we have had them. We have achieved considerable PPM savings compared to the standard 45 PPM employees can claim for using their own vehicles. Duty of care is also addressed by providing these vehicles as pool cars.
OLEV funding is already in place for the installation of four additional Semi-Fast Chargers to be based at our Windsor depot to expand the EV pool car fleet within the next four months.
The council is also in the process of applying for grant funding via the ULEV Project for additional EV pool vehicles to be located at our Town Hall in Maidenhead. EVs do not suit everyone but with the demographic size of our borough, along with two main town centre offices it makes complete sense for us both monetarily and environmentally….so it’s a win win situation.
I am not entirely convinced that the penny has dropped yet regarding infrastructure. It’s that old chestnut of the chicken and the egg. Unless the infrastructure is in place there is going to be a reluctance for Joe Public to buy into the whole EV scene. OK, the government has made funds available for the charging points at motorway services and in major cities but, regrettably, smaller towns and urban areas still seem to be the forgotten poor relation in my view.
The cost of fuel (despite recent price cuts) is a major concern for fleet operators, what are you doing to combat this?
As part of the council’s vehicle selection process we choose vehicles that are best in class with regard to MPG. Alongside that we have used the Masternaut GPS tracking system, fitted to the council’s fleet, to our advantage.
Using this technology has allowed the council to address routing issues to improve vehicle utilisation. A by-product of using this technology is a reduction of unwanted journeys and a vast reduction of our vehicles average speed….all of this has reduced the council’s fuel bill by 12% even before the recent reduction of the cost of fuel at the pump.
Do you provide fleet services for any other public sector organisations or operate commercially in any way?
Thankfully no, our council has not had a maintenance facility since becoming a borough council due to the break-up of Berkshire County Council. This generally suits the way our fleet vehicles are procured and operated. Unless external grant funding is available we generally lease vehicles with full maintenance, tyres, breakdown cover as part of the leasing terms and conditions. This also means there are no garage or staff overheads to consider.
Is it possible to reduce costs and still run an efficient fleet?
I believe these go hand in hand, I produced an award-winning vehicle selection process guide back in 2010, and this guide includes a questionnaire which has to be completed by the relevant budget holder before any vehicle is procured.
The guide addresses items such as, for example, what the vehicle is needed for, type of work, additional or specialist equipment, annual mileage, local or national journeys. This empowers the Fleet department to provide the right fit-for-purpose vehicle with regard to carbon emissions and vehicle fuel type. This also removes the user chooser option which is a bug bear for many fleet managers. After all, do all vehicles have to have aircon, parking sensors, metallic paint, go-faster stripes and tinted windows? No, of course not.
What is the most rewarding element of your role?
Without doubt working alongside the council’s day centre teams is a hugely rewarding element of my job. Social Services, like every other council department, has to operate with a reduced budget, therefore year-on-year financial savings have had to be made and transport has a major budget impact, so ways have to be found to work smarter.
I always respect and admire people that can do something that I cannot and the day centre staff at our council never cease to amaze me. Their sheer dedication, patience and professionalism dealing with our most vulnerable and elderly people is absolutely amazing, quite humbling really.
…and what is the most frustrating?
Oh my, where do I start? School minibuses and procurement, unfortunately, both get under my skin.
School Minibuses, or should I say the so-called voluntary drivers of school minibuses, driving using a Cat B driving licence. Like many Fleet or Transport Managers I am waiting for a court of law to make a legal ruling and, until then, there will always be a little cloud hovering. The situation has not been helped by the recent introduction of Academies, Colleges and free schools, fogging and confusing the situation further.
In my view, just because a teacher does not have driving a minibus in his or her contract of employment does not class them as a volunteer, if driving a minibus is not part of the teachers contracted day-to-day duties then don’t drive.
In my view, we should all be singing from the same hymn sheet (pardon the cliché). We either abide by the EU rules or we don’t. In this case it does seem that the Department of Education has more authority than the Department for Transport, and allowing school teachers to drive minibuses using a Cat B licence is just a cost-saving exercise nothing else. What about safety? Are we saying that a teacher with a Cat B licence is a better or safer driver than a driver that has a D1 or PSV licence?
Regarding procurement, for some reason, many local authorities seem to be of the opinion that to save money procuring vehicles should be sourced via procurement departments and not the experts in the field - the Fleet or Transport manager. I agree that procuring items such as pens, paper, office equipment and the like should be a job of procurement staff, but procuring vehicles should be left to the people with experience, the Fleet Manager. There are so many variables to consider when sourcing vehicles that it’s more than just a tick-box exercise completed by an office clerk.