Silcoa is a brand new subsidiary of Selwood Housing Group that provides repairs and improvement services to affordable homes across Wiltshire and Somerset. PSFM’s editor Sue Hurst talks to Silcoa’s managing director Ian Faul about the new business, its image and new fleet of commercial vehicles.
Tell us a little about your new organisation, Silcoa, and how it operates?
As a business Selwood Housing, which owns 6,000 properties, had historically used outside contractors for repairs and maintenance of its properties. It became apparent however, that we needed to be more efficient in delivering these works.
Being in control of costs and, ultimately, providing satisfaction to the end user was essential and so Silcoa was launched. We make cost savings in lots of areas including saving VAT on labour.
What is your background?
I cut my teeth as an apprentice electrician working in the social housing sector and from there was eventually promoted to operations director.
After that I owned my own property development business before joining a bigger corporate company where I had full operational and commercial management responsibility for Decent Homes, M & E Capital and M & E Planned & Responsive Repairs Partnering Framework for London Borough of Camden.
From a fleet perspective, what are the main issues you face in your day-to-day role?
One of the biggest concerns, from a fleet perspective, is Health & Safety and making sure we are compliant and up-to-date with ever-changing legislation. The operative driving the vehicle is our biggest risk, so it is essential that we ensure the efficiency, reliability and maintenance levels of the fleet. Operatives probably cover an area within about an hour’s drive from Trowbridge and so shouldn’t need to use the motorway network, they stick to A roads and minor roads.
What type of vehicles are you running in your fleet and why, also did you have to have any vehicles specially converted to meet the needs of your organisation?
When ordering the new fleet of 32 vehicles we quickly decided that Ford could give us very reliable products and provided an excellent range that could cope with our different requirements. High-roof Transits, Transit Caged Tippers and LWB Connects were good for a variety of different applications. Now Bricklayers, electricians, carpenters and plumbers all use these vehicles. The vehicles have been racked out internally and have raised floors for easy storage of sheet materials. We also have Rhino SafeStow ladder racks and pipe tubes fitted to the some of the vans.
Additionally, we purchased three Ranger 4x4 pick-ups for our supervisors which provide a really flexible solution – some areas are remote and access needs to be gained quickly and easily when assisting elderly people or people with special needs.
We really take pride in this new fleet of vehicles and the bright and vibrant livery reflects this, illustrating the different roles of the operative in the van. There are a total of four designs featuring a shower head, a paintbrush, a plasterers trowel and a tap as well as the nut shape from Silcoa’s logo – we want our vehicles to be a familiar site on local roads and provide a strong presence in our communities.
When looking for new vehicles what main criteria do you have to consider i.e whole life costs or fuel efficiency?
Reliability and fuel efficiency were top criteria when choosing the new vehicles. The vehicles themselves are quite highly specced including having stop/start technology to economise on fuel. We also took the decision to fit parking sensors to the vehicles which was quite a large initial investment but it is certainly paying off as the number of silly accidents has been dramatically reduced. We want to keep vehicle downtime to a minimum.
How important is driver training to your organisation, have your drivers under gone any specialist training?
Driver awareness training is part of our general company Health & Safety induction which is given to anyone who joins the business. This is provided by the head of Health & Safety.
We monitor drivers through a state-of-the-art RAC tracking system fitted to the vans. This system shows fuel consumption and location allowing the team to effectively manage the fleet and respond quickly to emergency repairs. It can identify harsh braking, severity of acceleration and other bad (or good) driver habits – such things are discussed with staff in our monthly toolbox talks. Monitoring driving style helps to ensure the safety and security of the operatives and the wider community.
How much does technology affect your role and what initiatives have you rolled out recently – or plan to roll – out utilising new technology to monitor your mobile workforce?
All our operatives use PDAs and receive all their job information this way. Drivers keep their vans at home and receive information via the PDA so they can go straight to their first job in the morning and this stops unnecessary journeys back to the depot every day. The devices help us be more efficient.
Do you use services from other companies to help you run a smooth fleet operation?
We use a number of companies that helped us set up and run a smooth fleet operation. Our new Ford commercial vehicles are leased through Lex Autolease and were supplied by Trust Ford in Plaistow. We also choose to have our servicing and routine maintenance carried out at our local Ford dealer, Foray Motor Group, which is situated just across the road and is very convenient.
What does the future hold for Silcoa. Do you plan to offer your services to other similar organisations?
I am ambitious as a person and we are ambitious as a company. I would like to see Silcoa expand to meet the needs of other local registered social landlords such as Selwood and also provide services to private organisations too. Silcoa servicing Selwood is just the tip of the iceberg.
Finally, what is the most rewarding part of your role?
It may sound corny but our tag line “improving homes and lives” really does explain the most rewarding part of my role. To know that people can succeed and progress through having better living conditions is very satisfying.