We speak to Caroline Sandall, co-chair of the Association of Fleet Professionals, about how fleets are helping with essential services, what fleet managers can do to help and how businesses can manage their vehicles during the pandemic.
What are the main effects of the CV19 crisis on the fleet sector?
One of the issues fleets are having to deal with is the repurposing of staff and vehicles to support essential services such as the NHS or food deliveries. This has been a massive undertaking and many businesses have had to be incredibly agile because they are stepping outside of usual, well-practised routines and procedures.
It’s meant speaking to industry groups and other fleets who do this to understand what they need to do, how to communicate it, and how to ensure it works.
Many employees are not used to thinking about their personal safety and the safety of others in such a detailed way and are having to re-learn many things. So if they are delivering or visiting NHS sites, care homes, delivery hubs, working in supply chains and so on, they are having to regularly deep clean vehicles – learning how to do it properly, swap seat covers, wear gloves and think about everything they used to do without thinking.
We’re seeing really amazing things being done by fleets to support every cog in the wheel. These businesses may not be in the front line like medical professionals, but in supporting them, their employees are exposed to higher levels of risk, and it is remarkable to see the willingness to get stuck in and help.
Obviously, the general day-to-day life of fleets has stopped and, by and large, the vast majority of company car drivers have been fantastic. They and their employers have accepted that factories are closed, and you can’t order cars. It’s not possible to make decisions on orders because they have no idea of the future cost of vehicles or when they can be delivered.
Simply, it’s not possible to predict what is going to happen, or what the new normal will look like when we come through this.
What are fleet suppliers doing to help?
For fleet management suppliers and leasing companies, there has been a massive undertaking to support operations, and they are having to do things they have never done before.
For example, providers of maintenance, repair and breakdown support have had to go through every vehicle they manage and work out which are providing essential services so they get priority over others. This has been a huge undertaking.
With many garages closed, there is not the capacity there was, albeit off-set to an extent by less vehicles on the road, but if an essential user has a problem it must be flagged, and the appropriate support assigned so it is off the road for the shortest time possible.
Are there issues specific to the pandemic crisis that you are having to deal with?
We have seen that situations arise on a daily basis that previously would have been inconceivable, and so businesses are having to react to issues that they have no plans or processes for.
An example is the recent issue around BIK. Somehow – and we’re not entirely sure where it has come from, but it has spread through social media – some employees have come to the understanding that as they are at home, if they return their car keys to their employer, either by post or by hand, they no longer have to pay BIK during this period. But it’s just not true, and returning keys will cause massive problems now, and in the future, with keys and vehicles separated and having to be put together again. So now businesses that already have numerous fires to fight have another issue to deal with, completely out of the blue.
Now, we are speaking to HMRC through the proper channels about the payment of BIK on vehicles, and will provide guidance when it is forthcoming.
Telematics are proving incredibly useful for businesses to control, and understand, vehicle usage. This not only applies to ensuring essential services and people are getting to where they need to go, and providing those drivers with support, but also making certain that employees are not using vehicles when they shouldn’t for non-essential journeys.
In the main, it seems employees have been very good about staying at home, but in some cases, telematics have flagged up people out driving multiple times a day unnecessarily, and so employers have been able to get in touch and discuss this with them.
What is your message to fleet managers and businesses?
Now is the time, when if your daily work is mostly sorted or on hold, you can use the time to repurpose your fleet operation.
So what we are saying to members is: can you look at your data mapping and improve access to it, examine opportunities to mine data and do something with it, because you didn’t have a chance before when you were too busy?
Make use of the time if you can from a consultative perspective, whether it’s strategy, communications, preparation or even looking at your policy and whether that needs updating.
People will be worried about the future and their roles, so now is a good time to demonstrate worth, to be ready for the day we are back in some semblance of normality and you can put these new processes in place to run an even more efficient fleet.
How do you think the sector might change as a result of the crisis?
I think after this crisis we may see many employers and employees looking at the way they work, and their attitude to the way they travel for business might change.
Clearly, working from home, or holding meetings using video technology, has been proven to work and we can see this continuing after the crisis, although to what extent nobody yet knows.
It will pose questions about whether travel is absolutely necessary. The sector has talked about this for a long time but for fleet managers there is an opportunity to find something positive out of this horrific situation, to help facilitate their businesses become more socially responsible and efficient in the way they use vehicles and interact with other companies.
How can business wanting advice about managing vehicles get hold of you?
The Association of Fleet Professionals has been formed recently, the amalgamation of the Association of Car Fleet Operators and the Institute of Car Fleet Management. So the first place to visit is our LinkedIn page and our all-new website will be released soon.