WORDS STEPHEN BRIERS
According to Fleet News data, fewer than one-third of fleet managers are women. Despite some occupying high profile positions – for example, Caroline Sandall at Barclays, who is also vice-chair of fleet association ACFO, and Debbie Floyde at Bauer Media, an ACFO board member – the proportion has barely changed over the past decade.
Perhaps it’s a belief you need to be a petrol-head or technicl expert to run a fleet of vehicles that deters some women. That’s certainly not the case, though, even in some of the more complex and operationally demanding fleets.
Consider Julie Reynolds. Almost 20 years ago she started a career in fleet as an administrator at Gwent Police. Seven years later she was appointed its head, becoming the UK’s first female police fleet manager. She remains one of just two in the country (Sarah Gilding at South Yorkshire Police is the other).
Building fleet knowledge was crucial when Reynolds took on the role. The National Association of Police Fleet Managers (NAPFM) proved welcoming and invaluable.
“NAPFM was very supportive, especially when I was in an acting role,” Reynolds says. “It was useful to tap into that knowledge, especially for the technical aspects as I didn’t have a technical background.”
Reynolds’ role has recently developed after a departmental restructure, which resulted in the loss of 5.5 posts, including the workshop manager, leaving her with a team of 11.5. She has day-to-day responsibility for the four-bay workshop at the head office in Cwmbran for which she previously had managerial support.
“I’m now head of fleet and workshop manager, and undertaking more day-to-day operational responsibilities is proving very busy,” she says.
“But it proves you don’t need a technical background to take on this role.”
It’s made possible by support from colleagues and an impending investment in new fleet management software.
The fleet restructure took place last year as part of a broader reorganisation of the police force which saw 10 local policing areas merged into two. The resultant efficiencies saw the fleet cut by almost 20%, from 460 to 360 vehicles – 306 cars, 48 vans and six motorcycles.
Under-utilised vehicles were targeted, with Reynolds challenging heads of department and senior police officers to identify them.
“I met them and said we were planning to take out a certain number of vehicles. They had to give reasons for not taking them,” she says.
Everything from beat and high performance cars to vans and motorcycles were removed from the fleet, which meant the force was able to go almost a year without having to dip into its capital expenditure budget to procure new vehicles.
“When we reduced the fleet we had some concerns that the remaining vehicles would have to work much harder and that the overall mileage wouldn’t change much,” says Reynolds.
“We also wondered if the amount of jobs coming through the workshop would remain at the same level. However, this wasn’t the case.”
Mileage for the first 10 months has, in fact, fallen from 5.5 million to 4.7m miles, saving more than £200,000 in fuel costs – almost 26% of the annual spend. In addition, workshop jobs have fallen from 1,662 to 1,254, helped by a 15% reduction in incidents.
“The reduction in mileage is due to vehicles now positioned in the policing areas rather than in specialist units. We also have different shift patterns and are single crewing instead of double crewing,” Reynolds says.
Prior to the restructure, she introduced a pool car scheme to target casual users and essential user mileage. With expenditure spiralling in excess of £500,000, primarily on casual user mileage and external hire costs, Reynolds’ actions have pegged them back to just over £100,000.
The scheme costs around £140,000 on annualised capital and maintenance/repair bills for the 60 pool vehicles, which is resulting in a net annual saving of almost £295,000.
“Now they have to use a pool vehicle,” Reynolds says. “We designed an online system for people to book the vehicles and it’s been very successful.”
She adds: “We had some challenges from staff unions but when they realised there would be a pool vehicle available most of them welcomed it. It was a culture change, but a successful one.”
Reynolds also initiated a campaign to address the costly issue of drivers filling up with expensive fuel called ‘don’t pay through the nozzle’. It was promoted via the logbooks, fuel card holders and on the intranet site to encourage staff to fill up at supermarkets or equivalently-priced fuel stations.
Within a year, compliance had risen from 43% of transactions to 88%.
“We only have one fuel tank at HQ; we took the others out a long time ago because they were costing too much money on maintenance and licences, and the difference in price had fallen,” Reynolds says. “Now we go to supermarkets. It was a communications job with staff to make them understand the cost implications of using supermarkets and it has been very successful.”
All new initiatives are widely consulted – with staff, unions, fleet strategy group meetings and the chief officer team involved. Nothing is rushed; feedback is considered and concerns addressed before any changes are introduced.
Under the business review, carried out as part of the restructure, Reynolds secured approval to update the Tranman fleet management software system (the move supported the decision to reduce the fleet headcount). It will, she says, “free up time to think strategically”.
Gwent Police has joined with neighbouring forces South Wales and Dyfed Powys to invest in one system hosted on a single server which can be accessed by the three forces. The decision to share could see future processes and procedures developed as part of a joint initiative.
The fleet IT system will also improve workshop functionality that will provide efficiencies by linking to touchscreens for jobs and a document management system which will reduce paper and improve record keeping.
“The benefits include cost savings for system upgrades and it also provides interoperability among the fleet for which there are a number of operational units,” Reynolds says.
Developments in fleet procurement provide further opportunities for efficiencies through turnkey vehicle devolutions which will reduce the demand on workshop staff to fit lights and livery and fully kit-out high performance vehicles.
“This isn’t about savings – there is little difference to doing it in-house – it’s about the fact we now have fewer technicians so ordering turnkey means less in-house work,” Reynolds says.
Peugeot won the recent tender to provide the turnkey beat cars, with BMW retained for high performance vehicles. A range of factors swung the deal in Peugeot’s favour, including wholelife costs, delivery times, aftersales support, diagnostics, training, parts and the dealer network.
Cost is a major factor in the modern police force and Gwent Police operates a fleet strategy user group and a project team (the ‘staying ahead group’) which includes all key stakeholders. Their focus is on saving money, without affecting the delivery of services.
It’s a constant challenge, but that is one of the things that Reynolds enjoys most about the fleet manager role. And she believes it’s a position that would suit many women.
“I was able to do it with my fleet experience and a business mind, rather than having the technical background. It would be good to see other women in this field,” she says.
“It is a juggling act at times, a daily challenge to ensure all the vehicles are on the road and that work is prioritised dependent on operational requirements.
“It’s different challenges every day, but that’s the joy of the job.”
Planning the world’s biggest security operation
Running a police fleet is one thing; being responsible for delivering transport for a NATO summit is an entirely different proposition. That was the challenge Julie Reynolds faced when almost 60 heads of state and thousands of government ministers came to the Celtic Manor Resort in Gwent two years ago.
The security operation, codenamed Ismay, saw Reynolds oversee the provision of all vehicles in the region. It was, she modestly says, a case of “using my skills, only on a much bigger scale”.
Gwent Police hired 450 vehicles in three weeks, equivalent to four years’ worth of rentals, which included cars, vans, minibuses, cranes, golf buggies and trucks, plus drivers, and it borrowed 25 demonstrator vehicles.
Reynolds says: “We wiped out the local hire companies of every minibus and had to go nationally.”
Aid came from all over the country. Reynolds’ team arranged recovery agents to collect dog kennels from Scotland and the movement of CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) trailers from all over the UK.
She also completed her annual vehicle replacement programme in the first four months of the year and held back 64 vehicles from auction to be used at the event. And she planned and managed the vehicle recovery programme for police and public vehicles for the duration of the operation.
Twelve hour days were common for the fleet team during the two-day summit, with the longest shift logged at 18.5 hours.
“It was the busiest I’ve ever been, but it was a great experience,” Reynolds says. “It felt like we had achieved something and it was so successful from a policing viewpoint.”