Gateshead Council: Putting driver safety at the top of the agenda

Posted: 8/16/2016
Gateshead Council looks after a constantly changing borough that combines modern facilities with a fascinating heritage. 

​The borough stretches almost 13 miles along the south bank of the river Tyne and covers 55 square miles, making it the largest of the five Tyne and Wear authorities. Employing around 5,500 people, the council’s fleet plays a hugely important part in day-to-day operations.

​Fleet Manager Graham Telfer provides an insight why driver safety is a top priority and how the fleet department is succeeding in driving down costs and CO2…

Describe your role as Fleet Manager at Gateshead Council.

My role is to manage the overall fleet operation within Gateshead Council supported by a dedicated team – from back office staff to vehicle engineers. I look after the department’s overall spend through the fleet budget, deal with driver issues, vehicle acquisition and maintenance. As a department we also look after 2,500 taxi tests and manage the transport for the council’s ‘home to school’ service and Adult Care services.

What type of vehicles do you run on the fleet and why?

We operate a diverse fleet. We have 40 RCVs (18-26 tonne) that are used for private waste collection services and other HGVs such as tippers that are used for highways and construction work. Many of our LCV car-derived vans are utilised by day care centres, the social work department, libraries and all the general services you’d expect to see from a council. We have introduced vehicle acquisition and disposal strategies to get more from some assets too – for example, defleeted 2.5 tonne Transit tippers have been converted into gritters.

Do Electric Vehicles have a presence on your fleet?

We have always embraced new technology, indeed we were one of the first councils to use LPG vehicles when they first became available. Now we are proud to have a comprehensive fleet of Electric Vehicles (EVs) including both cars and vans. I can honestly say that across the range of EVs we have covered a total of 400,000 miles and have never ran out of charge while the vehicles are in use.
We have purchased a range of EVs including Mitsubishi’s iMiev, Nissan’s LEAF and eNV200 and Smiths Electric Vehicles with help from the Department for Transport.  These vehicles deliver key council services whilst helping to reduce carbon emissions – even the mayor has access to a LEAF!
All the vans return to of our depots for charging after use. The cars can be charged on-site too and also have access to charging points across the borough and in Newcastle.
I believe there is definitely a place for EVs within fleets today, they have become an easy option that has is now embedded as a vehicle of choice for many public sector organisations because there are no longer issues with range and reliability like there used to be. Perhaps the only downside is the fact that some new petrol vehicles are now so economical that they are able to compete with EVs in terms of overall cost.

Is Grey Fleet an issue for you and (if so) how do you manage this?

We have made a conscious decision recently to improve our car pool fleet by introducing 12 Toyoto Yaris Hybrids and four EVs and now only use grey fleet as a last resort. The Council actively encourages members of staff to think about their transport needs for business and try to opt for, wherever possible, using alternatives such as email, conference calls, walking, cycling or using public transport. We have passes available for staff to use on public transport when on Council business.
To support this we have invested in a number of electric bicycles that can be booked out and used by members of staff we also have passes available for those who use public transport. As a result we have cut employee own-car use by 25%.
If a member of staff still needs to use their own vehicle they must provide proof of MOT, Insurance, tax nd regular servicing before using their cars for business.

Do you operate in-house fleet maintenance and servicing?

All fleet maintenance is done in-house with the exception of some of the HGV fleet being outsourced. We use a local provider for this that is also an Authorised Testing Facility (ATF) which helps us keep mileage down rather than having to travel to the nearest DVSA testing facility.
EV maintenance is also done in-house unless there are any ‘orange cable’ faults and in that case they would go back to Nissan, Toyota or Smiths. Thankfully we have never has a battery cell failure and the EV maintenance is usually very straightforward.

How do you manage fuel use within the organisation?

All our fuel is bunkered at various Council depots to provide us with the most convenient and low-cost option. We can also get accurate fuel usage and CO2 data this way too.

What existing (and new) technology have you embraced to help run a more efficient/safe fleet?

360 degree cameras and cycle safety warnings have been fitted to all our HGV fleet, including Refuse Collection Vehicles. These systems not only provide peace-of-mind for vulnerable road users and help reduce accidents but also can provide evidence if the vehicle were to be involved in an accident or against spurious insurance claims from members of the public.
We also have three stages of telematics systems fitted to all our vehicles. First we use the Bartec system on all our HGVs that provides us with important route data so we can see where the vehicles are at any given time.
Second, our LCVs are all fitted with the Lightfoot system. The concept of Lightfoot is simple – it improves and sustains good driver behaviour through real-time visual feedback. The improvements in driver efficiency have been evident and the only time the fleet department needs to intervene is if a red warning flashes up and it sends a report that needs actioning. 
Finally, we also have a tracking system fitted across the whole fleet, this is particularly useful to know the whereabouts of lone workers and help keep them safe.
Every vehicle on the fleet is also has a speed limiter installed, so they cannot exceed 56mph. This has brought a twofold benefit: It mitigates the risk of a council driver being involved in an accident and yields significant gains in fuel economy. 
With help from all this technology we have reduced our vehicle emissions by 19% over recent years.
We have recently put an intervention procedure in place in light of recommendations made by Sheriff John Beckett QC in his report following the Glasgow incident. 
 We have introduced an advisory document and training procedure via the toolbox talk so that all crew members know how to intervene if a driver operating and HGV or other vehicle becomes incapable. We felt   this was an important thing to address prior to adopting enhanced ‘stop’ technology in the future.

Driver safety is a top priority for Gateshead Council, how do you manage this?

We use four in-house assessors who have completed accredited training with the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) who examine all drivers of council-owned vehicles. They use an assessment matrix with criteria included such as observation, use of mirrors, use of speed and road positioning.
Drivers are also tested on their knowledge of various council procedures, such as defect reporting, accidents and fuelling. As well as assessing drivers we provide them with tips to encourage safe, fuel-efficient driving and use an FTA Driver inspection DVD to highlight walk-around checks. Any problem areas can be worked on with the fleet management team through on-going training.
Each vehicle also contains a drivers’ handbook, torch and scrapers. There are site notices relating to key issues such as the importance of safety checks and a ban on mobile phone use. Additionally, we carry out DVLA licence checks on everyone who drives on council business and also perform eye tests on every driver.
We have seen a 63% reduction in council fleet road traffic accidents in the last decade and this shows the merit of our assessment programme. It shows that we care about our workforce and take seriously our legal obligations to keep them safe at work.

Do you have any fleet accreditations/awards and do you see accreditations as an important benchmark in managing risk?

We have the FTA Van Excellence accreditation that provides us with a good standard to maintain across our LCV fleet. We also benchmark with the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) and with Brake, the road safety charity. I am an absolute advocate of Brake and take part in their Fleet Safety Forum. I am also involved in the Driving for Better Business campaign.
 Other accreditations include 
ISO 14001 (the International Standard for  Environmental Management Systems) and also Customer Service Excellence of which we are very proud.
We are proud to have been presented with a number awards over the years including myself being presented with Commercial Fleet’s Fleet Manager of the Year 2015 award and gaining accolades from the Brake Fleet Safety Awards for Eco Fleet of the Year and Company Driver Safety Award (small fleet) in 2015.

What is the key issue that will affect the management of your fleet and drivers over the next five years?

The main issue is coping with the austerity measures that council has had to put into place. There have been lots of cuts made and there will be more going forward, especially following the uncertainty of Brexit.
The main thing is that staff are aware of this and are very supportive. It just means that  we need to be more fluid in our approach to fleet management.