Safety and compliance are at the heart of Northumbrian Water’s fleet

Published 5/10/2018
Northumbrian Water Limited supplies 2.7 million customers in the North East with both water and sewerage services, trading as Northumbrian Water, and 1.8 million customers in the South East with water services, trading as Essex & Suffolk Water. The company works very hard to put its customers at the heart of everything it does, and in the most recent survey by the Consumer Council for Water, Northumbrian Water was named the UK’s most trusted water company by its customers, a position it has sustained for the last three years. This year Northumbrian Water was also named the world’s most ethical water company for the seventh successive year and Utility of the Year at the Utility Week Awards. Fleet Services Manager Kate Wilson speaks to Utility Fleet magazine about her role and why the importance of fleet safety is at the forefront of everything she does…
Describe your role as Fleet Services Manager at Northumbrian Water.
I have been employed by Northumbrian Water Group for just over 20 years, with my last 15 years prior to this role in a compliance team. While in compliance I looked after fleet and was the chair of our fleet specification group. In 2015 we changed our fleet model and the Fleet Manager role was born and the rest, you could say, is history.

My principal function is to be able to demonstrate continuous and effective control of Northumbrian Water Group’s Fleet. Our fleet operations are over three areas; Essex, Suffolk and the North East.

Our fleet consists of 1300 vehicles and plant and 700 cars (that are managed by our HR department). My feeling is very much that our O licence fleet and white van fleet should be given the same level support and not treated any differently. We have a great mission in NWG and that is ‘to get everyone home safely’ and my role lives and breathes that desire, whether it be though driver behaviour, licence checking, specification of fleet, or gate checks. Safety and compliance  are at the forefront of everything we do.

What kind of vehicles do you have on the fleet and why?
We have a diverse fleet at NWL from white vans, to tankers, to sand skimmers to quad bikes. All designed to keep our customers with water to their taps and their sewerage down the drain.

Are your vehicles mainly purchased outright or leased?
We are in a privileged position in NWG as we jointly own our leasing company VLS with Nothern Powergrid, and this gives us, we believe, one of the best leasing providers out there who really understand our business.

How challenging is the procurement/decision making process in making sure that vehicles are fit for purpose and at the same time financially efficient?
We work with the end user, VLS and manufacturer/racking provider to specify our fleet, while we have an eye on efficiency the aim is to provide our drivers with the safest vehicle in class for that role. We are working very hard at standardising our fleet so we have a truly fluid fleet that can be utilised anywhere in the business.

Do you feel under pressure to reduce the number of diesel vehicles on the fleet particularly with the issues surrounding NOx emissions?
I am very fortunate in that my Directors and CEO team are very supportive and understand my desire to move into the brave new world of alternatively fuelled fleet, but that the commercial fleet world is behind the curve in offering the range required to keep my fleet operational…. It’ll come and when it does we will wholeheartedly embrace the brave new world. For a today though, we have some petrol in smaller, low mileage vehicles and euro six across a good proportion of our fleet, certainly by 2020 when clean air zones will affect some of our regions. 

Do you run any EVs or alternatively fuelled vehicles and if so does Northumbrian Water have the infrastructure to support these vehicles?
We have one EV in our commercial arm which we run at Kielder Water Park. Until recently we have to load it onto a flat bed to service it, however now it gets serviced on site. The majority of my fleet travels over 100 miles per day so no viable option for me to run yet.

How do you manage driver/road risk?
When I came into role the first thing I did was look at trade body membership and I chose FTA as the right fit for NWG. We use Vision to monitor our tanker fleet, hours and compliance for our heavies. With a compliance head on I felt Van Excellence was a great scheme and we achieved accreditation in our first year, we used this as a stepping stone to bring in a telematics system we could use to support driver behaviour. This alongside a great driver’s handbook, fleet communications, policies and procedures, 1:1 support, a great training department, insurance team and HSEQ support we think we have driver road risk in scope and, as said earlier, bringing everyone home safely is what we want to achieve as a whole company. 

Something that I haven’t mentioned that should really be top of the shop, we have some drivers who are really passionate about what they do and their support is outstanding, I love going to sites to be met with “Kate, what’s your driver score today?” we are competing with each other around safe driving, how good is that?

Have you fitted your vehicles with any additional technology to help run an efficient fleet and has this technology helped to reduce accidents?
Principally we have fitted Ctrack telematics to our white van fleet and some directors and operational managers cars and not forgetting our CEO she has it too! All of our drivers have access to their data through the driver mobile app, so essentially they see what I can see, and we have just gone live with this in March and initial numbers are looking good.

We have also teamed with Brake this year to help embed acceptable behaviours and set up some targeted campaigns around Speed, Harsh Braking, Cornering, Acceleration, so 2018 is set to be an interesting journey for us all.

How important is communication — with drivers, other departments and management — when managing and implementing changes?
Stakeholder engagement is vital. We changed our fleet governance in 2017, so now fleet has director sponsorship, that means I report into one of our directors, even though on a day-to-day basis I live in our procurement team, this is very much around a safe place where Fleet cannot be influenced by any operational department and all our teams are treated in the same way. We have practitioner groups in the business who meet regularly, our Operating Licence Management Group and our Fleet Excellence Group. 

The O Licence Management group is attended by senior fleet owners in the business, and we discuss our undertakings, our performance, MOT pass rate any changes in legislation etc. Our Fleet Excellence group is attended by fleet users in the business. We do all of this alongside 1:1 meetings with fleet owners in the business to make sure are issues are discussed, they are happy with the fleet we are providing and any changes they see within their teams. The next tier to all of this is our drivers and we communicate through internal communications, dedicated driver news, and attendance at team meetings and where applicable 1:1s. 

Does your fleet have any accreditations and why do you see this as important?
Van Excellence Accreditation was a great tick for me as it looked at the whole white van fleet, from our polices and procedures, right through drivers hours, incident reporting, defect reporting, our R&M process and procurement. For me seeing a big Van Excellence tick on the back of my fleet gives me and hopefully our customers reassurance that we have the right fleet driven by the right people.