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SFS: No ordinary contract hire company

Specialist Fleet Services Ltd (SFS) is one of the most well-established contract hire, fleet and workshop management providers in the country, with an impressive track record in successful fleet and vehicle maintenance provision across both the public and private sector.

The company has gained a particular reputation for being local authority specialists and has formed long-standing partnerships with many UK councils, who form a large proportion of its customer base. Many of these customers are now in their second or third consecutive contract award.

One of SFS earliest customers, Kettering Borough Council recently extended its contract to 2027, and when that goes out to tender the council will have been a customer for 25 years. The same goes for Teignbridge, which SFS took over in 2002, and likewise Epsom & Ewell, and Hinckley, both of which were first awarded in 2005 and are still going strong.

But how does SFS sustain its extraordinary high rate of customer retention?

Bob Sweetland, Managing Director, SFS: “We’re not a run of the mill contract hire company.  We provide our customers with a raft of additional services and bespoke support, to help them optimise their service provision.”

“Offering value for money is crucial particularly for councils where budgets are typically very restricted. We invest time and effort into each and every contract to ensure it is a success for our customers. Put simply if you deliver what you say you’re going to, your customers will stick with you.”

A major USP is SFS’ financial backing. Being owned by a bank provides security and gives customers confidence that SFS can deliver its contractual commitments. Unlike other contract hire companies SFS doesn’t need to fund its vehicles through third parties – they are all on the SFS balance sheet. There is no third-party borrowing.

A Complete Hire Service

With eight depots and workshops around the UK, backed up by a team of mobile engineers and a network of approved maintenance suppliers, SFS has a well-stablished infrastructure to provide 24/7 support for its customers and those of its municipal vehicle hire division CTS Hire.

Bob: “CTS Hire provides a wide range of vehicles available for hire and we are committed to growing the fleet with the latest vehicle technology and to ensuring that the vehicles comply with the latest safety regulations.”

Combined SFS and CTS Hire provide the full range of services, from short to medium hire vehicle rental, to long term contract hire, vehicle maintenance, and fleet and workshop management.

Added Value

SFS is equipped to meet the most diverse and complex fleet requirements. Contracts often include specialist items of plant and grounds maintenance equipment as well as vans, buses, sweepers, gritters, and refuse & recycling vehicles etc.

When Mid-Devon District Council (MDDC) and Exeter City Council (ECC) decided to join together to source their vehicle fleets, SFS were awarded the 7-year (plus possible 7-years extension) contract to provide and maintain over 210 vehicles on behalf of both authorities.

Stuart Noyce, Group Manager, Street Scene and Open Spaces, Mid-Devon District Council: “Previously we purchased our vehicles outright and outsourced the maintenance from a number of suppliers. The contract with SFS is not only better value for money but much simpler. We have a fixed price with no unexpected costs, which is much better for budgeting, and one point of contact for maintenance.”

Simon Hill, Service Lead for Fleet, Exeter City Council: “During this tender process we compared the costs of contract hire alongside our existing method of fleet procurement. The results showed that by contract hiring the vehicles with SFS we will make a saving over the lifetime of the vehicles and also speed up the replacement of older parts of the fleet with newer, lower-emission vehicles from year one of the contract.

SFS will be providing a range of vehicles including Refuse Collection Vehicles (RCVs), recycling vehicles, sweepers, hook loaders, tippers, vans, cars, telehandlers and grounds maintenance equipment. A number of electric vehicles are also being introduced as part of the new contract.

SFS customers also have access to a bespoke fleet management system – Fleetwave, which is purpose built to operate via the internet and involves no expensive software installations at customers’ sites.  The system keeps all the information about the vehicles in one place and offers superior functionality, storing MOTS and certificates and generating service schedules, as well as delivering bespoke reports, performance indicators and cost histories for continual fleet monitoring.

Contract hire vs. outright purchase

When it comes to the decision of whether to contract hire or purchase outright SFS encourages councils to keep their options open and look at the whole-life costs of a fleet before making a decision.

Bob added: “If you outright purchase your vehicles you alone are responsible for the operational and maintenance costs of running the fleet, including the risk for the disposal of those vehicles at the end of their life. Vehicle technology is developing quickly and there are new regulations regarding emissions, weight restrictions and safety being introduced all the time. What will those vehicles be worth in 5-10 years time. With contract hire that risk is the responsibility of the fleet provider.”

Many SFS customers have carried out full comparisons and have come to the conclusion that contract hire is the most cost effective and low risk option:

Hinckley & Bosworth Borough Council opted to remain with SFS, the incumbent supplier for the new 7-year contract.

Caroline Roffey, Head of Street Scene Services, Hinckley & Bosworth Borough Council said:

“When we compared contract hire with the outright purchase of vehicles, contract hire proved to be the cheapest and most cost/risk-effective solution. We have been working with SFS for over 14 years and I have no concerns at all that we will continue to receive an excellent standard of service.”

Lichfield District Council and Tamworth Borough Council’s Joint Waste Service selected SFS as its chosen vehicle partner for the shared waste and recycling service awarding a six-year contract (with an option to extend for a further six years) in 2016.

Gary Brownridge, Streetscene and Fleet Manager, Lichfield District Council Said: “Prior to going out to tender we looked at all the options, such as operating leases or purchasing the vehicles and doing the maintenance ourselves. However, after a full evaluation we concluded that a contract hire agreement like this takes out all the risk and gives us peace of mind.  SFS always have mechanics available, as well as spare vehicles to hand to meet seasonal demand or if one of our vehicles breaks down. We are always guaranteed a full working fleet.”

As part of its winning bid SFS included plans to utilise Lichfield District Council’s current workshop to carry out the maintenance work on the council’s vehicles. 

Gary Brownridge continued: “SFS drew up a clever payment package enabling us to use their engineers for free in return for the use of our workshop. They also refurbished the workshop and furnished it with brand new equipment.”

The future is electric!

Electric municipal fleets are inevitable and SFS is already recommending to clients who are upgrading a depot or building a new workshop to make the necessary allowances for possible future power requirements.

Paul Connor, Head of Tenders and Procurement, SFS said: “Our customers are looking for turn-key solutions, so we are increasingly looking at the infrastructure that these fleets will require. It makes sense for us to be involved, to make sure everything is in place and ensure that our clients can operate the vehicles we provide. The issue is one of scale; charging a few vans and cars is one thing but powering complete electric fleets is another, and there are major grid issues in some specific areas.”

According to SFS, councils who procure and maintain their own fleets who wish to make the transition to electric will need to prepare well in advance to ensure that they have the skills and resources necessary to operate, maintain and manage these vehicles.

Having a contract hire partner such as SFS will be a significant benefit to help them navigate through the transition phase and beyond.

SFS is investing time and resources to make sure that it is fully prepared to assist at every stage from training crews and engineers regarding correct vehicle operation, servicing and maintenance, to advising on workshop, depot and local infrastructure, IT and fleet management.

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