Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) training is not making the job of a truck driver more appealing. In fact, it’s having the opposite effect – it’s driving people out of the profession.
That’s the view of John Luty, fleet management and vehicle engineering manager at North Lincolnshire Council, who has been in the industry for nearly 40 years, both in the private and public sector.
He agrees with the concept of driver CPC but not the way it is currently delivered.
“When I first heard about driver CPC it seemed to be sold on the basis that it would make the job of being an HGV or a PSV driver more of a profession and it would attract more people into the industry and drive up the terms and conditions for those drivers,” he says.
“My own view and experience is that it is actually pushing people out of the industry because driver CPC, I think, is flawed.
“It’s an attendance at a training course; the candidates don’t have to participate. There is no test at the end of it to see if they’ve taken on board what’s been discussed. They can literally turn up and read a newspaper all day. We’re into the second tranche now of people who have gone through the programme once and are now starting it again. You can, if you so desire, sit the same seven-hour driver training course five times and to me that doesn’t seem like a sensible method of delivering training.”
Luty says he knows of HGV drivers who have said that they don’t want to attend CPC training courses as they’re of no interest to them, and are planning to leave the industry.
“There’s a cost to the individual or the companies concerned,” he says. “With all training, if it’s done correctly and professionally and people get something from it, it may well reduce operating costs but I don’t think the industry is there yet. I think there is an evolution in the training that needs to take place.”
Luty acknowledges that there are companies that deliver CPC training “very professionally” but there are some that “simply see it as an opportunity to jump on the bandwagon”.
North Lincolnshire Council intends to be in the “very professional” camp. It has created a driver training section, which reports to Luty, and will put all of its employees who have ‘driver’ in their job title through its in-house CPC training course.
“We took the view that it was upping the skillset of our drivers to put everyone through our CPC course,” Luty says.
The council’s CPC training course will differ to others because, rather than being generic, it will be “built around our operations and the operations of other local authorities”.
As a unitary authority (rather than a borough or county council), North Lincolnshire Council operates a wide range of vehicles, including motor scooters, snowploughs, grass-cutting machinery, refuse collection vehicles, winter gritters and minibuses.
Its vehicles are used for road-sweeping and gully-emptying activities, home-to-school and community transport operations, street lighting and road maintenance functions.
As a result, its driver training will cover specialist vehicles and the operation of large refuse trucks, taking into account vulnerable road users, and the health and safety implications of operating those vehicles in residential areas.
More courses on the agenda
It is also looking to undertake the Minibus Driver Awareness Scheme (MiDAS) training in-house, as well as training for forklift, lorry loader and bespoke equipment, and category improvement training for drivers who only have a category B licence and want to obtain category C or D1.
A Safe and Fuel Efficient Driving (SAFED) course is on the agenda too.
“The industry reported figures for fuel saving from SAFED training are between 8% and 12%,” says Luty. “We spend approximately £1 million a year on diesel so if we can save 10% that’s a significant saving.
“If you can start to change the culture it’s not just the savings on fuel, it’s the savings on things like brakes, tyres, clutches and, hopefully, less collision damage.”
Luty believes the council has the potential to halve the accident rate of its vehicles as a result of training.
The council intends to offer its training courses commercially and is currently seeking the necessary approvals and certifications, with a view to going live by the end of this year.
Its driver training officer already carries out operator CPC training on behalf of another driver training provider.
The driver training officer is also responsible for pre-employment assessments.
“Before we employ people to drive certain classes of vehicle, they go out with the driver training officer in the vehicle they would be expected to drive,” Luty says.
“He is a DVSA accredited instructor so he applies those same standards and gives a report back to the operational teams as to the suitability of the driver.”
Post-incident assessments are carried out by the driver’s line manager and the fleet compliance team, which includes Luty, the fleet compliance officer and other key members of the fleet team and operational management (such as the operations manager for the waste services fleet and the operations manager for the minibus fleet).
The team, which was set up in 2012, meets every six weeks and looks at collisions and the people who are having them.
“If we identify there may be a pattern we start to assess the driver,” Luty says.
The team also look at other compliance areas such as the workshop’s performance at external testing and they monitor, discuss and deal with speeding reports from telematics.
Telematics has been fitted to the council’s refuse vehicles since 2007 and is now being rolled out to all branded vehicles (including vans, cars and minibuses) to monitor and control speeding, reduce unauthorised travel and monitor driver behaviour, which will help with the driver training initiatives.
Rear-view cameras and reversing sensors are fitted to large vehicles to reduce low-speed reversing accidents.
Refuse collection crews also undergo reverse assistant training as a member of the crew is required to help the driver reverse.
The next step is fitting 360-degree cameras to the refuse fleet.
“We quite often get people saying ‘your refuse vehicle has driven down our street and knocked the door mirror off our car’,” Luty says.
“We’ve no proof that it had and no proof that it hadn’t whereas with the 360-degree cameras we can interrogate the system to see if we were anywhere near the car.”
Focus on refuse vehicles
The council may look to fit cameras on other vehicles depending on the results it gets from the refuse fleet over the next 12 months.
“The refuse vehicles tend to be the ones that give us the greatest opportunity for improvement because they are the larger vehicles that we operate,” Luty says.
“There are 30 of them operating and they are going into the more heavily congested areas. When they’re involved in an accident with something they tend to cost us more money. That’s where the significant wins will be.”
The council is also looking at the possibility of extending replacement cycles to save on capital. It currently runs its cars and vans for four years and its specialist equipment for eight years.
“There is still scope to extend that but not by much,” Luty says. “Our vehicles don’t do significant mileage compared to haulage fleets but some of the conditions we operate in are more arduous.
“My experience is that a vehicle that is on a motorway doing 56mph for four hours won’t wear out as a quickly as a vehicle that’s running round the town, braking and accelerating.”
Luty is also aware that extending replacement cycles could impact on downtime.
“The vehicles won’t be as reliable; they’ll spend more time in the workshop,” he says.
“That will impact on frontline services because the equipment won’t be available. It increases the loading in the workshop and you’ve got mechanics tied up doing the longer-term repairs instead of routine ones.”
He is assessing whether mid-life refurbishment work could provide the solution.
“Instead of keeping a vehicle eight years and then disposing of it, we’ll refurbish it at six years and hope we can get another six years out of it,” he says.
“We’re carrying out some mid-life refurbishments now on vehicles we have identified will take a refurbishment and give us that extra life that will save us the capital cost, but it’s early days yet.”
Luty recognises that keeping vehicles longer means the council misses out on the latest technology.
It is addressing this on its van fleet with the introduction of two electric Nissan e-NV200s, which will be used by its parking services team, who cover 60-70 miles per day.
The vehicles will be charged up overnight at their base but the council is also introducing rapid charging points for public use at locations in the county.
“We need to keep abreast of rapidly changing technology as I see that in the future our fleet will have a range of different power sources – diesel, electric, hybrid, natural gas and possibly hydrogen fuel cells,” Luty says.
“I don’t want to be a trailblazer but I don’t want to be at the back of the field either.”
‘I don’t want to be the guy responsible for losing our O-licence’
Compliance is a key part of John Luty’s responsibility.
“Whilst what we do is different to the Eddie Stobarts or DHLs of this world we are still a transport undertaking in the eyes of the traffic commissioner and we should operate our vehicles in the same legal, safe and professional way that they’re expecting haulage contractors to operate,” he says.
“I certainly don’t want to be the first local authority transport manager to have his face on the front of a trade publication for being the guy responsible for the operation that lost its O-licence.”
If the council were to lose its operating licence it would have “an unimaginable effect on how it could operate and its reputation, not only in North Lincolnshire but all over the UK”, according to Luty.
He believes that director buy-in and support is the first, and arguably the most important, step to compliance.
Luty secured buy-in from senior management thanks to support from a fleet manager at another local authority which had faced a traffic commissioner’s public inquiry.
“He gave a presentation to our council management team on what had happened at his authority and what he did about it,” Luty says.
As a result, Luty was able to appoint a fleet compliance officer who is responsible for checking tachograph records and drivers’ daily defect sheets.
“We check planned maintenance inspection sheets to ensure that a fault we may find when the vehicle comes into the workshop is not a fault the driver should have detected and not done so,” Luty says.
“Part of any vehicle maintenance system really starts with the driver’s daily pre-use check, it’s a key part of the requirements of maintaining roadworthiness.”
The council inspects non O-licensed vehicles in a similar way to O-licensed ones, calling them into a workshop a number of times a year irrespective of mileage.
Compliance is also maintained through regular fleet compliance team meetings.