Almost 30 fleets have become members of the Freight Transport Association’s Van Excellence prog-ramme. Each has its own motives for undergoing the audit process although one common theme exists: to prove they adhere to a benchmark standard of quality.
However, there are myriad benefits to being a Van Excellence fleet and it is important for the industry to back the initiative – it was, after all, set up by fleets for fleets and it has the support of transport minister Mike Penning.
At worst, it will provide best practice tips that will improve efficiency; at best it will persuade the Government not to impose the type of legislative requirements on the van sector as truck operators face – principally CPC and O-Licence.
“It is a distinct possibility that legislation similar to that in place for HGVs could be implemented for vans,” AAH Pharmaceuticals head of corporate services Geoff Wright told Fleet News last year. “If we don’t regulate then it will be regulated for us – and that might be in a way that is not economically sustainable or operationally viable for a lot of companies. We need self-regulation.”
Wright believes the basic Van Excellence audit will be sufficient to raise standards and improve most fleet operators’ businesses.
“The idea is to have a level of regulation that means something as a standard, but which is also achievable by smaller fleets,” he said.
“It’s about people signing up. We want operators to do something about safety, legality and
the environment. If they do, they will have a more economical fleet and we will create an environment where vans are seen in a far more positive light.”
The biggest challenge most fleets, particularly the smaller ones, will face on the road to Van Excellence will be administration – keeping records up to date, accurate reporting, meeting servicing requirements and addressing defects.
Members of Van Excellence anticipate a number of benefits. In addition to better maintained vehicles and safer drivers, they expect to reduce accidents, lower insurance premiums, reduce fuel consumption and achieve higher re-sale values.
They also point out that the code offers positive PR (the Van Excellence ‘tick’ will be displayed on the back of vans) which could lead to business wins.
Wright added: “Van Excellence should be viewed as a benefit to the operator, not an overly arduous control mechanism. If you do it right, it will save you money.”
Mike Revell, group director of transport at Clancy Group, underlined the concerns of many van fleets when he highlighted the lack of defined legislation regarding health and safety.
“We have strict maintenance programmes in place for our vans but for many the only checks they have are when the vehicle has its MOT,” he said.
“The code is about educating fleets to increase their awareness and improve standards.”
Van Excellence has two streams: vehicle-related undertakings (roadworthiness, safety, working environment, standards) and driver-related undertakings (licensing, behaviour, compliance, competence and training).
Bigger fleets could play a significant role in ensuring the code is implemented by smaller van operators, countering a concern that Van Excellence will only appeal to the larger, more professionally-run companies.
“We can force their hand,” said Revell. “It is up to the companies that adopt the code to insist that their suppliers and contractors sign up as well.”
With an annual fee of £495, covering the admin and half-day audit, Wakefield Housing Association fleet manager Rick Young put the case best: “You don’t have to throw millions of pounds at this – it’s all achievable.”
Pass or fail? The audit trail which can lead to Van Excellence
The Van Excellence audit takes up to three hours to complete.
The first step is for the assessor to select a sample of vehicles and drivers from the records to check for compliance versus the systems that the company has in place.
The principle is to check that the fleet is doing what its processes say it does. This includes areas such as verification of vehicle maintenance and driver training compliance.
It takes 20-30 minutes to go through the initial records, questioning the project manager for evidence of the processes.
Then it’s a case of going through the Van Excellence report questions which includes topics like pre-use checking of vehicles, fault rectification, and maintenance cycles. It covers everything from vehicle (such as SMR, tyre maintenance, inspections and defect reporting) to driver (including training and licence checks).
At the end of the process, the fleet is given the decision – pass or fail. This is confirmed a few days later through a full report.
If the company failed the initial audit, the report would also detail the areas that require further action.