Shades of grey
Fifty shades of grey is a much-hyped book and film, but the title is curiously appropriate to that other well-known phenomenon, the grey fleet. Except there are many more shades than just 50. The grey sector encompasses everything from vehicles operated under salary sacrifice and eco schemes to Jack’s 15 year-old jalopy. The former will be low-emission, maintained and likely insured under the scheme; the latter – won’t.
It wasn’t so long ago we had the revelation that 57% of HSE staff were using their own cars for business, the highest proportion of any government agency. And calculations based on unverified figures can never be more than an approximation, but from current figures available it appears the average
grey fleet mileage for a business driving Council employee is around 1,700 annually; there being another assumption that they are paid no more than 45 pence per mile, which could equally be wrong.
Approximating again, it’s likely that 1,700 is made up of numerous short journeys which, if you hired a car for each, might have cost you, all in, four times as much as you actually paid out in business mileage. Looked at in that light, it appears my Council Tax is not being spent so badly after all. So why should that change?
Well, in the bad old days we weren’t charged with improving air quality and reducing CO2, and there was less emphasis on corporate responsibility. The goalposts have narrowed and we are now expected to deliver on cost and environment, and take a more holistic approach to the wellbeing of our employees, which means we have to measure such information. Whilst I’m sceptical about health and safety being over-egged by companies with something to sell, the basic premise of checking both car and driver are fit for purpose and legally presented is paramount.
Your grey fleet cars may be private cars run on an allowance which is provided more as a perk than for business use. They may sit outside your office door, or they may be spread all around the country, and you never actually see them. So whilst it’s easy to make sweeping idealisations about control of that section of the fleet, in practice it’s not.
If you have a firmly laid down policy which says if you choose to take a cash allowance you must run a car under a certain age, set an emissions level, your business mileage must be less than x, and you outline maintenance and insurance requirements, and that if you cannot meet these criteria you must take a company car – then you are giving clear guidelines from the start. The inference is that the allowance will be paid as part of remuneration but only under those criteria. If you don’t set those clear criteria then the employee sees the cash allowance as ‘their’ money which they can spend how they like, usually on a hobby or holidays. And they will be quite happy to tell you that too.
Having set the guidelines, if the overall car policy includes sections on driving for work, then at that point you don’t differentiate between company and grey cars. The grey driver learns that he is part of that same culture when driving on business, regardless of whether it’s his car or ours. The vehicles are subject to regular document checks to prove ownership of the right type of vehicle, its level of insurance, and maintenance history. Licence checks are carried out for all drivers.
The alternatives to running private cars are out there, and can be cost-effective. For instance, the use of properly managed pool cars, or car share clubs, whose popularity appear to be spreading. Like so many things in fleet, there is no one size to fit all, but a combination of answers, and one of the reasons for increased administration in a fleet manager’s role is the willingness to make the effort to have all available tools at his disposal.
In the real world, we are never going to switch nine million drivers of privately owned cars regularly driven on business into leased vehicles, however much the leasing providers would like that, and I’m sure they will have a go.
ESOS may have a part to play here with grey fleet mileage requiring inclusion in the reporting, and hopefully advice being passed on for cost reduction where appropriate. So perhaps a consequence of ESOS could be a reduction in the grey fleet?