February 18, 2020

Embracing change helps keep fleet on the move

Danny Alborough knows more than most about the logistics of running a fleet within the M25. As the deputy facilities manager for the Gratte Brothers group, he is responsible for 200 vehicles, the majority of which operate largely in the capital.

The group has six companies, fitting and servicing installations from security systems to air-conditioning mainly in commercial premises. Engineers need to carry stock and tools for most situations.

“During the Olympics we made some operational changes including shift work and engineers using public transport, carrying tools to to our jobs in rucksacks as well as arranging with clients prior to the Olympics to leave tools and stock at the buildings to make it easier for both parties to get the job done. It was a good exercise for us but the circumstances were unique and call-outs during the Olympics and Paralympics were emergencies only on new installations so we were able to predict what tools we would need. We carried out servicing of all our clients’ buildings prior to the Olympics so we didn’t need to attend unless there was an emergency while the Olypmics and Paralympics were on. And the organisers were sympathetic to the constraints of us not having vehicles.

“But generally we need the vehicles and often we’re carrying out ‘hot’ works which means we need to move gas, too,” said Alborough. So the company has to cope daily with running vehicles in one of the busiest cities in the world.

The demands of the London Emissions Zone (LEZ) were easily met by pensioning off an elderly five-tonner but the congestion charge is a hard fact of life, costing Grattes around £3000 a month. “It’s just a cost we have to take on board,” says Alborough.

Tracking is used so vehicle positions can be pinpointed accurately, helping to get the nearest engineer to an emergency in the fastest time. Gratte uses Quartix: “It ticks all the boxes,” says Alborough.

Early on, the Quartix reports identified some speeding issues which have been addressed with  limiters now fitted across the fleet.  And tracking proved its value the day after it was installed in helping to recover a van that had been stolen. An engineer, with a frosty start to his day, had left the engine running to clear the windscreen while he went back indoors – and an opportunist thief made off with the fully loaded van. Thanks to the tracking system, the van was quickly traced.

Gratte is family-owned, turning over around £100m across the group. He says that despite the size of the company, its management structure means changes can take place quickly.

“Like many fleets, when the recession began to bite we questioned our three-year, 80K miles replacement policy. We presented a case for change and it took one meeting to switch to four years and 100K”, said Alborough.

The switch to 100K replacement brought challenges of its own. The vans are worked hard, usually fully loaded and at that mileage, springs will be showing signs of wear. The fleet includes some Citroen Berlingos which, he says, were experiencing some gearbox failures and engine problems mainly on turbos on vehicles over 80K, a problem apparent on the fleet’s Vauxhall Combos too, but to a lesser extent.

“Vauxhall also offered us a very good deal, so we’re becoming a Vauxhall-only fleet, with Combos replacing the 10 remaining Berlingos when they’re due to be changed,” says Alborough.

There are also Skoda Octavia estates on the fleet used mainly by the security and catering company engineers. But they are being phased out in favour of Vivaros in Gratte’s catering company. One of the main factors was a model upgrade which brought with it a raising of the floor in the back. This meant the engineers could no longer fit in all their toolboxes.

When all the Octavias are gone in the catering company, the 200 vehicles on the fleet will split fairly evenly between cars and vans. It is an all-diesel fleet, the only proviso for the car drivers who are otherwise free to choose their vehicle within price and CO2 parameters.

Gratte has a novel disposal policy – vans are advertised for sale at the Stevenage depot and sold privately. “We used to sell through Manheim Auctions but we would have to wait until we had three or four vehicles. The depot gets plenty of passing trade and we have buyers who keep a look out for when we offer vehicles for sale.”

The Vauxhall vans – Combos, Vivaros and Movanos – are all bought outright from Murketts in Royston and Alborough says they have a good long-term relationship with the company. “The sales manager we deal with is about to retire so we hope that won’t change,” he jokes.

Maintenance is managed by Marshall Leasing and drivers simply book their vehicle in to the nearest main dealer.  “It works well,” says Alborough. “If a vehicle needs a set of brake pads Marshall knows what things should cost through experience and contact with manufacturers. The dealer bills Marshall who bills us monthly.”

Training

Driver training is something Alborough has paid particular attention to and all company drivers go through a three-year training cycle provided by Ultimate Car Control.

Drivers complete a full day’s training (morning in the classroom, afternoon on the skid pan) at the beginning of the first year of the three-year cycle. In the second year, they spend a day on the road with an assessor/trainer who reviews their driving and in the third year, they spend the day back in the classroom and on the skid pan. There is also ongoing, online risk assessment.

Alborough says the training is “second to none” and he’s proud of the impact the programme has had on accident statistics – from 36 accidents a year across the fleet down to 15, and only eight the fault of the Gratte driver.

Gratte also expects drivers to take responsibility for their behaviour on the road – and for the £500 excess that has to be paid on insurance claims. No action is taken for first driver-fault insurance claims, but on a second claim the driver is expected to pay the excess and a third claim is likely to result in disciplinary action.

Alborough has worked at Gratte for seven years, where he is also responsible for the company’s 300 mobile phones. A computing graduate and calibration officer from South Africa, he began his career at the company on a temporary contract looking after the fleet and, by his own admission, with very little experience.

Perhaps it’s because he doesn’t have a background in vehicle logistics, Alborough is constantly questioning how the fleet is run, always looking for improvements – including a target annual reduction in carbon emissions by two per cent a year. The fleet management is “forever evolving”, he says.