GOVERNMENT GREY FLEET: Out of sight, out of mind
19 October 2010
In 2006 the Government set itself the target of a 15% fall in road vehicle carbon emissions by 2011. However, as this investigation has shown, the cut will be impossible to prove as the vast majority of its departments don't monitor grey fleet CO2, making a mockery of its efforts to cut fleet car emissions. Tristan Young reports
The recession may have temporarily moved fleets' focus to costs, but it hasn't changed the Government's commitment to reducing carbon emissions from transport.
The Government's 15% reduction in carbon emissions from road vehicles by the end of the 2010/11 fiscal year, over the preceding five years, was set in place by then Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The measure was part of the Sustainable Operations for the Government Estate (SOGE) targets, which all Government departments and executive agencies have signed up to achieve.
If you think the targets don't apply to grey fleet, you'd be wrong. The SOGE rules define the vehicles that qualify as: "All road vehicles (fleet vehicles, hire cars and personal vehicles used for business travel - reimbursed by motor mileage allowance) used by all ministerial and non-ministerial departments and their executive agencies."
With the current SOGE targets coming to an end and new ones being planned, BusinessCar asked each of the Government departments with Cabinet-level representation about their grey fleet carbon emissions.
What we asked...
1. Does the department record its grey fleet CO2 figure?
2. Does the department include this in its CO2 targets?
3. What was the department's grey fleet CO2 figure for the past three years?
4. What was the department's grey fleet mileage as a percentage of total business mileage for the past three years?
5. Do you have any measures in place to reduce grey fleet carbon emissions?
Business, Innovation and Skills
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills doesn't record or include grey fleet CO2 figures in its carbon monitoring, although it does keep a record of total grey fleet mileage. Over the past three years this has gone from 942,237 miles in 2007/08 up to 1,004,425 miles in 08/09 and back down to 916,409 miles in 09/10.
Oddly, BIS was unable to say what percentage this was of the department's total business mileage.
BIS does not have any measures to cut carbon emissions of its grey fleet, although it does require staff to use the least expensive mode of transport.
Communities and Local Government
The Department for Communities and Local Government has one of the better grey fleet policies, and includes carbon production in its targets. But, like several departments, it uses Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs-produced official national average CO2 figure of 207g/km, coupled to miles, to calculate its output.
Interestingly, of those departments that gave the percentage of grey fleet miles to company car miles, the department had the lowest figure - below 10% for 2009/10. One of the reasons for the low percentage is the use of a travel hierarchy, which lists use of an employee's own car for business as one of the least favourable options.
Culture, Media and Sport
Not only does the Department for Culture, Media and Sport not record grey fleet CO2 or include it in its carbon reduction targets, but by its own admission, 100% of its business mileage is by grey fleet vehicles as it does not have a company car fleet.
"The department does not provide any vehicles for employee use, and therefore all business mileage is in employee-owned vehicles (or vehicles to which they have personal access for which appropriate insurance cover is in place). The department has not introduced specific measures in relation to reducing CO2 emissions for employee-owned vehicles," read the official response.
By way of mitigation, the response added: "However it might be of interest to you to know that the department has a cycle scheme in operation, which actively encourages people to cycle to work. One of the reasons this scheme has been put in to place is because it is sustainable, non-polluting and helps reduce congestion and CO2 emissions."
That's all right then.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs doesn't undertake CO2 recording or calculation, and so grey fleet isn't included in carbon reduction targets.
The department's grey fleet policy says: "Staff may only consider the use of a private vehicle if the journey is under 85 miles (unless a director signs off the use of a private vehicle and submits a business case). Vehicles can only be used when absolutely necessary and when public transport is not available or practicable. Any journey over 85 miles must be undertaken in either a pool or hire car (hire vehicles can be delivered to your home, office or any location). The department is able to measure CO2 emissions from pool and hire vehicles." Yet despite this, it still estimates two-thirds of all business miles is grey fleet.
The Department for Education records total carbon output from its grey fleet to include in its targets, but was unable to provide an average or the proportion of grey fleet miles because this data was not collated or gathered.
It added: "There are no specific CO2 reduction measures" for grey fleet. But "drivers are advised that driving yourself is the least 'green' method of transport and as a department we are committed to adopting more sustainable travel behaviours, resulting in monetary savings and reducing carbon dioxide emissions".
Environment and Climate Change
The Department of Energy and Climate Change uses the mileage to calculate grey fleet CO2 figures that are included in its carbon reduction targets. However, it doesn't say what figure it uses for this calculation and it doesn't differentiate between grey and company car fleet mileage.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office was the only department able to give an accurate, real-world CO2 average for its grey fleet. At 223g/km, down from 241g/km the year before, this is significantly higher than the UK average car CO2 figure of 207g/km. This reinforces the theory that grey fleet vehicles tend to be older cars with higher CO2 figures.
While the FCO should be praised for measuring the detail, it's let down by the fact is does not encourage a cut in grey fleet CO2.
An spokesman said: "The FCO does not implement CO2 reduction methods on staff privately owned cars. However, FCO is actively encouraging staff both in the UK and overseas to change their carbon footprint wherever possible. This includes CO2 vehicle emissions."
The Department of Health claims to have cut its 'total' road travel carbon output 7% in the three years between 2005/06 and 2008/09, but this figure does not include grey fleet.
It is also one of the few departments that doesn't have any advice for staff using their own cars on business.
"We do not hold any records on employee-owned cars. Therefore we are unable to provide the data relating to CO2." This was the response, from HM Treasury, which looks after the nation's money, so staff should be used to recording this type of information, particularly when it comes to making mileage claims. The Treasury is taking a very cavalier attitude because, in reply to BusinessCar's FOI request on licence checks last year, it told us it did not have any company cars, which would mean that all business mileage was either in grey fleet vehicles or hire cars.
The Home Office does not specifically measure its grey fleet CO2 figure. Instead it uses the Defra-issued official UK average of 207g/km for petrol cars.
While the Home Office does not know its exact percentage of grey fleet miles, it estimates them to account for 40-50% of the total for the past three years. However, there may be hope as the Home Office and UK Border Agency has already held staff awareness events with activities teaching smarter driving and is about to start working with the Energy Saving Trust on a Green Fleet Review.
A Department for International Development said: "I can confirm that DFID does not record any data in respect of carbon emissions on employee-owned vehicles used for official travel. I can confirm that DFID holds some information relating to the business mileage covered in employee-owned vehicles for the last three years."
However, this information is only held on the individual mileage claims forms and isn't extracted or collated.
Ministry of Defence
The MoD is one of the departments that uses the official UK CO2 average for cars of 207g/km to calculate its grey fleet carbon output. What's more impressive is that it has been working to cut its grey fleet emissions and has seen the mileage percentage drop by one percentage point in each of the past three years to 18%. This is part of a wider target to cut all road miles by 15% between 2005/06 and 2010/11.
The DfT uses the official UK CO2 average in its targets and has also been successfully cutting its grey fleet mileage over the past three years.
It has clear guidance and regulations on the use of private cars for business mileage, which drivers must satisfy before they can use their car for work.
Work and Pensions
The Department of Work and Pensions may not know its actual grey fleet CO2 figure, instead relying on the official UK car CO2 average, but it has steadily been reducing grey fleet mileage over the past three years from 62% to 47%. This is thanks to a policy that advises staff to avoid travel and encourages electronic communication. And if staff must travel, then the following must be considered in order: walking, cycling, rail, fleet car, hire car, own car.
Following BusinessCar's investigation last year into Government departmental driving licence checking, which included grey fleet, the Government's Buying Solutions agency (formerly OGC) launched a campaign to improve the way public sector grey fleet vehicles were managed.
At the time, an OGC spokesman said: "Evidence suggests grey fleet makes up around 57% of total road mileage used by the public sector. It is estimated that reducing grey fleet mileage by 1,000,000 miles could unlock an estimated £250,000 in cash savings and reduce CO2 emissions by over 240 tonnes."
This comment was backed by the Government's chief sustainability officer William Jordan, who said: "Small, simple improvements in grey fleet management can collectively make big differences. I would urge all managers responsible for this particular area of public sector expenditure to ensure effective measures are in place to maximise efficiencies, and safeguard staff's wellbeing."
This advice is clearly not being followed at the highest level.
However, possibly the most worrying finding from this analysis is not how little is being done to reduce grey fleet carbon emissions, but how little is known about grey fleet emissions.
But then it's called grey fleet for a reason- nothing's ever black and white about it.