GREY FLEETS: Government departments' grey fleet figures revealed
28 August 2012
With increasing pressures on cost and risk, grey fleet is coming under much greater scrutiny. We used the Freedom of Information Act to see how Government departments are tackling this challenge. Tristan Young reports
It has long been reported that the largest grey fleet users are sections of the public sector. However, facts surrounding this are hard to come by, so BusinessCar asked some of the top Government bodies about their grey fleet activities and costs.
The results were incredibly inconsistent. Some departments took their cost, risk and environmental responsibilities very seriously while others were unable to provide the data requested because it wasn't available.
BusinessCar entered Freedom of Information requests to all cabinet-level departments plus the Health and Safety Executive - because of the risk implications associated with grey fleet mileage - and HMRC for the tax implications of grey fleet miles.
In the best cases, not only were departments able to provide the number of staff who'd claimed for business miles on their private cars and the total distance covered, but they were also able to demonstrate a steady reduction in grey fleet mileage and users over the past few years.
However, of the 18 requests, four departments (Defence, Department for Transport, Education and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office) did not reply and four answered, but were unable to provide the information because either the data wasn't held or the time it would take to assemble it (often from paper records) would take too long and fall outside the scope of the FOI request.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change, for example, was an interesting case. It was unable to provide the figures for the number of grey fleet miles in the FOI time limit because it was using a paper-based recording system. However, it did know how many of its staff were claiming.
Given this department's job concerns climate change and therefore CO2 emissions, and that fact that it has a comprehensive policy on grey fleet use, it doesn't appear to be leading by example, as it doesn't know how many miles are being driven by its staff.
BusinessCar also asked what mileage rate the departments paid grey fleet drivers. All said they were using the HMRC approved mileage allowances payments (AMAP) rates of 40p a mile for the first 10,000 miles and 25p a mile thereafter before March 2011, and 45p and 25p respectively from 2011 onward.
While the Department for Business Innovation & Skills does not specifically aim to cut the number of grey fleet miles its staff drive every year, it has a straightforward procedure in place to judge if a private car should be used for departmental business.
The policy reads: "The department has controls in place to minimise the use of private vehicles for business journeys. Each journey using a private vehicle must be approved by a senior manager before it takes place. Each journey must be shown to be the most reasonable and cost-effective form of travel for the department. A private vehicle should only be used where it will not involve more expense to the department than if it had been made by public transport or hire car using the departmental contract. Or other advantages outweigh the extra cost of travel for the particular journey, for example a significant time saving."
In 2011 11.5% of staff claimed for mileage, up from 10.5% three years ago. However, the total mileage claimed was down 21% over the same time to 533,644 miles in 2011.
The Cabinet Office has a policy of reducing its grey fleet mileage, but it's not doing a very good job, with the total number of miles doubling between 2010 and 2011. Prior to this, it didn't have the systems in place to monitor this cost as it operated a paper-based individual claims system.
However, a spokesman says: "During the past two years various functions have transferred into the Cabinet Office from other Government departments. This has resulted in a requirement for increased travel out to departments so there is no overall increase in Government expenditure.
"In addition, some parts of the department have been involved with preparations for the Olympics, which has also resulted in extra travel.
"The department is committed to reducing its grey fleet volume. it has in place a contract with a car-hire company. Employees are encouraged to make use of this contract wherever possible over using their own vehicles."
Communities and Local Govt.
This department's figures show a steady decline in grey fleet mileage for three years between 2008 and 2010 from 262,983 to 191,786 miles. This fits with its policy of keeping travel to a minimum, and if it is necessary then the most cost-effective options should be used, with a priority for public transport. However, as with the Cabinet Office, a restructuring in 2011 saw numbers increase last year.
A spokesman says: "This is due to the transfer in of staff from the closures of the Government Office Network and the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs), the majority of which are based in regional offices outside London, necessitating more frequent travel between offices and to undertake departmental work.
"As part of the spending review settlement, the Communities and Local Government group is making a collective 33% real-terms saving against its running costs by 2014-15. This equates to savings of over £200 million by 2014-15. In addition, the department will save a further £190 million from the closure of the Government offices for the regions."
One of the best departments when it comes to lowering grey fleet miles is the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Over the past four years it has not only cut the total grey fleet mileage, but also the proportion of staff claiming business mileage in their private cars.
In 2008 just more than 18% of staff in the department claimed business miles with the average distance at nearly 2000 miles per person. This is now down to 5% claiming just 304 miles each year. And this is with a policy that, as yet, doesn't specifically discourage grey fleet mileage.
"The Defra policy does not currently restrict grey fleet use specifically, although the use of own-vehicle travel is discouraged and staff are advised to use public transport or the Green Car service if at all possible," says a Defra spokesman. "If staff use a hire car service, which should be booked through the department's provider, the hire car should only be used for journeys over an 85-mile distance.
"There is a new policy still in draft format, which in the future may significantly limit grey fleet usage."
The Department for International Development has seen a steady increase in grey fleet mileage over the past three years from 42,602 to 59,845 miles despite broadly static total staffing numbers. The department declined to answer BusinessCar's question about what measures were in place to control grey fleet mileage.
Dept. of Health
The Department of Health has been successfully cutting its grey fleet miles under the organisation's CO2 reduction strategy. Over the past four years the proportion of employees claiming mileage on their private cars has dropped from more than a quarter to less than 14%. And although the average grey mileage per employee has risen, the overall grey fleet mileage total has fallen.
A spokesman says: "The department's travel and expenses policy requires that staff consider at the outset whether travel is necessary to deliver the business outcomes required, or whether this can achieved by other means such as video- or audio-conferencing.
"Staff are also required to consider whether the impact of their journey is in accordance with the policy to reduce the department's CO2 emissions.
"Staff must not use their own car for journeys where the reimbursement of mileage costs would exceed the cost of a hire car. In such cases, public transport or a hire car should be used."
The way the Home Office recorded its grey fleet figures changed between 2008 and 2009, which meant other agencies, such as the Border Agency and the Criminal Records Bureau, were included in the total. However, since 2009 the total grey fleet mileage has been cut significantly from 3.7 million miles to less than 2.4 million.
The Home Office did not comment on the reasons for the decrease.
Of the departments and agencies that fully responded to our request for information, HM Revenue & Customs has the largest number of staff with more than 75,000 in total in 2011. However, the figures make for positive reading.
The percentage claiming grey fleet miles was only 12.6% in 2011, down from nearly 18% in 2008. Better news still was the average mileage per employee has also fallen. The result is a dramatic cut in grey fleet mileage claims from nearly 18 million miles in 2008 to just more than 7.5 million in 2011. In cost terms that's an approximate drop from £7.2m to £3.4m. HMRC attributes its improvement to cutting business travel wherever possible and looking for more sustainable travel modes.
"HMRC is committed to adopting more sustainable travel behaviours," says a spokesman. "Travel plays an important role in delivering many aspects of our business, but travel can also have a negative impact on the environment and on your work/life balance. We are working to improve our travel management so that we can contribute to the Government's Sustainable Development Objectives. This will help reduce the impact of climate change."
However, BCF Wessex director and fleet management expert, David Rawlings, says: "The HMRC's mileage came down by half in a four-year period. The number of miles per employee and the number of employees claiming miles also came down. This is impressive, but what has the HMRC substituted this for? It's unlikely they are significantly reducing the number of trips by stopping people going out. What is the total travel cost now compared to before?"
The Treasury has one of the lowest percentages and actual numbers of employees claiming mileage on their private cars. In 2011 just 2.2% of staff used this method of transport for business and the average mileage per person was just 131 miles for the year.
The Health and Safety Executive, which should be leading by example, is a worrying case, according to BCF Wessex's Rawlings.
The HSE has the highest percentage of employees using their own cars for business at close to 60%, which is more than four times greater than the next highest percentage of the departments we questioned. The average mileage per employee is also at least twice that of any other department questioned.
An HSE spokesman says: "Much of HSE's work must be carried out away from the office at employers' premises or at locations convenient for others. Travel undertaken can be a regular feature of some jobs or an occasional visit to another HSE office in others.
"In all cases, it is important that you only travel when it is really necessary and choose the travel option that provides the best value for money for doing the job."
Rawlings says: "The HSE has a lot of staff claiming mileage. I suspect they have a lot of people doing a lot of short journeys, so a small, efficient car may be a better option. The HSE's comment suggests this too; they've got people travelling around to see companies about health and safety matters in grey fleet vehicles - it doesn't really send the right message."
What we asked
BusinessCar requested the following information for each of the past three years:
. How many employees claimed mileage expenses for using their own private cars for departmental business?
. What was the total number of business miles claimed by employees using their own cars?
. What was the department's reimbursement rate for business mileage driven in an employee's private car?
. What was the department's total number of employees?
. BusinessCar also asked the department concerned if it had a policy for reducing grey fleet mileage and also what that policy was.