With an 18-year background in fleet management within leasing environments up to operations director level, group fleet manager at Platform Housing Group, Matt Neale, explains that his passion for fleet management is driven mostly by the fact that he likes to place himself “in the shoes of the customer.”

In his role – which he began in September 2021 – Neale is responsible for a fleet of vehicles used to service tenanted properties. “I like to be the fleet operator rather than the fleet provider,” he explains. “I manage a team of people who support customers and as a not-for-profit housing organisation, it’s my job to make sure those customers really are supported.” 

Neale’s hands-on and empathetic approach has led to significant changes for the fleet, which, before he arrived, had no fleet manager. 

“Before I joined everything was managed via spreadsheets – damage repairs, allocations, everything,” he says. 

“The first thing I said is ‘I’m not looking at any spreadsheets as they’re out of date as soon as I type into them.”

Once the spreadsheets were gone, Neale, who is a member of the Association for Fleet Professionals, unrolled an ambitious programme of governance and improvement and currently has a number of ongoing projects for implementation to increase the safety and compliance of the fleet, among other goals. 

The fleet consists of 500 light commercial vehicles and Neale introduced a salary sacrifice scheme. Although all of Platform Housing Group’s workforce is united by their overall status as part of the Platform Housing Group charity, technically Matt and his driver workforce are employed by separate companies. 

Neale is responsible for co-managing the workforce, whose direct line management is concerned with the core activity of maintaining properties, while Matt’s concern is the safe and reliable operation of the fleet of around 1,600 employees servicing 47,000 homes across central England. 

Maximising safety

Due to the critical nature of the fleet – making sure people’s homes are serviced – Neale has been trying to bring everyone within the company onto the same safety page through the launch of his fleet strategy, and from that, he explains many things were born. 

Neale tells us that all of the vehicles on the fleet are grey fleet as no company car scheme exists. As he only recently took over, he has found that there is a lot of education and solution-finding still to be done throughout the business.

A month into his role, Neale decided to begin working with driver training company Lightfoot to adopt a new driver training programme and app that gives drivers real time coaching and alerts as they drive. “The app provides drivers with feedback on how they’re driving, coaching them to work on areas for improvement, and challenging them to maintain strong performance,” he says. 

Neale believes rewarding drivers for driving well will have a positive impact on his business. “We have fewer claims and run a safer fleet and as the product was insurance endorsed, I’m expecting a positive conversation for next year’s renewal,” he says.

Working with Lightfoot also provides Neale with full management visibility of driving behaviour, an important aspect of managing a grey fleet. “If our vehicles are down for any reason, our tenants are not being serviced or supported, and this support could be critical for a person living in an assisted living arrangement.”

.by minimising downtime 

Similarly to many companies who embark on proper fleet governance for the first time, the fleet is witnessing a rising amount of incidents. However, once a baseline is reached through proper reporting, reductions from safety initiatives will become apparent, he explains.

The majority of the fleet’s savings when transitioning to Lightfoot naturally came through fuel, with safer driving allowing the fuel cost to be reduced dramatically. In addition, with not having so many harsh braking events, harsh cornering events or harsh acceleration events – Neale explains the fleet can save in other areas such as accidental damage and in downtime. “I would really urge all fleet managers to look at the true cost of downtime so the business can really understand it.” 

Another means of keeping an eye on grey fleet drivers is through the fleet’s recent partnership with FMG Accident Management. “We’ll be adopting their driver behaviour programme too to ensure our drivers are always covered with business insurance and provides me with an excellent audit trail, rapid first notification of loss, and much higher uninsured loss recovery than we’ve ever seen in this fleet. We just can’t have that kind of grey area to be a success,” he says. 

Neale explains that FMG also actively manages the downtime of the fleet’s vehicles, which, for a small team, has been a valuable area of support for a business who relies on maximising vehicle availability at all times.

Currently, the fleet relies heavily on short term hire vehicles if vehicles need maintenance, but another way to ensure the cars are always quickly replaced is to deliver a pool vehicle to the driver wherever they are. “We’re investigating the possibility of delivering a pool vehicle to their location and taking theirs away to fix it so they can continue their crucial work,” Neale says. “If a vehicle is off the road there could be a huge impact.” 

A greener and more proactive fleet

As a not-for-profit, Neale explains that the company bases its decisions on whole life costs and seeks out sustainable practices that support its longer-term goals around economic and social growth (ESG). “We have significant corporate social responsibility and ESG goals so every day in my role, it’s my job to figure out how our small part of the business can help the larger business reach its wider goals,” he says. “Any decisions I make for purchasing vehicles need to support those values for greener decisions in our bid to homes England and shows what we do to support the environment.” 

Within his role, Neale also takes responsibility for fleet budgets, offering support just as a leasing company would. As part of that, Neale explains he has set up various budget account codes to ensure costs are going to the right places and freeing up budget to support other areas of the business. “If we are able to move money to other areas, we will eventually be able to help the tenant we aim to serve. This money could be invested into building new properties or tenant well-being,” he explains.

Neale would also like to move away from leasing vehicles towards outright purchase. “Through this we have access to cheaper funding. Not only can we then manage the vehicles more effectively, but we can manage their downtime more effectively too,” he explains. Due to a cancelled order, Neale was able to save areound £3,200 per vehicle when purchasing some Ford E-Transits recently, rather than leasing them. “We also were able to get a government grant, so saved around £4,000 on top of that for our outright purchase.” 

Although the fleet is not quite ready for its EV rollout, the purchase of them was either immediate or subject to another 12 month wait. “We’ve made the decision to take the vehicles now and start having conversations with drivers to support them when we are ready to take them out on the road,” he says.

Salary sacrifice 

In addition, the fleet has recently launched an electric vehicle salary sacrifice scheme for cars and has begun taking delivery of two Polestar EVs so far, with 16 to shortly follow. 

Neale explains that the scheme is a great addition to the many benefits the fleet offers its employees. “Ultimately, this scheme will allow employees to have a vehicle that they may not in other circumstances be able to afford. They will be able to benefit from tax savings and do their part in making our planet a greener place to live. It also allows us to support those all important ESG commitments of our Group,” he explains. 

To meet the requirements of the EVs for charging infrastructure, the Platform Housing Group is rolling out an electric charging scheme for staff. “We’re also hiring for an EV coordinator who will support this rollout of electric charging points at our office locations, the home addresses of our drivers and across the complete estate of properties,” says Neale. 

“It’s not just a case of handing an electric vehicle to a member of staff if they live in a block of flats or if they travel 200 miles every day. We’re carrying out our interviews and surveys and will assess that the rollout won’t have a negative impact on our service but also a positive impact on the business.” 

To ensure the accuracy and diligence of the reporting, the fleet has recruited Mitie which will act as an EV consultancy for the company. Neale says: “Mitie is a huge fleet which deals with property maintenance and has successfully transitioned over to EVs. They will assess our previous time log records for our jobs looking at records to assess how long our vehicles stay at each location and will come forward with a fleet strategy for us.” 

Neale is passionate about the fleet industry, and that of the housing, charitable sector, and aims to continue to improve and grow as a fleet, all the while becoming safer and greener. “Fleet management is a profession and unfortunately it’s not always seen that way in the industry. People think we kick tires but that’s really not the case. I couldn’t tell you the last time I kicked a tire or how a car engine works, I’m more strategically minded.”

Within the organisation, Neale is also on the hunt for new ways of reporting and collecting data. As a big advocate for technology, Neale has been looking into the adoption of various Microsoft packages and Power BI. “I want to start compiling information that is clean and accessible leading to decent reporting and valuable information and learnings. Technology is going to play a vital part in us being able to achieve our goals as an effective vehicle fleet.”