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Fleet Profile: SES Water

Date: 14 April 2023   |   Author: Rachel Boagey

In his 30 years at SES Water, Allan Jones has worked his way up from apprentice to fleet manager. He tells Rachel Boagey about his career at the water company.

In 1991, Allan Jones was a 16-year-old straight out of school, who took up an apprenticeship at East Surrey Water as it was known back then. From the workshop floor as an apprentice, Jones soon became a qualified technician, and worked his way up to workshop supervisor and fleet maintenance manager, before taking on his current role as fleet manager. 

"Since I started, the company has kindly invested a huge amount of time in my development. Spending as much time as I have in the company, has rewarded me with a great wealth of knowledge and understanding of what is needed to keep operations running, by ways of transport and the maintenance support of that," he tells us from his office on the mezzanine above the company workshop. 

Jones worked with his predecessor for 25 years and describes how great it was to work with him before his retirement. "He told me he was looking after the maintenance aspect of the fleet, and when the fleet manager retired, his responsibilities were given to me," Jones says.

He tells us that coming from the fleet maintenance manager position to his current role has been challenging at times. Although he now manages the fleet of 180 vehicles, Jones enjoys being in the midst of the action, or as he describes it "getting my hands dirty". Fortunately, Jones is just steps away from the general public MOT service centre, of which he is the authorised designated manager, and will often take the opportunity to pop down there to help out. 

Although he isn't as involved in the mechanical side of the company as much as he would have previously liked to be, Jones has adapted to his fleet manager role and draws a great deal of job satisfaction from supporting his team of four technicians and a receptionist, as well as supporting the various departments with their operational fleet needs. 

Although SES Water is the supplier for more than 745,000 people in the south of England, with a service covering 835km2, spanning Surrey, West Sussex, Kent, London, and Gatwick Airport, and supplying 160 million litres of clean water to these areas, SES is the smallest water company in the UK. 

"This means invariably you will get involved in more than what your remit suggests, but you also get a brilliant understanding of how the rest of the company works; the operational pressures of various departments and how as the Fleet Maintenance Department, we can support that," Jones explains. He also tells us that working for a small company also means you can often  turn your hand to jobs outside of your specialist area. "It certainly keeps you on your toes, but it's all part of working as a team in a smaller company," he says. Jones also likes that the MOT centre gives back to the community, "as you don't always get to do that working for a company". 

The net-zero goal 

As a water company, SES Water relies on the natural environment to provide water for them to treat and deliver directly into customers' homes and businesses. But Jones explains that abstracting, treating, and moving that water is an energy-intensive process that emits millions of tonnes of greenhouse gas each year - a big contributor to our changing climate which, in turn, threatens the very same natural environment that we are so reliant upon for water. 

It is for this reason that SES Water has taken up the net zero carbon emissions baton. "Taking the sector-wide commitments as the starting point, we use our unique supply area - from the geography, water sources and customer demographics - to set out our own route map," Jones explains. "We will focus on managing demand for water so that we need and use less of it and, in turn, emit less carbon. We believe that is the most collaborative way to work with our customers and local communities and deliver net zero carbon emissions by 2030 - some 20 years before the economy is expected to as a whole.

It's not just water that is essential for improving the company's sustainability. Ensuring his fleet is running efficiently is a big part of Jones' role. 

Coming in as an apprentice in the '90s, Jones explains he didn't necessarily take the role because of an interest in the water industry, but as time has gone by, he has grown to understand how important his company's role is in providing a reliable clean supply of drinking water to its customers. "I take great pride in the fact that when I see our vehicles out at all times of the night and day, that my team and I have done our part in ensuring that those vehicles are safe and reliable, and able to support those teams in their day-to-day tasks. A reliable and safe water supply is a life-supporting resource, and being involved in that is enormously rewarding, not sure that could be said for all fleet support teams."

The fleet's commitment to sustainability shows in its company car list too, with a broad line-up of vehicles that Jones says support the fleet's transition to EV. "Since I came into my current role, electrification has been a significant focus point," explains Jones. Out of 51 cars, 30 are electric, four are hybrid and the rest are a mix of diesel and petrol, with a further five EVs and 2 PHEVs on order to replace more of the ICE vehicles on the car fleet. This will mean 80% of the car fleet will soon be EV or PHEV. Jones explains that part of that 20% left over is four owned pool cars, two of which are hybrids, one diesel and one petrol. "The rest of the ICE fleet, I hope to replace with EVs or PHEVs over the next year," he tells us.

In 2019/20, the company added ten Nissan e-NV200s to its fleet and charging infrastructure across its sites. "We now sit at 42 sockets supporting 24 electric vans and 30 electric cars," Jones says. "With a further six vans on order, this will bring us to 25% of our LCV fleet being EV. We do have further plans to expand on this in the coming financial year. We are aiming to be fully EV, PHEV or alternative fuelled before 2030," he says. 

In March 2021, a decision was made to no longer add traditional ICE company cars to the fleet. "This decision was brought about by a small committee of interested parties, made up of company car drivers, managers and directors," says Jones. "In line with this decision, we moved away from an outright purchase model to a contract hire model. The decision to only add EVs or PHEV cars was widely accepted as a good thing, taking into account the reductions in fuel costs and BIK liability being a draw for drivers," he explains.

But this is not to say everyone on the fleet was on board with the idea at the beginning. Luckily, since then, many opinions have altered. "Through offering my support and providing guidance and most importantly a quality vehicle handover, even our most ardent of objectors would not now give back their EV - they are all pretty much smitten with their cars," says Jones. 

In fact, he tells us that once one of the fleet's most strongly opinionated objectors experienced his company-supplied EV, he went out and bought one for his partner. "That is as good a win as I could hope to have," laughs Jones. "He got in the car moaning and got out with a big grin on his face. He's one of our EV champions now," he says. 

Knowing they wanted to increase the sustainability of the fleet as much as possible, SES embarked on a partnership with Drax in 2018/19 led by their then Energy and Carbons Manager, establishing it as its energy supplier. Jones explains Drax helped the fleet kick start its journey into electrifying our fleet, and they continue to support them in that regard, with the installation and maintenance of workplace and home EV chargers. 

Despite their benefits to the fleet, including a reduction of emissions and service and maintenance costs, the adoption of EVs onto the fleet has been a big learning curve for Jones and his colleagues. Jones explains, "We still have a duty of care to inspect these vehicles to ensure they're safe for our drivers, and for that, we follow guidance from the manufacturers. Our four technicians on the floor who have been working on ICEs forever had to be trained to a high level in the maintenance of electric vehicles and how to ensure they're roadworthy." 

Getting ahead of the game

Jones admits the transition has not been bump free. "We didn't expect it to be, either. That's why we started adopting EVs in 2019, so we get to experience things that can go wrong nice and early, so that by 2030, we're confident and knowledgeable," explains Jones. 

Supply chain issues have been the main source of challenge for SES Water over the past few years, whether this be in obtaining vehicles or parts. "The decision to move to an EV or PHEV-only car fleet in the middle of the Covid restrictions presented its own challenges, however we are proud to have transitioned as well as we have in that time, a good reflection of our commitment to decarbonise our fleet," Jones notes.

Going forward, he believes that as the LCV fleet increases, as well as the need to rely on public charging, this has the potential to cause concern. "The well-documented failings of this infrastructure do not inspire confidence," Jones explains. "Our drivers experience chargers being unavailable or out of action for weeks on end and there are still parts of the country that are better covered than others - our specific supply district being one of those not so well-supported," he says.

As a small company, Jones says SES Water is fairly agile, allowing good decisions to be made without a lot of backlash. He predicts opportunities to further expand its EV fleet, "to assist in our wider carbon footprint reduction goals and make our fleet drivers' lives a little bit quieter".

In the future, Jones wants to develop the company's charging infrastructure to add resilience, and potentially support its local community in its own transition to electric. "How do we do this? By offering access to some of our less security-sensitive sites to charge their own EVs; by taking opportunities to trial new technologies in relation to the decarbonisation of our fleet to take advantage of early lessons learnt, whether this be vehicle adaptations, specialist conversions, or alternative fuel trials,". He concludes, "I am very much excited for our future and look forward to what it may bring our way."