John Pryor recently became the Association of Car Fleet Operator’s third chairman in a little over 12 months, but with 18 years’ membership experience and around 25 years of involvement in managing vehicles for what is now the Arcadia Group clothing retail giant, he already has a clear idea of where he’d like to see ACFO positioning itself.

“We’ve been members for 18 years and for me it’s vital because there’s no one here I can bounce ideas off or hear other opinions,” he tells BusinessCar from a meeting room at Arcadia’s head office just off Oxford Street, where we’re surrounded by trendy twenty-somethings showing off the latest designs for the company’s various clothing brands including BHS, Burton, Dorothy Perkins, Top Man and Miss Selfridge.
“Whoever is looking after the fleet needs some knowledge – it’s nice to know things don’t just happen to you and you can take solace in that. We haven’t changed: there’s still no one else in the business that knows about cars.”

He continues: “We’re a huge UK fashion retailer and I’ve got no other person to ask or go to for information. You can go to your leasing company if you have one, but to get an independent and different perspective, ACFO is very important.”

He’s disappointed about the reduction in the number of dedicated fleet managers in the industry, but maintains companies need someone in-house that understands what is involved in running a fleet of vehicles: “We ourselves have outsourced for years, but we’ve got to have someone with a semblance of [knowing] what is going on, or the lease company has got you over a barrel. Companies won’t know what they don’t know until the moment they know they don’t know it.”


Pryor highlights the point by referring to London mayor Boris Johnson’s recent declaration about extra charges from 2020 for diesel cars entering London that don’t meet Euro6 emissions legislation.

“The perfect example is Boris and this low-emission zone. I can now start thinking and asking what other people are doing,” he explains. “And things like the abolishment of the driving licence counterpart – I wouldn’t have a clue, so is there somewhere I can get an idea, support or a view that’s impartial?”

The business car side is complicated by there not being a single way to run a fleet. “With HR there’s a way of doing things with recruitment, rules and regulations etc. The HR community is the HR community and it’s the same with the likes of finance, but with cars and running a fleet there is no single way you should run your business,” he says. “There is no right or wrong way – the company has to drive the fleet.”


ACFO has had some recent success in lobbying on behalf of members, something Prior is keen to see continue.

“I’m very proud of the work we have done with Government on Advisory Fuel Rates, and proud that we now knock louder with people like the DVLA over the abolishment of counterparts,” he says. “When we started talking to them originally it was a case of ‘why do we [the industry] need that?’ They didn’t understand.

“If you didn’t have ACFO, and people didn’t renew their membership or want to join, then they won’t have a voice with Government or legislators,” Pryor continues. “You’ve got the BVRLA [British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association], but they speak for rental and leasing companies. We’re supporting the end team, whether you use a leased car or not. I’m very keen to get fleet operator members. That’s how you get your voice heard and we’re trying to make a point and be listened to.”

The ACFO boss said Government departments find it useful to deal with a fleet manager. “When we started with the DVLA or HMRC, I could say I’m a practicing fleet manager and this is happening now, and they appeared to like it because it almost cuts out the middle man. Lease providers have their agenda and Government likes to understand where we are coming from. For example, they asked me why companies even have grey fleets,” he says.

There will be more lobbying on behalf of fleet members to come, with electric vehicles and mileage rates being areas of interest.

“We’ve been back to Government and said one minute you want to take low-emission cars and push them, then you are ramping up the tax on them hugely,” says Pryor. “With the £5000 supplement, you could say you are getting £5000 off the purchase price, but the employee doesn’t and they will pay a lot more in tax as the benefit-in-kind ramps up, so the question will be, ‘why am I doing this?'”

Fuel rates for electric vehicles are also a bone of contention within the fleet industry, and ACFO is talking to Government about the issue.

“What is the fuel reimbursement rate for electric cars and what do I pay my drivers for plug-ins?” he questions. “For fleets, they haven’t got the time and expertise to work it out, so to have Revenue set a rate is vital.”

Pryor admits it will be even more difficult for plug-in hybrids because there is no way of proving whether electric or petrol/diesel power was used, and he says that the Treasury’s current “get-out” is that electricity isn’t a fuel, with him speculating that it won’t be an issue until there’s a critical mass of vehicles costing the public purse enough money to be worth the trouble.



ACFO’s new chairman envisages a change to the way the organisation communicates with its members, with a potential move away from regional meetings and more emphasis on seminar sessions around specific topics, such as the Olympic one conducted in 2012 and the electric vehicle seminar that took place earlier this year, backed up by more utilisation of the new website that was launched in 2013.  
“The regional meetings are still important, but people are finding it harder and harder to justify getting out,” explains Pryor. “People are now sharing roles across three or four things, and open meetings are difficult to attend. I hope we have set a trend with some of the seminars, starting with the Olympic one that had over 100 people.”

ACFO has pulled together a list of 12 potential topics for 2015, which have gone to the national council with a view to two or three of them taking place next year, depending on which are likely to attract the best attendance and sponsor partners.

Pryor’s feeling with the regional meetings is that they should turn into spring and autumn briefing sessions, giving members an oversight of the developments coming in the next half-year or so that will impact them, and have a more local emphasis. Two examples of the kind of topics that could have been discussed were the Scottish region and the Commonwealth games, and the Midlands impact of the HS2 rail link, as well as nationwide issues such as the removal of tax discs.

But Arcadia’s fleet boss feels the future of the company car is secure, even with the looming threat of ever-increasing benefit-in-kind bands that even falling vehicle emission figures won’t mitigate. “I personally think fleet operators need to make people understand that, yes, they are paying 18% BIK, but what does that equate to and what does it cost if you opt-out,” he says.

“It’s not just BIK, but what does the car cost you? It’s important to understand the true cost – if you didn’t have a company car then what would it cost you? Do people know the interest rate they are borrowing on, the cost of servicing, tyres, MoT, depreciation?”

But Pryor is still well aware of his full-time job managing Arcadia’s travel and expense needs, mainly because of the unexpected nature of what can occur.
“Because it’s ever-changing, you don’t know what’s going to happen when the phone goes. It’s as unpredictable as that,” he concludes.

John Pryor – a potted history

John Pryor recently celebrated 25 years of service for what is now the Arcadia Group, having joined the Burton Group in the construction and store refurbishment division.

“On my second day, someone asked me if I knew about cars – they had 45 in the division and didn’t know where any of them were, so I took it on,” he explains.

A couple of years down the line, Burton Group was looking at a sale and leaseback of its 2500 vehicles, so all departments were requested to send in vehicle details.

“I got a call from the treasury department and HR, asking if I would be interested in helping amalgamate the fleet because I was the only one who knew where my cars and logbooks were and what the registration numbers were,” he continues. “We outsourced everything, but have kept the role. I kept cars and then came mobile phones because at the time the only people with mobile phones were the ones that had cars.”

Expenses and business travel followed to get Pryor to his current responsibility, and the firm now has 590 cars leased through Arval in a partnership going back more than 20 years, while anther 570 take the cash option.

Pryor joined ACFO around 18 years ago after getting talking to one of the association’s directors, Jim Thorn, on a Vauxhall factory tour. “It was a case that no one in the Burton Group ran a fleet and these were people that ran fleets. It was where you could get advice and hear stories,” he recalls.

Arcadia supported Pryor’s ascension to the ACFO board six years ago.

“It’s helped because lots of ACFO meetings have been in London. I can get to the Treasury in 15 minutes and it’s easy for me to get to the DVLA in London,” he explains.

The board

John Pryor feels ACFO’s six-strong board puts the organsiation in as healthy a position as it has been for some time.

“It’s a strong board and it’s good we’ve got fleet operators, people doing it on a day-to-day basis,” the new chairman tells BusinessCar. “I’m very passionate about having fleet operators on the board. Some years ago it was balanced in favour of suppliers, and now we have four fleet operators, one supplier and Julie Jenner who is 50:50.”

The board consists of Arcadia’s purchasing and contracts manager Pryor, Barclays fleet manager and ACFO deputy chairman Caroline Sandall, IBM fleet manager Phil Redman, Bauer Media fleet and risk manager Debbie Floyde, former chairman Julie Jenner,

GE Capital key solutions manager, and Richard Baird, head of new business development at Marshall Leasing.

“It shows how things have changed. I look after cars, business travel and expenses operation, including corporate charge cards and mobile phones; Caroline is not just cars but healthcare; and Debbie is also risk management,” comments Pryor. “This is how fleet operations have changed and to my mind it is why ACFO is even more important.”