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ON THE MONEY: Making your Mark is a question of cost

Date: 29 May 2008

Rupert Saunders

Keeping a tight rein on company finances should include being aware of why and how and even the most insignificant of accidents have occurred

Let me tell you a tale about my daughter's boyfriend, Mark. I'm repeating this story not to embarrass him, but simply to illustrate a point about the lack of control of business car costs.

Mark is a rising young manager, doing well and rightly proud of his business car, an Astra Sporthatch. Just before the bank holiday weekend, he blew a front tyre and had to ring the fleet management company to arrange a replacement. It was a simple matter of going to the nearest Kwik-Fit, quoting his company account number and waiting a short while before he was able to get on his way.

Nothing surprising there, I hear you say. Indeed, we all had a good laugh about how convenient it was to have a company car, where the cost of these things is picked up without question. But it was the 'without question' that worried me most.

You see, I happen to know that the tyre blew because Mark was fiddling with his CD player and hit a kerb. Without being too precious about it that means he was not concentrating on the road ahead and, almost certainly, driving too fast. That kerb could have been another car or, heaven forbid, a pedestrian.

What worries me here is not that the incident took place (I'm not that naive) but that nobody asked why, or how; nobody at the fleet management firm, nobody at Mark's own company.

Let's look at the implications here. First of all, there's the question of cost. In this case a tyre, some labour charges and a suspension check. But let's say you have several 'Marks' on your fleet, or Mark doesn't learn his lesson and does this kind of thing more than once a year. Then you have a considerable bill mounting up, just at a time when you are under pressure to keep costs under control.

Second, there's the wider question of corporate responsibility. As a business car manager, you need to know if your drivers are putting themselves in situations where they could potentially be dangerous to themselves and others.

It seems only yesterday that BusinessCar and other publications were full of articles about risk assessment and driver training. But, such is the pressure of change in this industry we are now all focussed on 'grey' fleet vehicles, maintenance records and driver licence checks.

The implementation of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act has spawned a whole new industry of checks and counter-checks. But, surely the best way to avoid a corporate manslaughter charge is to not have the accident in the first place; not be able to prove afterwards that you had the necessary audit trail in place.

There is a whole range of tools available from simple online assessments to more sophisticated telematics solutions from firms like Cybit and GreenRoad Technologies. But you have to know when to employ them.

If you're Mark's employer, do you know why he needed a new tyre last weekend?