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Council / SIC staff set the record straight on vehicle fleet concerns

‘Everybody who is driving a council vehicle has insurance, because the council self insures’, chief executive Maggie Sandison says

COUNCIL officials have sought to clarify concerns raised over a recent internal audit of its fleet management, saying that at no point has any employee been driving without insurance.

Manager of estate operations Carl Symons said issues raised in the audit report were administrative rather than instances where people were driving with no valid insurance or licence.

It comes after an internal audit of fleet management presented at a meeting of the council’s audit committee on Tuesday highlighted that some registered drivers had “expired SIC insurance applications” or photocard licences.

There is a feeling within council management that the report may have been misrepresented in subsequent discussions in the chamber.

The recent audit said of a sample of 45 active drivers registered with the council’s vehicle tracking system, “13 had an expired SIC insurance application, two had an expired photocard driving licence and one had both an expired SIC insurance application and photocard driving licence”.

“Of these 16 employees, at least three were identified as having regularly driven a council vehicle in the period January – August 2020,” it added.

But Symons said this does not mean any drivers have been on the road without insurance, as the council self-insures rather than issuing cover per person.

He added that for expired licences it is usually the case that someone has renewed their card but has failed to notify the council.

“The council’s insurance section are responsible for making sure we have in place the correct procedures,” Symons said.

“When we get new vehicles, or get rid of vehicles, our insurance section notifies the UK’s central motor insurance database. That’s to note that we are the insurer of that vehicle.”

Symons said the council has a “duty of care” to ensure drivers are competent, have no medical issues or records of convictions.

“Those checks are completed as part of the insurance application process,” he said.

“However, at no point would a driver’s insurance expire, because we are self insured. What the failure is, is a failure to notify insurance that that driver is continuing. It’s an administrative failure rather than a failure of no insurance.”

It is down to the line manager of drivers to ensure they have done their insurance application to the SIC and have completed their full driver application.

“When those two things are complete, we then issue drivers with an ID number so they can access the vehicle,” Symons said.

SIC chief execution Maggie Sandison added: “We have a management process which internally ask every driver who is authorised to drive council vehicles every couple of years to fill in the forms that permits them to drive a council vehicle in the first place again, so that it’s current.”

In terms of the driving licence issue, Symons said drivers have a legal duty to renew.

However, it is also the responsibility for line managers to check up on that.

“The managers will keep a record of the drivers’ licensing requirements and any other records,” Symons said.

“They will check convictions every year. They will check other data. They will speak to the driver to make sure there are no ongoing health issues.”

There are also DVLA checks for convictions, Driver Certificate of Professional Competence checks, and hours driven.

“Driving licences are the responsibility of the driver, their line manager, and if they are a HGV driver, also the licence operator for the council,” Symons said.

“Like everything else it’s mostly down to administration. It’s entirely feasible and possible that a driver has renewed their photo ID driving licence – I would suggest in 99.9 per cent if not 100 per cent of the cases, that will be the case.

“The failure here is that they have not told their manager or their manager has not asked for an updated licence. Reminders are sent out from insurance and from others to say that your insurance is about to expire, or your licence is about to expire.”

The council has drawn up a plan of “corrective actions” in response to the audit.

“I think what does need to improve is that the actual recording systems we use possibly needs to be more unified, because at the moment there are probably a variety of different ways different managers record this information,” Symons said.

Another concern raised in the audit report was the number of miles being covered without drivers entering their unique PIN number into vehicle tracking systems.

The report, compiled by a Glasgow based auditor, said that between January and August this amounted to over 300,000 miles.

The tracking system started being implemented in council vehicles in 2017, with the safety of lone drivers among of the reasons behind its introduction.

It also issues drivers with a ‘scorecard’ giving drivers ratings in areas like speeding, braking too harshly and fuel economy.

This has helped the council to cut spending on fuel, while it has also reduced wear and tear.

Symons said the issue of ‘not spots’ – areas where there is no connectivity to allow PINs to be entered – is greater than suggested.

The vehicle tracking systems tap into GPS satellites and cellphone towers, and where there is no coverage the PIN will not be logged.

“[Road users] are the ones who find themselves literally in the middle of nowhere with no mobile signal,” Symons said, adding that the extent of not spots is more prevalent than some may think.

“Connectivity is the largest limiting factor to PIN IDs and drivers entering vehicle PINs.”

The audit report found that generally “staff and management within the fleet unit, infrastructure services and insurance are well established and have considerable knowledge of the council and operations within their area”.

“We are pleased to report that the main controls are in place to manage the council’s fleet of vehicles,” it added.

The team is responsible for maintaining a fleet of around 330 vehicles, with around 1,300 drivers on its books.

Earlier this year it was announced that the fleet management unit won a national award – the 2019 Association for Public Service Excellence prize for the UK’s ‘most improved transport operations and vehicle maintenance”.

“Our drivers are hugely compliant and our accident record, our track record, is absolutely brilliant,” Symons said.