Duty of care: the ‘elephant in the room’ for fleet category managers?

Mike Jones, Group Managing Director, Optimum Procurement, shares his views on and experience of the challenges facing procurement category managers in the fleet sector. 

Ever-changing and complex legislation in the fleet sector presents unique challenges to procurement category managers. While cost control remains a primary consideration, successful fleet category managers need to be equally adept at managing risk and compliance issues as they are at negotiating on price to deliver a holistic supply chain solution.

Today’s fleet-related legislation has become so extensive and complex that businesses must ensure they are providing fully compliant duty of care to their employees and other road users. However, many are unaware of the legal tightropes they are walking by allowing employees to use vehicles that may not be suitable for business use, irrespective of who owns them. For example, the introduction of the Corporate Manslaughter Act in 2008 means that businesses can no longer plead ignorance with courts imposing large fines, or even jailing company directors, in the event of a catastrophic failure to provide duty of care due to an accident.

From heavy-duty vehicles to light commercials and cars, procurement category managers should be fully conversant with varying legislation surrounding the duty of care for operating fleets.  Whether businesses decide to operate ‘grey fleet’ or company-provided vehicles, the responsibilities from an organisation to its employees are the same. Both, however, bring with them particular complex issues that many category managers may find difficult to manage effectively.

Unless category managers have an implicit understanding of the fleet industry and know how the market works, operating company-provided fleets can make a significant dent in a business’s running costs. As a result, grey fleets are often seen as an easier and more cost-effective option but they carry a greater element of risk. How can companies ensure that the vehicles their employees are using for business purposes have a current MOT, full servicing records and regularly undergo routine checks for oil levels, excessive tyre tread wear and screen wash, for example?

It’s imperative that category managers act quickly to get their organisation out of a risk position and ensure they are compliant. To do so category managers must focus on the management of the fleet rather than becoming solely preoccupied by the purchasing of it. This involves establishing and maintaining full audit checks which demonstrate that fleet vehicles are roadworthy, properly maintained and employees have suitable cover for business travel and that their health is regularly checked to reduce risk.

As businesses face continuous risk and compliance issues, procurement, operational and fleet professionals must overcome widespread duty of care responsibilities to provide a sustainable and compliant fleet solution that will survive in the long term. Fleet category managers have a critical role to play here by ensuring that duty of care is no longer the 'elephant in the room' and is considered over and above cost considerations.

Ultimately their reputation and that of their clients may one day depend on it to stay on the right side of the law.


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