Spotlight on... Delivering the UK's critical fleets

Crown Commercial Service (CCS) is the largest procurement organisation in the UK. Operating under the Cabinet Office, CCS supports more than 20,000 public sector customers in finding the most compliant and cost-effective routes to market, making sure they’re able to keep providing crucial services to the taxpayer. 

Tammy Carter is Head of Fleet at CCS, where she leads a specialist team that supports the fleets that turn up when you ring 999, as well as the ones that collect your bins, clean your streets and grit your roads, to name just a few. As part of its role, CCS works with leasing providers like Lex Autolease to support the acquisition, maintenance, and operation of these vital fleets. 

With over 30 years’ fleet experience across both public and private sector, Tammy has been at the coalface while the industry has faced everything from regulatory changes to supply issues, merging markets, new technology and data security considerations. 

We caught up with Tammy to find out how CCS help such a diverse range of organisations across the UK to manage and operate their fleets. 

Vast scale of the CCS frameworks

What’s quite astonishing from the beginning of our conversation is the breadth and scope of the public sector organisations that Tammy and her team support. She tells us: “While we do work with the customers such as the Ministry of Defence, blue light emergency services and schools, the sector is so much wider.” 

“The Environment Agency, housing associations, local authorities and charities are just a few examples of organisations that also access their fleets through our frameworks. For example, Stockport Homes, which manages the housing stock owned by Stockport Council, gets its staff vehicles through us.” 

It’s not just operational fleets that CCS coordinates either. Tammy continues: “We also provide access to salary sacrifice and company car schemes as part of our customers overall employee benefit strategies. When looking at the differences between the roles of senior decision makers within public and private organisations, Tammy says: “Fundamentally, the key difference between the two is access to money. Businesses in the private sector operate within their agreed profit margins, being able to transfer money relatively easily  from one department to another if business conditions change.” 
“However, Government budgets don’t allow for such flexibility. Funds are carefully distributed across public sector organisations and will be earmarked for key deliverables. If one area increases, then another area goes without.” Tammy explains: “The public sector needs to make sure it operates as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible for the taxpayers. And, in a challenging market, that’s no easy task.”

Flexible solutions for critical fleets

For Tammy, being able to reflect on her time in fleet management helps her to support CCS’s customers, understanding what it’s like to be in their shoes. “I remember the constant balancing act of meeting operational objectives, staying compliant, managing costs and delivering value.”

Tammy reflects on the challenges of recent years and the opportunities that these have presented. “The Covid pandemic was a catalyst to speed up the transition and support for smarter, hybrid working. This, alongside our carbon reduction targets and technological advances meant that we had to rethink everything, and it was key that we could provide flexible solutions to help fleet managers in their transition to electric vehicles.”

For the last few years, according to Tammy, it has been a seller’s market. But now, she says: “We’re starting to have very different conversations with our suppliers. Customers used to be on the back foot, as the manufacturers had a very strong bargaining position due to restricted supply chains. 

“But as these barriers start to ease and supply slowly increases, we’re returning to a more equal footing. A key role that my team plays is the support that we offer to those using our frameworks; helping them to understand market conditions and what value levers they have available to them.” 

Tammy has been impressed by manufacturers’ commitment to investing in technology and innovation so they can be less reliant on third-party suppliers. “It starts to remove barriers such as access to batteries and semiconductors across the supply chain, which we all know have been a huge problem.” 

She goes on: “While progress in this area is hugely positive, it’s also important that manufacturers continue to explore and invest, exploring all options, for example, where does hydrogen fit into things, and can we strive to make sustainable options more affordable?”

Tammy explains that thinking about how to make cars more cost-effective for the second and third hand user will improve the lifespan of vehicles, help diversify the supply markets, and give customers flexibility. She points to one of Lex Autolease’s focus areas: “It’s fantastic to see Lex Autolease looking at how to keep vehicles in the value chain for longer, offering more flexible options for second hand vehicles and this is an area that more leasing companies should be shifting attention to.” 

Sector expertise

CCS’s priority is to make sure its customers’ fleets are fit for purpose and deliver the services they need in order to operate in the most efficient and cost-effective way for the public taxpayers. 

To do so, those customers need to rationalise and embrace technological advances, while proving that they can comply with public sector regulations and show a compliant route to market. They also need to deliver social value, considering SMEs through the supply chain, promoting sustainability, and feeding into the economy locally, not just nationally.

To shoulder some of this load, Tammy and her team offer the expertise that organisations might not have. “We’ll provide guidance and advice, track market comparisons, make sure that what’s going through our framework is competitive against the market, and prove it. This gives organisations the confidence that they’re delivering a compliant and cost-efficient plan.”

The team collates market insight to support their customers, making sure they have access to the right, up to date, information and what it means to them. “This is a key part to us supporting our customers in the development of their own individual strategies and supporting them with key stakeholder buy in, funding applications and ongoing development of their fleet operations.” 

CCS has been working with OZEV (Office for Zero Emission Vehicles) and Energy Savings Trust since 2017, when the government fleet commitment was first made to move public sector fleets to zero emissions. “We knew then that we needed to help bring customers across all sectors together to support the transition as a collective cause. Working closely with the market and trade bodies to understand model availability and support the development of customers fleet transition plans which continue to be compliant and deliver strong commercial benefits” 

“You’ve got to remember that we work in a highly political environment, with policy requirements and value for money always being key considerations.”

At the forefront of net zero    

One of the biggest challenges for the sector, she notes, has been the transition to zero tailpipe emission  vehicles. “It’s at the top of everyone’s agenda, but as we’ve seen, the journey involves constant change and innovation. The fleet industry used to feel like a stable market, but not anymore.” 

Of course, it’s also been rocked by huge issues supply-side, and it’s a constant work in progress trying to get back to stability, according to Tammy. “There is a huge amount of pressure on public sector organisations to be at the forefront of the change and be seen as leaders in terms of sustainability. But that becomes difficult when the market simply isn’t there yet.” 

She continues, “We can see from their carbon reduction plans that ESG considerations are at the top of everyone’s agendas, with key consideration to our supply chains. It is important that we are supporting the meeting of these targets and that we remain up to date with, and aligned to changes in policy and legislation.”  

“Some vehicle segments are more challenging for manufacturers than others,” she explains: “with the transition for commercial and heavier vehicles particularly difficult at present. The public sector can support the market with innovation and development, by aggregating demand and working closely with supply chains.” For instance, says Tammy: “We’ve seen manufacturers and convertors working with Ambulance Trusts to develop and pilot electric ambulances, which is just one example of that collaboration.” 

While she understands the supply market is facing its own struggles, Tammy notes that uptime is absolutely critical for public sector fleets. These vehicles are key to delivering a wide range of front line and public services, from blue light emergency vehicles, flood defence support, social housing repairs through to removing a vulnerable child out of a difficult situation. 

“That’s where we come in. We are in a unique position to step in to work with those suppliers and ensure they understand the vital work our customers’ vehicles are doing, and why they should be prioritised in supplier systems,” Tammy highlights. 

Infrastructure and data risks

Here, Tammy tells us that the journey to electric poses specific challenges for many organisations in the public sector. “If you think about it, many of the estates within the public sector are old, listed buildings in the centre of London and across the UK’s towns and cities, where charging infrastructure is difficult to implement.” 

For many, Tammy says: “It’s not range anxiety, but charger anxiety. Not everybody lives in a house with a driveway or works in an office location with a car park that provides charging facilities, providing us with another factor to consider in our bespoke fleets.”

Access to chargers is a very real challenge and we need to determine how best to approach this in terms of maintaining operational fleets and also driving value for the UK tax payer. Options to come together, such as to create and share charging hubs – purpose-built areas that they can keep and charge their fleets will need to be considered.” However, this brings its own challenges. “You’ve got to think about how this would work logistically, who pays for it, as well as which areas benefit the most.”

Data security is also an increasingly important part of operating any fleet, but it’s especially vital for Tammy’s customers. “Each one must consider what data they need to collect, as well as how they make sure it’s protected and safe.” This can be costly, so adds to the complex balancing act.

Leasing providers can help

Moving forward, Tammy hopes to see leasing providers bringing together the valuable insight at their fingertips, to support collaboration between the public and private sectors.

She explains: “Companies like Lex Autolease, with customers on both sides can help with conversations between public and private sector, are in a unique position to facilitate events that bring like-minded fleet managers together, with similar types of operational fleets, so that knowledge is passed on and best practice shared.”

By bringing together insight from across wide customer bases, leasing providers can also share their own expertise, suggesting solutions that may have worked for similar organisations.

Leasing companies can also help by offering more flexible solutions that reflect varied needs. “Shorter term leases can be very expensive, so we will work across our supply base to collaborate and pilot new ideas to bring down those costs”.