What comes first – cutting fuel costs or reducing carbon footprint?

This question, as simple as it may sound is giving cause for concern across many public authorities in the UK. For councils, driven by a need to do both by well publicised central government directives, the matter is not so much about which takes priority, but more about how do they go about proving and measuring the desired outcomes.

This is particularly true when relatively small percentage savings mean hundreds of thousands of pounds can be saved from authorities’ fuel bills. The debate can then focus on true efficiency savings rather than job cuts.

APSE, The Association for Public Service Excellence, regularly disseminates comment on directives, case studies and crucially important findings to its member councils. Increasingly, individual authorities are taking guidance on board. They are also recognising that technology provides a crucial role in helping them monitor and control both their costs and their CO2 footprint.

‘Fuel intelligence’ is the key to improving things.

Understandably, fleet and transport professionals have historically relied on fuel monitoring equipment located in the depot to ensure that fuel is dispensed into the right vehicles and to report on the stock transactions taking place. Lines of data could be ploughed through to arrive at the end result that the accountants were looking for.

However, with pressure on resources, this is no longer an efficient or acceptable way in which to operate; what managers actually now want is a top level view of comparative pieces of information that can be further examined in more detail, if and when required. ‘Public accountability is king’ and when things can be easily and accurately measured, things tend to get managed a whole lot better.

To complicate matters further, bad information is worse than no information at all; Triscan have found that around 30% of data from a sample of large organisations was wrong. Spurious transactions and poorly entered information at the point of fuelling make things even worse for the analysts as they cannot rely on what they are looking at.

The technology to improve this situation exists though and in most cases, the cost is less than 0.1% of the total annual fuel spend. Therefore, managing resources for the best environmental outcomes does not always mean major policy or investment decisions have to be taken, although it is important that decisions which drive investment can be backed up by hard facts.

Shetland Council gets it right

The UK’s most northerly authority, Shetland Council, for example implemented a project over a ten week period to measure driving behaviour. The total idling figure for the fifteen vehicles involved in the pilot was 986 hours. Whilst there are certain circumstances in which a vehicle may be legitimately idling, there is no doubt that average fuel consumption whilst a vehicle is in this state can vary significantly depending on its activities and purpose. Further analysis is therefore required to discount true idling and arrive at a ‘real’ figure and in this case a reduction of 20% would mean approximately 200 hours at circa 2 litres per hour – not insignificant!

On a separate project, managers were praised for reducing the council’s vehicle fuel bill by 8%. In October last year, the audit and scrutiny committee tasked all council departments to reduce diesel usage by 5% for each of the next four years.

The figures presented to the committee meeting showed that during the first six months of the financial year council vehicles had consumed 318,330 litres of fuel, 27,982, roughly 8% less than during the first half of the previous year. As part of the next phase of the project with Triscan, the Fleet Management Unit is formalising a plan to identify each area for improvement relating to idling and vehicle utilisation which in turn will lead to a better understanding of where to focus resource.

All of these facts, in microcosm, are inextricably linked to strategic government objectives both in terms of cutting costs and managing the effect on the environment.

In the meantime, Triscan is pleased with the progress being made in achieving the desired changes within a number of councils and are working with key fleet personnel to provide an ‘Executive’s eye view’. More key facts mean more of an informed debate.

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