By RYAN TAYLOR
The number of four-wheel-drive vehicles on the council’s fleet will be reduced in future years to help cut the level of spend shelled out by the SIC to keep vans and trucks moving.
Transport officials have also pledged to keep better track of the vehicles at their disposal to help get better value for money and reduce waste.
Members of the infrastructure committee were given the news when they met at the Town Hall on Tuesday.
Councillors heard the SIC had saved almost a quarter of a million pounds following a much-needed review earlier this year.
In February the tendering process for capital fleet replacement was suspended after it emerged the council had been replacing its vehicles and adding to their numbers in an “arbitrary manner”, according to new executive services director Gordon Greenhill.
Since then progress has been made on the procurement of only essential vehicles, resulting in a £419,616 saving in this year’s capital programme.
However, due to the suspension of tendering, a necessary spend of £171,600 fell outwith the financial year. That money will have to be found from slippage in the 2008/09 capital programme.
Despite initial indications suggesting up to £1.9 million for vehicles would be needed this financial year, that figure is now expected to be within the approved £1.08 million budget.
The committee heard a reduction of vehicle numbers and their size will continue over the next few years, helping to save £184,500, together with an £18,000 reduction in fuel costs.
Councillors were told transport officials had struggled to find ways of collating information about the council’s fleet, as there was no single source of information available.
Transport official Dave Coupe said there was “no massive thing that shines big letters and shouts, ‘this is wrong’.
“The findings are not that we have too many vehicles. It’s just that the wrong vehicles are being used.”
Mr Coupe said in future further efforts would be made to ensure vehicles were bought “as and when required”, which would allow them to be used for their maximum lifespan.
Selling smaller batches of mixed vehicle types – such as smaller vans together with large off-roaders – still with a few months of MoT will help maximise resale values from now on.
In the past, vehicles were disposed of in large numbers and with no MoT certificates, which kept resale values down.
Vice-convener Josie Simpson said he failed to see why the council had bought double-cab pick-ups, which were then used without ever carrying anything on the back seats.
He had been at Morrison Dock in Lerwick where a ferry was in for a refit, and saw no fewer than eight council vehicles parked up.
“It seemed to be completely over the top. I think this has to be looked at,” Mr Simpson said.
The initial identified savings are expected to see at least three off-road vehicles replaced with medium-sized vans, resulting in a £9,000 saving, and one 4×4 pick-up will also be removed, saving £14,000.
Mr Greenhill said the council needed to retain a number of four-wheel-drive vehicles, which could prove useful when the weather turned bad, but there was “not a strong case for keeping a lot of 4x4s on the road.”
Exactly where those vehicles come from also became a topic for discussion.
Alistair Cooper said garages in Shetland had benefited by providing vehicles for the council in the past. He was concerned plans for the council to take part in a national purchasing scheme from a vehicle tendering service may leave local businesses out in the cold.
However, Cecil Smith said Scotland Excel, which processes the contracts, had been made aware of the situation.
“They’re fully aware of that,” Mr Smith said. “There’s no reason why a garage in Shetland shouldn’t be part of the process.”
Laura Baisley said the council should consider changing the liveries, as yellow vans were increasingly regarded as typically clogging up the roads at one particular point.
Alison Duncan, who branded a substantial section of the SIC’s senior management a “disgrace” when the problem came to light, demanded to know why managers had not given the audit and scrutiny committee prior warning. He also wanted to know exactly how much money had been wasted before the tendering process was suspended.
Florence Grains said whatever mistakes were made in the past, it was important now to look to the future.
“We should take this report as a base-line, and take it forward from there,” Mrs Grains said. “There’s little point in going back over what previous directors did or didn’t do.”