SIC councillors have commended the efforts of the transport department in shedding over £300,000 from the budget for managing the local authority’s fleet of vehicles this year.
A combination of buying second hand replacements where possible and using the Scotland Excel portal to source vehicles meant only three quarters of the £1.2 million budget would be used up in 2010/11, audit and scrutiny committee members heard today.
Councillor Allison Duncan led the praise, describing it as a “perfect example” for other service managers to follow in striving to get away from ingrained “spend, spend, spend” habits. He congratulated David Polson of the transport department’s fleet management unit for heeding the committee’s past warnings on the subject.
Mr Duncan’s comments were endorsed by others including Jonathan Wills, though he noted there had been “some rumblings in the local motor trade” that the use of Scotland Excel denied them the chance to tender. He was informed that such firms are able to join the portal free of charge.
The welcome underspend highlights an apparent sea change in mentality within the local authority, which has had its hand forced by savage cuts in public spending nationally. Two years ago Mr Duncan had branded senior managers “a disgrace” and accused them of “hoodwinking” councillors while spending money “willy nilly” on replacing vehicles.
That was after executive director of infrastructure Gordon Greenhill revealed he had inherited a department where vehicles were being replaced and new ones added in “an arbitrary manner”. He pointed out this week that real progress had been made, with a budget once in excess of £2 million almost cut in half and still heading for a substantial underspend.
Among this year’s big purchases were two new minibuses, which cost a combined £196,000. A further £105,000 went on two refurbished Mercedes Benz 4×4 gritters, while an assortment of new vans set the local authority back by just over £200,000. Two electric vehicles have been ordered with a £115,000 price tag, though most of that should be covered by a grant.
Around 50 vehicles have been fitted with tracking devices to help monitor vehicle use, and talks with trade unions are continuing over how the information gathered can be used. Mr Polson said the devices were “viewed with some suspicion” by certain people – perhaps, he suggested, the result of watching too many James Bond films.
Members were also told that efforts to reduce diesel usage throughout the organisation have now flatlined. The amount of fuel used in 2009/10 was 318,432 litres, around eight per cent below 2007/8 levels. Department bosses had been asked to cut fuel use by five per cent annually over a four-year period, but Mr Polson’s report noted that “we may have gone as far as we can in efficiently using the current fleet”.