What Van?’s first Service, Maintenance and Repair Award goes to Royal Mail Fleet. Following a pilot scheme across 20 workshops during the preceding 15 months, in April this year Royal Mail Fleet opened up its network of 110 service, maintenance and repair (SMR) centres, spanning the length and breadth of the UK, to commercial fleet customers.

The workshops, which are staffed by more than 1,000 experienced vehicle technicians, offer industry-leading SMR across a complete range of vehicle types, the group claims.

“Managing Europe’s largest commercial fleet gives us an unrivalled understanding of vehicle compliance, safety and availability,” says Royal Mail Fleet director Paul Gatti. “When combined with our network of 110 workshops and 40 mobile technicians, collectively the UK’s largest independent workshop network, this creates a highly attractive offering for commercially critical fleet operators who are faced with the challenges of maximising efficiency, compliance and availability on a daily basis.”

“We believe that the time is right for Royal Mail Fleet to open up its extensive network of workshops to other commercial customers. Fleet operators have already told us that they want a provider with national coverage and a true one-stop-shop capability for commercially critical fleets from a name they can trust.

“We have amassed a great deal of knowledge and expertise from keeping the UK’s biggest fleet on the road with the highest levels of compliance, availability and safety – our number one priority. When combined with our improved processes, we believe this creates a highly competitive and compelling offering for the external market.”

According to the Royal Mail, more than 70 of the workshops are open for business for at least 12 hours a day, over 50 are capable of maintaining HGVs, and 20 have installed double-deck trailer maintenance equipment.

The group has deployed a new operating platform that is integrated across its fleet management and workshop network in order to facilitate consistency of service and pricing across all sites.

The workshop initiative can be seen as a constructive way for the Royal Mail to diversify its resources at a time when its core function, the delivery of stamped letters, is in irreversible decline, although parcel deliveries remain steady.

The Royal Mail’s own fleet contains 42,000 vans in a total of 49,000 vehicles, making it the largest fleet of commercial vehicles in Europe.

Brands such as Fiat Professional, Ford, Mercedes, Peugeot and Vauxhall feature prominently in the postal service’s livery and the fact that vans tend to stay on the fleet for a long stint – Gatti says depreciation is calculated over a nine-year period – means they have to be maintained to a high standard to ensure that safety compliance standards are met.

The Royal Mail Fleet has now opened up this expertise to light commercial fleets across the UK.

Combined with its own commercial vehicles, the Royal Mail Fleet now has SMR responsibility for a total of 130,000 vehicles for customers including ARI, Leaseplan and Zenith Babcock.

Highly Commended: VPS UK

The SMR runner-up is property maintenance firm VPS UK, which runs a fleet of 488 LCVs.

Having conducted a wide-ranging strategic review of its vehicle operations in 2014 with a view to reducing its cost base, VPS appointed Fleet Service Great Britain (FSGB) as its fleet management provider in 2015. Fleet manager Steve Mulvaney came on board in 2016 and introduced a range of additional services including vehicle maintenance, accident management and, crucially, the Achieve Driver Management scheme to measure driver performance and behaviour, while also ensuring compliance.

Driver-influenced costs are the single largest drain on a company’s in-life fleet expenditure and while costs of most products and services increase year-on-year, the pence-per-mile vehicle operating costs in a sample of 196 vans on the VPS fleet have reduced under FSGB by 2.3%, from 5.1p per vehicle mile to 5.0p. The average age of vans in the sample has reduced by four months to 39 months (down 9.3%), while average annual mileage has increased by 3,669 miles to 23,971 miles (up 18%), with average total mileage up 2,927 miles to 73,264 miles (4%). The figures reveal that despite the fleet working harder with average mileage rising, average fleet costs per vehicle are down.