The Audit Commission inspection team gave the service two stars because the fleet is modern, well maintained and complies with environmental legislation. Customers find the service responsive to their needs and are highly satisfied with it.
Mick Hannon, commissioning inspector, Northern Region Audit Commission Inspection Service, said:
'The council has responded positively to our recommendations following our inspection, and some improvements have already been made to the service. Strenuous efforts are being made to modernise and change. As part of this, it now needs to put in place systems to monitor the performance of the service against new targets, and must also gain a clear overall understanding of the council's strategic fleet requirements as it approaches a major procurement exercise.'
The service's safety record and vehicle test pass rates with the Vehicle Inspectorate demonstrate that it manages the fleet in a responsible manner.
User representatives, including drivers, welcome their involvement in specifying vehicles and viewing demonstrator vehicles before the service makes its final selection.
The section minimises disruption to customers through flexible inspection and maintenance programmes. The service also operates a seven day, 24-hour breakdown call-out service.
However, inspectors also found weaknesses:
Although the service aims are clear, they are focused on internal issues and make limited connections with the council's overall aims and no connection with improving services for the people of South Tyneside.
There are very few targets or performance measures in place, particularly in relation to 'getting the most from the fleet'.
There are no clear formal agreements with customers and the proposed draft service level agreement is not customer-focused.
To help the service improve, inspectors made a number of recommendations, including:
Develop a system to gather the views of customers, drivers and passengers on a regular basis, for example via feedback cards following inspections, services and repairs. Complete an initial survey within six months and then monitor feedback on an ongoing basis.
Within the next three months, improve the relevance of service level agreements to individual departments and develop clear standards of service that are monitored on a regular basis.
Within three months, ensure the service is cost-effective and competitive by assessing the department's workload and working hours and how staff are deployed.
The council's vehicle fleet management service covers:
vehicle and plant advice, licensing, health and safety, and accident management including driver training;
vehicle purchase, lease and hire; and
vehicle maintenance including service, maintenance, safety inspections, vehicle recovery and fuel supply.
The service employs 28 staff and the estimated cost for 2001/02 is£3,946,000. The council operates a fleet of 355 vehicles and hires additional vehicles and plant at an annual cost of£670,000.