Paul Barker grabs a cuppa and a chat with one of fleet’s most influential figures – Paul Hollick, chairman, Association of Fleet Professionals.
The Association of Fleet Professionals (AFP) formed early this year through the merging of ACFO and the ICFM, the two fleet industry representatives. Former ICFM chairman Paul Hollick heads it up.
QWhat is the Association of Fleet Professionals going to bring to the industry, and why merge the two organisations now?
ACFO was particularly strong on networking and lobbying, having some real successes with things like lobbying to get an AER rate from HMRC. And doing other thought-leadership in the marketplace around best practice for fleet operators on tolling systems.
The ICFM is a not-for-profit training and education body for fleet professionals. We’ve been talking to ACFO for a number of years, and at the end of last year, we decided it was a good time to bring it all together into one banner.
CALL FOR MOBILITY TAX BREAKS
AFP chairman Paul Hollick says he would like to see more Government incentivising of mobility solutions to encourage employees to explore alternative ways of travelling.
“At the moment in the Dutch market, there are tax breaks if you cycle or walk to the office or on business; it would be nice to see that. And in France there are tax breaks if you take a mobility solution,” he tells Company Car Today.
“Shared mobility is a challenge at the moment, but if people are taking alternative forms of transport as zero-carbon in terms of travel, and going on to public transport rather than taking their individual car, then surely there could be some additional tax breaks there.”
QSo how has it gone so far with the new organisation?
It’s obviously not been the best timing in the world! But it’s given us a lot of opportunity to set up a lot of pillars internally. We announced the merger at the start of March, and then Covid hit, which has affected our ability to be able to do the things that we wanted to do in terms of conferences; we were planning on doing a big AFP launch in June, which obviously couldn’t happen. Our calendar of face-to-face seminars, of which we’re going to do one or two a year, can’t happen either. So we’ve had to try and reach AFP members in different ways, through social media, through our website, and create a good level of content around the webinar programmes that we’ve just launched.
We’ve got five committees, all looking at particular pillars of topics, and nearly 50 fleet operators on those five committees, with some help from some fleet service providers as well.
The committees have been set up for three things. One is to get a level of best practice, and secondly to use that best practice back into the ICFM training to make sure that the training and education are the best possible. And the third thing is to do the lobbying, to HMRC, to Whitehall, to local government, to the Mayor of London, whomever, about the conditions we need as fleet operators to effectively run our fleet operations across the UK.
QWhere are you in terms of membership numbers?
Total membership is around 1000, and that’s a mix of the old ICFM, old ACFO and the new people coming on board as well, particularly fleet service support providers coming in. The membership base is probably where I thought it would be, but not where it should be in terms of the market and the size of the market. And we’re always looking for new members and new pockets of people that don’t really understand the fleet world.
We’re constantly meeting and greeting, now virtually, people that are new to fleet and they don’t know the sector. They might use a lease company, but the lease co hasn’t explain about how to get connected to an industry body. So we’re trying to expand our social circle as best we can.
QWhat do you think the combined body can do better and differently than ACFO and ICFM were doing individually?
What we are stoked about is some of the output that is already coming out of committees.
We’re going to see a lot more white papers, best practices papers, short bursts of webinars in terms of advice and support. That’s where you’ll really see benefits of the organisations coming together; the whole education piece of the ICFM, infusing the ACFO lobbying and thought-leadership really brings together a lot people that can produce a lot of documentation quite quickly to be able to get it out to our members.
The networking piece is going to be quite cool in the coming years. Next year, we’ll be looking at launching a mini-Facebook page within our AFP members behind the shutters for those guys to be able to connect, which the ICFM has always managed to do with people going through the training courses at the same time, these cohorts have always stayed close.
But I think mainly, the best practice elements, the things that we’re talking about at the moment, and we’re going to be launching over the coming months the best practice around post Covid-19, fleet planning, best practice advice on managing grey fleet, advice on where to start your mobility journey, and how to adapt your fleet policy to allow for the inclusion of EVs. These things are real stumbling blocks, and some fleet operators just don’t know how to do some stuff. Not because they don’t have the ability, but they just need some support and some guidance, and we can provide that as a body.
QYou put a piece out recently to say that talking down the company car was a notion that needed to be corrected. Do you see that as part of your job, building the role of the fleet manager and making sure that it’s valued?
We’ve done a webinar on fleet operators effectively adding value to their organisation. And that’s not saying they’re not adding value, it’s about making sure that people within organisations appreciate that role. We do see, sadly, fleet operators occasionally losing their jobs through redundancy. For sure, you can probably outsource some of the heavy lifting in terms of day-to-day activities of fleet management, but you always need somebody that’s got fleet skills to be strategically responsible for your fleet.
The strategy of your fleet operation is increasingly important because of the adoption of alternative fuels. Organisations cannot do that without fleet operators on board.
Also, it’s fleet operators managing their grey fleet effectively, and all their business trips effectively, which includes commute trips these days as people change their place of work from the office to the home.
But actually they need to be managing their car parc as a whole, whether they’re heavies, lights, cars, cash balance or proper grey fleet. From a membership perspective, we see the company car alive and kicking in the UK. BiK levels are incredibly low for EVs, and the uptake is incredibly strong. The real dilemma at the moment is as so many people want an EV, and there’s not always enough supply of the right vehicles at the right times.
But the company car market is great, we see a lot of people coming in knocking on doors of the fleet operator to come out of the cold, from cash to take the company car, because of the BIK levels. I see a lot of salary-sacrifice schemes being relaunched as well, purely around EVs. This is great news, to get a grey fleet driver out of eight-year-old diesel into a zero-carbon solution is fantastic. And fleet operators can deliver that within their organisations.
QEvents-wise, you’re looking at webinars on a monthly basis?
There will be an AFP webinar every month from December onwards, we are just putting a diary together. We would like to do an annual conference, and a seminar as well next year. But again, we need to be practical and be led by the current constraints within the UK about whether we can even do that. But it’d be nice to get the members together a couple of times a year as well, if we can.
QIf the lobbying is starting for what tax tables might look like from the middle of the decade, where do you see it going? Is road tolling inevitable?
I think we’re aligned with the BVRLA in that it is more than possible. It feels the most equitable solution to be taxing people on the number of miles they’re doing per month and per year, so I think that that’s an option, or the other thing is to ramp up the tax take when you go into urbanised scenarios and looking that way is instead, and obviously on the motorways as well. I think everybody’s getting behind road tolling. It’s not inevitable, it needs a lot of thought and a lot of understanding about it, but it’s probably the likely destination.
QHow effective do you think the lobbying can be going forward? Is AFP a bit of a reset with a different name? Or can you carry on the ACFO work seamlessly?
We can carry on because the people are still the same, apart from Caroline [Sandall, former ACFO boss, who recently stood down as AFP co-chair due to work commitments]. We work quite sensibly with BVRLA as well, to make sure there’s some strong overlap, and we can be shoulder-to-shoulder with BVRLA.
Also, the BVRLA does need some support from us as well, because we don’t have the same agenda in terms of wanting to lease and rent more vehicles. So when we are working together, we become really powerful. And there’s more to do as well with the IMI, the SMMT and suchlike.
I think naturally, we will be more involved anyway, because we are independent and all we want to do is to run fleets seamlessly, effectively across the UK market. There’s no sales agenda, so I’d like to think that we would naturally be the destination for a lot of Whitehall, HMRC, Mayor of London, TfL, whoever, to come to us for our opinion as well.
That’s scary because I don’t think the government has really convinced everybody that there’s a plan. We’ve got to expect parts-supply issues, vehicle-supply issues, those types of things if the government can’t create a free, frictionless border with the EU, our major trading partner.