Fleet: setting maintenance standards

Setting maintenance standards

1.1  The purpose of this section is to describe the process and procedures to be addressed when considering vehicle maintenance arrangements, whether this is an in-house or an external service provision.

1.2  Quality standards are greatly influenced by those specified and accepted for new vehicles.  In effect, the care and maintenance of Fire Service vehicles is expected to achieve high quality standards throughout the life of the vehicle.

1.3  The basic principle in determining the relative merits of any service delivery model is the 'time, quality, cost' principle.  For a given project or service, an overall cost is generally arrived at from the basic triangle influences, for example.  The cost of something is generally determined by the time and quality (i.e. resources) invested in the project or service.  If any element of the time and quality triangle is changed, the costs will increase in line with the additional time and quality expanded.]

Premises, Plant and Equipment

2.1    The working environment of Service engineers will impact considerably on the quality standards.

2.2    Ideally, premises should be of sufficient size and the layout planned to avoid unnecessary movement of vehicles or personnel.  Suitable space and welfare facilities will create a disciplined approach to cleanliness and order which ultimately will result in a good working environment and improve efficiency.

2.3   Equipment should be well maintained to ensure the safety of all users and provided on a scale to maintain the efficiency of the workshop staff.  Equipment should also be kept up-to-date in order to match developments in the fleet as well as best practice in maintenance methods.

Work Schedules

3.1   Avoidance of interruptions to programmed works is an important factor in efficiency and achieving quality standards.  Well planned work schedules for routine inspections and maintenance should result in the return of vehicles to users at the planned times and dates.  This will be influenced by the management of defect reporting procedures and clearance.  The schedules should anticipate disruptions resulting from spates of operational activity, which will require re-ordering of priorities and allow scope to catch up vehicle maintenance schedules but not at the expense of safety critical inspections.  Similarly, the timely delivery and collection of vehicles by the user, or from and to the user if this is the contractor’s responsibility, is essential to good workshop organisation and efficiency of service to the users.

Competence, Skills and Experience

4.1   The quality and quantity of work from any workshop is dependent upon the experience, training and skills of the workforce, combined with the general management standards set for maintenance, quality of finish and presentation.

4.2   The essential and desirable skills and experience may be easily assessed and recorded (see Appendix 1 – Assessment of Skills and Qualifications). Fire & Rescue Services can determine their own particular requirements.  Information can be obtained from the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) who are the licensed Sector Skills Council for the automotive industry dealing with all aspects of national vocational training.

4.3   Such an exercise will focus on the need for a continuing professional and skills development programme.  Logically, the need for qualifications, skills and experience should be included in person profiles to match up-to-date job descriptions and should be determined by the personnel appraisal process. Faced with competition from external contractors, the range of skills available will be high on the list of questions used to assess potential quality and Appendix 1 provides a useful tool to collect points in the process of evaluation of potential contractors.  That which is expected of in-house workshops, must also be demonstrated by potential contractors.

4.4   It is only in larger workshops that full trade specialisation may continue to operate at maximum utilisation rates.  In others a multi-skilled, flexible and regularly reviewing, the matrix at Appendix 1 will identify the potential for developing flexibility to match the anticipated workload and maintain quality standards.  Appendix 1 will also need to be updated to take account of related national vocational qualifications.  The focus on skills and experience may also be used to foster pride of service and motivating engineering staff to further career progression.  Formal recognition of qualifications and the display of certificates have a place in single client workshops, just as it does in commercial workshops.

4.5   Maintenance of skilled and experienced workshop staff is important.  Both informal and formal arrangements between the client and contractor should contain specific provisions for this to be a duty imposed on the contractor. Regular reviews should also be undertaken.  Furthermore, improvements and advances in technology and legislation will require funding, on-going Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for all employees.

Inspectors and Technicians

5.1   Traditionally, decisions on the replacement of worn parts and responsibility for the maintenance of general quality standards, rests with the workshop supervisor or quality inspector.  Thorough assessment and accurate measurement of component wear is essential to achieve the desired maintenance standards.

5.2   This combined role of craftsman and inspector will require additional training, but the ability to work from experience is an equally important attribute.  The shift of responsibility may allow inspectors or controllers to undertake additional duties such as scheduling, analysis of Pence per Mile (PPM) and Pre Planned Preventative Maintenance (PPPM) costing etc.  Sample inspections and road tests will, of course, be necessary.

5.3   It is essential that each Fire & Rescue Service (FRS) vehicle maintenance units and service teams show that the services they provide offer best value for money and are fit for purpose.  Providing affordable, quality services that meet user needs, achieve efficiency and the effective use of resources being flexible to change in response to environmental and customer requirements, is paramount.

5.4   This can be done in various ways, including but not restricted to:

  • A full EU procurement exercise (generally usingthe EU restricted procedure)
  • Partnerships – other local government organisations, other FRS and blue light services and private sector service providers
  • In-house service
  • Private sector service provider

5.5   It is for each FRS to determine its service delivery strategy with regard to providing a cost effective and efficient service.  This should include, where appropriate, tendering the Vehicle Maintenance service in the open market, to ‘prove’ it is cost effective.  Please note in any tender evaluation process, the FRS is not legally obliged to accept the lowest tender.  It is up to each FRS to determine the amount of risk they are willing to accept in their specific contract documents, and to determine how they intend to carry out Tender return evaluations.

Client and Contractor

6.1   There is a need to at least identify, and preferably separate, the functions of the client from those of the contractor.  The client is responsible for the contractor’s compliance with the contract.

6.2   The independent management of these functions may cause problems for some Services, particularly the performance management arrangements.  It is possible that the construction of a fully effective client organisation will require additional resources which may not be offset by ‘savings’ in the workshop organisation.

6.3   It is likely that the larger Fire Authorities will have the resources and workload to enable this split to occur without too many problems.  However, difficulties may arise for smaller Services who operate their own workshops with a Service Transport Officer or Engineer responsible for strategy and specification as well as daily operation.

6.4   The benefits of separating functions into client and contractor have already been realised in several Services where it has generally been the case that the Service Transport Officer or Engineer has taken on the role of client.  This has the advantage of retaining Fire Service engineering expertise and experience within the Service should the situation arise that the Service loses the maintenance contract.  Such an individual or group must remain employees of the FRS and it is the primary responsibility of the client to draw up and supervise the contract.

6.5   Concurrent with the formation of ‘Client’ and ‘Contractor’, organisations will need to provide written details of the role each performs.  The Client must ensure that these are well understood within the Service.  The first step is to devise a Contract Specification or Service Level Agreement (SLA) which should be supported by a clear expression of the duties of the client.  SLA’s may be regarded as informal contracts which provide excellent experience for the managers of workshops.  This is particularly so when the income for the workshops is generated solely through invoices to the Client.  An introduction to SLA’s is provided at Section 5.

 Note.  For the purposes of this paper the ‘Client’ organisation is assumed to be the transport department or section which deals with all aspects of fleet management, other than practical maintenance.  Figure 1 overleaf depicts the potential relationships.

Costs and Financial Management

7.1    A cost options appraisal process must be carried out to determine the most cost effective service delivery option.  The analysis of costs must be detailed, cover all elements and include fleet management (client) as well as workshop (contractor) costs.  These will form the basis for comparison with alternative structures.  Each future option must be carefully weighed in terms of direct cost, any changes to this cost and what, if any, added qualitative value might be achieved.

7.2    All services, whether internal or externally provided, should be based on an activity based costing process, preferably with a zero based budget at the start of the process, which clearly identifies all direct and indirect costs, including overheads and all parts and labour necessary to operate a particular vehicle maintenance workshop.  How the Service adopts an accounting system to determine their particular vehicle fleet costs is dependent on the individual FRS. These costs at the first level should be apportioned to each vehicle and subsequently cost centre, i.e. station, user department and even District level.

7.3    Prior to an options appraisal costing exercise, the FRS should produce a full set of transparent and clearly defined trading accounts detailing all costs associated with the provision of fleet management and vehicle maintenance.

7.4    Appropriate training for workshop staff and the provision of fleet management and financial management IT training should be undertaken.

7.5    If the vehicle maintenance service is to be externalised, the IT systems between the client and contractor must be the same and shared, thereby allowing interchange of information.

7.6    The Service Transport Officer or Engineer may need to adapt to managing a contract and the completion of work through liaison with the workshop manager or the reception staff of the contractor, rather than through direct discussions with the shop floor staff.

7.7    Some may perceive the need for a shift of ethos.  Currently some Service Engineering sections arrange their work schedules to match the perceived needs of ‘Operations’.  This has its penalties.  What may be desirable for ‘Operations’ may be inefficient utilisation of workshop staff and actually very expensive in terms of the workshop budget.  An appropriate balance must be struck between the maintenance needs of an emergency service and the desirability of low unit costs in workshops.  The Client will need to specify the required arrangements and these will be reflected in the contractor’s charges.

7.8    The Service topography may permit all inspections and services to be carried out at workshops, if desirable.  This would result in low workshop charges but the total downtime for each vehicle will be excessive, as will the client’s costs of changing over and transporting vehicles to and from workshops.  The penalty for apparently low unit costs of maintenance could also include an unacceptable need to expand the size of the reserve fleet.

7.9    An alternative model is for some inspections and maintenance to be undertaken at fire stations by technicians travelling in adequately equipped service vans.  The final costs to the service being influenced by the willingness to allow a vehicle to be unavailable for the time the technician is working on it, or the need to have a reserve vehicle available in its place.

7.10  The contractor’s ethos will be to keep costs to a minimum; maximise utilisation of personnel and capital assets; make a profit; and service the customer’s needs while doing so.

7.11  SLA and competitive tendering formal contracts must provide a level playing field on which in-house workshop and other potential contractors may compete.

In simple terms, the level of services and quality of what in-house workshops provide must be codified and the essential performance criteria for each task will provide the basis for a draft contract