Recognising excellence

Freight excellenceThe Freight Transport Association has worked with the UK’s best van operators to develop the Van Excellence Code, which sets demanding but achievable standards for van operation

White. Van. Man. Three little words that have damaged the image of the van sector, denied it the respect it so rightly deserves and done a disservice to van operators up and down the country. We all know the stereotype – a careless, often inconsiderate and sometimes dangerous driver behind the wheel of a van that has seen better days. But we also know the reality: that most van operators put to good use excellent safety and maintenance best practice, comparable to that of operator licensed HGV fleets, and certainly putting those of Joe Motorist to shame.

We also know that the van sector is big business; a fast-growing sector and, frankly, one without which our economy would shudder to a halt. The industry knows this; FTA’s members – who represent over half the UK’s three million van fleet – know this, the trouble is that the public don’t. A toxic combination of public apathy (sometimes bordering on enmity), together with rumblings from Westminster and Brussels that regulation is needed to bring the sector into line, has been a very real threat. Until now.

A new image
Van Excellence is the industry working to overhaul its own image; sharing best practice borne from the most compliant and leading-edge companies, improving safety and performance, and, eventually, shedding the outdated stereotype that has served to stymie the progress of an unquestionably forward-looking industry.

By bringing together a broad section of the van industry – including operators, makers, providers, dealers and representatives of many other sectors – it is supremely placed to plot a realistic and pragmatic course by which a modern van fleet can work towards. And this is more than just a just a marketing exercise; this scheme has teeth. Membership of Van Excellence comes with a robust accreditation scheme.

AAH Pharmaceuticals was one the early adopters of the scheme. Its head of corporate services, Geoff Wright, recognised the accreditation process was tough and the audit process was rigorous, but explained that it needs to be to be credible and to drive up standards. He explained: “Ensuring our fleet operates to the highest standards is important to AAH. Getting medicines to patients who need them is more than just moving boxes. And we recognise we owe it to the public and our drivers to ensure we provide a safe working environment and practices.”

Appropriate timing
The timing of Van Excellence couldn’t be more apposite. While the responsibility for van operators to be safe and compliant is an ever-present factor (and, considering what’s at stake, a rather obvious one), early prosecutions for corporate manslaughter mean that a ‘belt and braces’ approach to one’s fleet operator responsibilities is more important than ever.

Against a backdrop of increased Healt and Safety Executive (HSE) and Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) activity in the van sector and a government that has made no secret of its desire to impose further legislation on van operators, there is a growing sense of urgency in the van sector that if we don’t get our own house in order, someone else will. Clearly the stereotypical tabloid image of white van man adds fuel to the fire of extra-regulation, but Van Excellence looks to dowse these flames.

Support for self-regulation of the van sector is borne out by the number and diversity of van operating companies that have already signed up to Van Excellence. Big names like Balfour Beatty, Clancydocwra, AAH Pharmaceuticals, Iron Mountain, Menzies and local authorities such as Wakefield District Housing and London Borough of Redbridge, have all seen the virtue of standing side-by-side in the good fight to improve the image of the industry and all have gone through and passed the Van Excellence accreditation process, with many more companies lining up to do the same.

Most recently, GE Capital Fleet Services was recognised as a Van Excellence partner, and in doing so became the first to represent vehicle leasing. Clearly, there is an appetite for forward-thinking companies to show their commitment to excellence by joining a scheme where excellence is a pre-requisite of membership.

Eddie Parker, LCV consultant at GE Capital, Fleet Services, described what membership meant for them: "We are delighted to be the first leasing company to achieve the Van Excellence standard. This has proved a very useful exercise as we constantly re-examine our light commercial vehicle operations from top to bottom to ensure continuous improvement.”

There is a substantial commercial benefit to be had from joining the ‘good guys’ too: “Van Excellence also gives assurance to existing and potential customers that we meet the highest industry standards when it comes to our van fleet.”

Company commitment
Van Excellence provides an option for operators to be accredited against industry developed standards. This recognition of excellence provides an achievable way to demonstrate a company’s commitment to the safe and efficient operation of its vans to its customers, its contracting organisations – more and more contracting organisations are recognising Van Excellence accreditation as a pre-requisite standard for operators – and the public at large. However, sometimes it’s more about crediting existing best practice then augmenting standards. Debbie Vaughan is transport compliance manager at Enterprise, commented: “The accreditation process has not only verified our operational processes but also recognises the strong safety ethos that exists within the organisation.”

As well as pressure to protect reputation and improve safety standards there is the very real added pressure of having to absorb ever-increasing diesel prices eating away at profit. This issue affects everyone, from the largest van operator to the smallest whether operating independently or as part of a larger concern. In addressing this issue of cost management, Van Excellence accreditation also presents opportunities for real savings with potential improvements in residual values, reductions in end-of-lease/hire recharge values and insurance premiums for operators following the practical framework of operational practices provided by Van Excellence.

Then there is the issue of van driver training. Getting the buy-in from one’s own drivers is a key to reducing costs. If the driver of a van is untrained, unrespected and pushed to deliver more and more the net effect will be lots of time with the engine running at full throttle, brakes that wear quickly and tyres not lasting as long as they ought.

Most businesses would happily pay more for a qualified driver who treats the vehicle with more respect and therefore reduces maintenance costs. Van Excellence seeks to share how the best operators train and look after their drivers and show what it does for their vehicle damage expenses, fuel costs and whole life vehicle costs.

Van Excellence provides access to no-nonsense advice and support for van operators. This includes the Guide to Van Excellence with practical real-world information on operating safely and efficiently. Subscribers can also access the Van Excellence website ( and will receive regular e-mails to ensure they are kept up-to-date with van news. And with access to FTA’s Advice Centre, members are never more than a phone call away from operational advice.

The benefits

There has been a massive growth in van use in recent years and the large number of liveried vans on the road means that the way in which they are presented, driven and operated can has an important effect – for good or ill – on the reputation of a company.

Why should decision makers get involved in Van Excellence and adopt it as a process in their businesses? In Van Excellence, we have a structure that will allow the van industry to raise its game, cut costs and present a much better face to the outside world. Rory Morgan, national logistics manager for Iron Mountain, succinctly describes Van Excellence as “a straight forward and sensible scheme which can only be for the good of operators and other road users.”

By recognising and promoting such ‘excellence’, we will slowly but surely remove those three offending words from the public lexicon.

The Freight Transport Association (FTA) recently launched its Guide to Van Excellence, a comprehensive guide to successfully running a van fleet. The Guide to Van Excellence is part of the association’s Van Excellence initiative, aiming to improve operating standards among van fleets and improve the image of the sector.

Written by Liam Northfield

For more information

Tel:  0871 112222

Please register to comment on this article