If you've noticed an error in this article please click here to report it so we can fix it.
matters By John Darker. AMBIM
The FTA's consultancy services
EVERY TRADE ASSOCIATION offers advice on a whole range of matters of interest to members but the specialist consultancy services undertaken by the Freight Transport Association in the past year can fairly be said to represent a new departure.
The FTA has been quick to react to a call from member firms and local authorities to provide advice in such detailed and comprehensive form as to merit the consultancy label. Having talked with FTA executives concerned with the developing consultancy services I would be surprised if the Association's initiative does not bear fruit in directions which cannot now be clearly defined.
Mr R. E. G. Brown, controller, technical services, who has nursed the consultancy project from its inception, told me divisional engineers had found that managements whose fleet maintenance had caused anxiety did not get out of the wood merely by FTA engineers establishing a satisfactory routine of maintenance. Because the question then posed by a number of companies and local authorities was: "What do we now?" To ensure freedom from worry in future it was often apparent that workshop facilities, staffing levels, management organization and the like needed study in some depth.
Trade associations are often plied with inquiries too complex to be dealt with adequately by a letter or phone call. Headquarters officers with specialist knowledge to contribute in engineering, planning, management, costing and training areas gave some thought to the potential scope for consultancy services. The operation was fully costed; the intention is that consultancy will more than pay for itself. That does not mean that member firms who buy FTA consultancy will not get a remarkably good bargain. In comparison with established outside consultants the FTA's headquarters expenses are proportionally lower, since membership services require facilities anyway, The FTA has always been willing to recommend outside consultants to member firms with a specific problem beyond the Competence or the resources of the Association. Member firms with particular problems will continue to be helped if they seek assistance in certain operational fields, though it is anticipated that for fleet engineering problems the expertise of the FTA will be deployed, perhaps in conjunction with outside consultants with a broader remit. Reg. Brown, while offering no specific criticism of named consultancy organizations, felt that many were "airy fairy" in their approach. He stressed that FTA consultancy was essentially "earthy".
Transport managers, as Tony Wilding, FT A's chief engineer well knows, tend to spurn anything but down-to-earth advice. Mr Wilding sees his role as complementing the great experience now built up by divisional engineers. "Transport engineering is constantly developing; it is a weakness of many established consultants that they are divorced from the day-to-day problems — as our engineers are not. Hence we can help member firms with the latest proved methods and equipment".
Although Mr Brown and his colleagues are quite prepared to envisage a fairly rapid development of the consultancy project, the desire is that the advice provided will correspond with members' needs at any given time. Already, from the engineering base, inquiries involving vehicle costing routines, comparative costs of maintenance departments, and specific training problems have drawn upon the specialist knowledge of Martin Downer (costing) and Alan Kevan (training), hq executive officers. Mr Brown, overseeing the consultancy team, is dealing personally with industrial relations problems. Mindful of the early experience with the FTA's vehicle inspection service, when demand outstripped capacity, there is no intention of over-stimulating demand for consultancy services. But the undoubted expertise available within the FTA will be judiciously advertised in coming months.
Mr Brown sees the consultancy service as likely to interest firms operating up to 500 vehicles. Even such large fleets may be run by men who are not qualified engineers. There is much scope in the local government field. Quite apart from the impending major changes in boundaries and responsibilities, the experience yielded by surveys already undertaken by the FTA suggests enormous scope for economics and rationalization.
What sort of charges are envisaged? Mr Brown says frankly that because an Association is there to help its members a strictly commercial charging basis would be inappropriate. The maintenance inspection service could well be cleared at a higher rate if strictly market considerations obtainedBut quite evidently, in a field offering abundant scope for worthwhile improvements in technical and engineering facilities and in management organization, it would be unfair to the generality of members if divisional and headquarters staffs devoted a disproportionate amount of time to a minority of member firms.
Charges for consultancy services are likely to be around £40 a day per officer involved with a minimum charge of £50. Travel and accommodation costs will be supplementary, varying with location and circumstances.
Training side On the training side, closely associated with the wider problems of manpower planning, there is great scope for consultancy surveys of member firms designed to provide top managements with a detailed analysis of training needs for departments or individuals. The FTA's training adviser, Mr Alan Kevan, is fully seized of the importance of the PDM (Physical Distribution Management) concept as the over-ruling philosophy. The training and education committee has pin-pointed many deficiencies in existing training courses and syllabi. There is little doubt that many firms would profit from a detailed audit of staff training provisions. Help could be given to member firms in appointing key transport staff. Job analysit followed by job specification could lx undertaken and assistance given witt selection of staff, especially those oi executive grades.
The many "spadework" visits made b3 Martin Downer to representative firms in al parts of the country have shown market variations in standards of costing an administrative efficiency. While there i: plenty of scope for consultancy Mr Downe is conscious that the costing area is I particularly sensitive one. In many firms transport is a part-time activity of ai executive with other responsibilities. Th costing philosophy of a manufacturirn company may tend to belittle th
significance of transport and distribution; ii
most cases the costing pattern will b related much more to the prime function c the company than to the secondary functio of transport. All this makes pertiner comparisons difficult.
Mr Downer expects most costin consultancy jobs to stem from th engineering surveys undertaken b divisional and hq staff of the FTA Comprehensive information about transpoi costs and area wages have been gathered b the Association in recent months and thi of course, is an "on-going" task. It seetr likely that FTA member firms will soon t able to assess their relative efficiency give the constraints within which particular transport managers must work. The dissemination of costing expertise at seminars and in the columns of the Association's journal improves the general level of performance of own-account operations. Firms working to surpass the average performance are fortunate to have the chance of employing an FTA consultant.
One of the most comprehensive of the consultancy reports prepared by the FTA involved an investigation of the maintenance and repair staff organization of a county council with a view to centralizing work at a single depot. The transport fleet included tractors, small vans, refuse collectors, standard dropside lorries, tipper lorries, artics, road rollers, mowing machines and assorted plant. Several different makes of vehicles were operated and within each make of vehicle or plant item there were several models and types.
The survey broke down departmental responsibilities in the use of vehicles and plant and listed the departments running their own workshops and maintenance staffs.
Shortcomings in organization were soon apparent. Accurate information on average vehicle mileages or about the number of vehicles which would be subject to operators' licensing could not be supplied. When the workshop facilities were reviewed they were found to be unsatisfactory for the maintenance loads undertaken, both as to equipment and staff.
Pit site In one workshop the siting of the pit made it difficult to drive vehicles on and off it. This pit had recently been fitted with lights but as they were not of the flush-fitting type they impaired mobility of staff in the pit. A four-post mechanical lift in another part of the workshop was poorly sited. The floor space and walls were unnecessarily cluttered with bits and pieces. Redesign, said the consultants, could make an efficient unit of this workshop.
Inadequate staffing had led to work being sent to outside repairers. Said the consultancy report: "There seems to be lack of planning in this and the absence of written agreement with outside repairers as to the work to be done seems inefficient and could lead to disputes. Maintenance costs must inevitably be higher than they should be and there must be delay in getting the vehicles back into operation. The present ack of planning makes it doubtful whether he legal requirements for the regular service Ind inspection of vehicles under 0 licepce ire being met."
In another workshop responsible for the naintenance of some 25 vehicles and with a ttaff of two there was only one effective naintenance bay containing a pit too small, Ind too close to the wall, to take :ommercial vehicles properly. This vorkshop was untidy and dirty but it was tressed that even in good conditions the taff of two would be hard pressed to look Rer the vehicle strength adequately. The tores organization, described as "deplorble", needed attention. The several premises used for vehicle maintenance by this county council are probably not at all untypical of the road transport own-account sector. Shortage of funds and of management know-how had led to inefficient muddle. The additional burden of the Transport Act and similar safety legislation was just too much for busy officers with multifarious responsibilities to cope with.
But without an independent consultancy evaluation would any effective action have been taken? Consider this extract: "The workshop at — is not currently capable of maintaining a total of well over 100 vehicles and plant of which only 35 belong to the department. In the first place the workshop is used as a garage to take on average 45 vehicles overnight. As a result a lot of vehicles and equipment are parked in such a way that only the middle floor space can be used. It causes considerable problems for the mechanics and it is virtually impossible to carry out any major work efficiently. The service bay, plus the stores, account for approximately one-third of the existing floor space. Because of the limitation in height and width of the entrance the service bay can only be used for cars and light vans; larger vehicles are serviced somewhat haphazardly in the main body of the garage.
"In one corner of the workshop there is another building with a pit which, however, is nearly useless for commercial vehicles. There is no end access and as a consequence vehicles have to be driven across it over metal cross-bearers, thus giving extremely limited use of the pit. The equipment installed in this workshop is useful and might well be adequate if it was sited properly, but at the moment it is all crammed into the existing service bay. The staff of six is quite inadequate to deal with the department's work.
Transport officer Brief extracts from a lengthy report cannot do justice to the depth of thinking involved, especially in the recommendations section. In brief, the council concerned was advised that maintenance should be concentrated on two points though measures were described for progressively improving a single site to make it suitable for a fully centralized operation. A transport officer appointment was suggested, with specific terms of reference, his duties including effective liaison with other departmental officers; direct responsibility for overall maintenance control of the fleet; maintenance planning and scheduling; maintenance and repair work standards; vehicle records; safe vehicle operation; stores administration; staff recruitment and training; vehicle specification, replacement and selection.
Indirect responsibilities of the transport officer would include: vehicle productivity/ drivers' hours; statutory requirements of drivers' hours and records; drivers' reporting of vehicle defects; vehicle defect repairs and vehicle cleanliness.
Similarly detailed surveys have been carried out for a number of own-account company fleets. The existing maintenance system is described; equipment and premises are reviewed in the light of reasonable current standards of efficient workshops, and recommendations made to management The maintenance work done by outside repairers is criticized if necessary. Standard FTA maintenance recording and planning procedures may be recommended.
What seems certain is that any company commissioning the FTA to review its vehicle maintenance facilities will get a down-to-earth assessment of their adequacy and, if need be, constructive help in putting the department on the right track.
To rationalize the collection of information for a consultancy assignment a well-designed pro forma is completed by the divisional engineer responsible. The form elicits the essential information needed. There is a detailed break-down of the number and types of commercial vehicles and cars •operated together with a corresponding analysis of maintenance staff employed. The present system of maintenance is described and details of workshop facilities noted. Particular note is made of any special types of vehicles operated, such as bulk discharge or demountable body types.
The vehicle replacement policy for cars and commercial vehicles is recorded. Specimens of all forms used in the maintenance and servicing of all types of vehicles are obtained. The FTA needs to know if any work is sent out to specialist repairers or dealers and the arrangements made for planned unit exchanges and whether these are on a time or mileage basis.
Workshop layout A rough, dimensioned plan is made of workshops showing the layout, including position and accessibility of pits, vehicle lifts, servicing equipment, etc. The adequacy of adjacent hardstanding is noted. There is an appraisal of the fleet condition, not excluding cleanliness of bodies and chassis. The vital question of GV9s and other offences is probed. The adequacy of staff, whether administrative or manual, is considered. All relevant information about costs, especially in relation to outside repairers, is assembled. The questions to be answered by a company considering consultancy are searching. The thoroughness and accuracy with which the survey report is compiled contributes greatly to the value of the ultimate recommendations of the FTA consultancy. The approach is professional. Participating member firms may expect clear advice supported by reasoned arguments and backed up by the facts that their own executives have provided.
If companies are sensible they will ask the FTA to review not only their vehicle maintenance efficiency but the transport function as a whole: how do its costs compare with those of similar undertakings? Could its organization be improved in the light of PDM principles? Is it geared to respond to the challenges of the 70s?