Skip to main content

Government Vehicles: Procurement

Volume 790: debated on Tuesday 1 May 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their policy on procurement of the Government’s fleet of vehicles.

My Lords, UK public procurement policy for all goods and services, including vehicles, is to award contracts on the basis of best value for money, which is achieved through fair and open competition and in line with our current international obligations. Government Buying Standards for Transport, published in December 2017, requires fleet managers to procure zero-emission or ultra-low-emission vehicles whenever possible.

My Lords, the Minister referred to the need for ultra-low-emission vehicles. Figures show that the Ministry of Justice has a fleet of 1,482 vehicles, of which only two are electric. At the same time, the Government have a target of 25% of the cars in the central government fleet being electric by 2022. Does the Minister agree that the Government have made far too modest a start on what is already a very modest target? Does he agree that 50%, or even 75%, would be a more realistic option? Does he agree that the Government should lead by example?

The Government may be starting from a low base, but if one looks at all the cars in the country one sees that 0.4% are plug-in electric; the percentage for the Government Car Service is 8.3%, so, to that extent, we are ahead of the game. We are planning to drive up to, as a minimum, 25% of the fleet being electrified—I hope that that will not distress the noble Lord, Lord West—by 2022. As we make improvements through the Bill in which the noble Baroness has taken an interest, it will become easier not just for the Government but for everyone else to invest in low-emission vehicles.

My Lords, is the move to increase the proportion of ultra-low-emission vehicles from 7% to 25% in 2022, which is some years away, an extension of the enunciation by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, that the Government will not be rushed? The Minister knows that there is a serious problem with air quality standards in London and other urban areas. Given the slowness of the Government to respond, can he tell me when he expects this country to reach the standards that have been set?

On the first part of the noble Lord’s question, the Government published a document in December last year, Government Buying Standards for Transport, which makes their position on cars absolutely clear:

“The default is zero or ultra low emission at tailpipe with alternatives considered only in exceptional circumstances”.

As the fleet is refreshed—we keep cars for four or five years—and as that mandate begins to bite, so the percentage of government cars that are electrified will inevitably be driven up. As for his broader question, we will be publishing our clean air strategy later this year. We are due to respond shortly to a Select Committee report recommending that the Government should set out a procurement route map to show how they will achieve this target in the Budget and extend this commitment to cover the fleets of all departments, agencies and public bodies.

My Lords, are the Government putting any energy into thinking about reducing their car fleet overall? The Minister mentioned cleaning up the air. The best way to clean up the air is not to have any vehicles at all and to encourage people to walk and cycle, including Ministers. Have the Government considered that?

This Minister certainly has. Not only do I have an all-electric car, but I have a non-electric bicycle, and I suffer from range anxiety with both. As for reducing the fleet, the document to which I referred a moment ago starts by asking government departments whether regular journeys are required at all, whether journeys can be replaced by phone teleconference and whether the need for a vehicle is still valid or just a legacy arrangement. The cost of the Government Car Service continues to be reduced.

My Lords, the Government are a major fleet operator nationally. What steps are they taking to collaborate with the automotive industry and, indeed, the IT industry, which is moving into this sector, not just to lay down legislation for things such as driverless cars and energy efficiency, but to work with those organisations to perfect those technologies, not least fuel cell technology and hydrogen?

The noble Lord raises a valid point. The Government’s industrial strategy, which was published a few months ago, says that the Government are providing industry with visibility in terms of potential procurement opportunities across 19 sectors, of which this is one. Improving pre-procurement dialogue is a key part of that process. I know that my noble friend the Minister at the Department for Transport and her colleagues are in touch with the automotive industry to make sure that it can respond to the challenges that are behind many of the questions that I have been asked this afternoon.

My Lords, the Minister spotted that the word “fleet” got me rather excited, but my question relates to procurement. I have concerns, after my time in government, that departments play shops. For a particular department, it might make sense to go for a cheaper option, but the totality of the real cost for the country is never properly calculated by the Treasury. For example, not giving work to a certain factory means that it will go bust and we will have to pay money for unemployment and retraining, but these things are never taken into the calculation. We are very bad, sometimes, about making an overall decision about what is the best value for money for the nation, rather than a shortcut for a particular department. Is the Minister happy that the Treasury takes those factors into account when fleet—I am talking about car fleets, sadly—decisions are made?

The Government try to use their purchasing power to get the best value for money when it comes to investing in these vehicles. The Crown Commercial Service aggregates, through the vehicle purchase e-auction programme, the requirements across all government departments. It then has what is called a reverse auction three or four times a year to get the best bids for the vehicles that it needs. When it commissions the vehicles, it looks at the overall cost, not just the upfront cost. The contracts quite often go further than just the purchase and include servicing and repairs throughout the life of the vehicle.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord West, raised the question of fleets. Naval ships have not come into this conversation, but would the Minister care to consult his colleagues in the Ministry of Defence and inquire whether the fleet of aircraft carriers, signed off in 2007 at £3.6 billion, which has recently come in at £6.2 billion, explains why the Army has a very small fleet of medium-weight armoured fighting vehicles?

I knew that it was a mistake to draw attention to the word “fleet” in answer to an earlier question. I say to the noble Lord that my noble friend who has responsibility for procurement at the Ministry of Defence has heard his question. There was someone sitting between us, so he was not able to relay the answer to me, but I am sure that he will be in touch with the noble Lord shortly.