Fors directors talk version four, Truck Excellence and direct vision at first national conference

The Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (Fors) held its first annual event at the National Conference Centre in Birmingham last week. Freight in the City caught up with directors John Hix and Steve Agg on the eve of the fourth version of the standard’s introduction.

The new Fors standard has “raised the bar” for operators, particularly gold members, according to the standard’s director John Hix (main picture).

Speaking to Freightinthecity.com at Fors’ first annual conference, Hix said that the key changes to the new standard, which came fully into force yesterday (10 November), were in the highest category.

Hix said: “In the gold standard, we have put in noise assessment, and assessment of mode shift opportunity and use of alternative fuels.

“Silver operators now need reversing alarms, and licence checking using DVSA has moved from silver to bronze. So we’ve generally raised the bar a bit, particularly for gold operators.”

Around 400 delegates attended the conference, which featured sessions on compliance, environmental issues and the new standard, among other topics.

Steve Agg chaired the standard's first national conference at the NCC
Steve Agg chaired the standard’s first national conference at the NCC

Holding the event in Birmingham was a deliberate move to promote the nationwide roll out of the scheme, according to Hix.

“Fors will make roads safer across the country,” he said, “and that’s why our first national conference is here in Birmingham, rather than in London.

“We have members all over the country and we’re encouraging local authorities, such as Transport for Greater Manchester, to work with us.”

Steve Agg, former CILT chief executive and chairman of the Fors Governance and Standard Advisory Group, added that to keep the scheme London-focused would be missing a trick.

He said: “The only real point with London is that it’s where Fors started. And it had to start somewhere. But not having it across the whole of the UK would be missing an opportunity.”

Membership fees

Originally a free standard for operators to sign up to, Agg said there was some resistance when  membership fees were instigated in February 2015. 

“If you’re getting something for free for five or so years, and then someone says you have to start paying for it, that’s always going to provoke a little bit of discontent,” he said.

“But nothing’s free in this world. We use the phrase ‘free delivery’. But that’s cobblers. In the case of Fors, the public purse was no longer willing, or able, to fund it, so individual businesses are paying for it, without too much kickback.”

Competition

Another challenge Fors has faced in recent months was the FTA’s decision to launch Truck Excellence, an accredited scheme that is equivalent to the Fors bronze standard.

CGE16243-0038This, said Hix, just muddies the waters when it comes to keeping up with standards. “The obvious objective is to have a single standard, because no one wants multiple standards saying people have to do different things. Fors is the default setting for that.”

Agg, who worked at the FTA for just under four years, added: “It isn’t for us at Fors to say whether a scheme is equivalent or not. I don’t personally understand why the FTA is putting forward the alternative scheme. We would love to work with them. But they’ve chosen to do something else.”

Direct Vision

In London, Sadiq Kahn’s Direct Vision standard is looming over operators with its 2020 start date. But Hix said it will be a while until Fors mandates direct vision cabs in its own standard.

“The Fors standard is about minimising blind spots. If you can do that with design instead of fitting additional cameras or mirrors, then clearly we would encourage that. But there are costs to that, and operators need time to equip their fleets.”

Panellists at the Fors conference in Birmingham
Panellists take questions at the Fors conference in Birmingham

“So we haven’t mandated direct vision in the new standard, and we’ve got a couple of years. I’m just working on getting version four off the ground,” he added.

But for both Agg and Hix, promoting a better image of the industry to the public, rather than preaching to the converted, should be the standard’s priority.

A Fors for good

Hix in particular thinks Fors has the platform to appeal to the public, with accredited operators running trailers that could be advertised on all over the country’s roads.

He said: “Fors has become a force of good; it has a profile and a presence. We need to use that to get across some messages. We do need to have a public profile. You see our logo all over the country. We need to think about how that could be of use to us.”

“We have an image issue,” added Agg. “What Fors is doing is showing the public that the industry is prepared to heal itself. That it’s prepared to stand up and say we’re going to do something for our standards. That we can make the world better for everybody.”