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Reducing Highland Council’s business travel

Malina MacDonald, Policy Coordinator for Climate Change at Highland Council, describes how the council has reduced business travel by 27% over four years, in a local authority case study being featured at this year’s Sustainable Scotland Network Conference on 8th November in Edinburgh.

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The Highland Council region at 26,484 square kilometres, covers the largest geographical area of any local authority the UK. At eight people per square kilometre, it is sparsely populated with only 25% of the population living in settlements of over 10,000 people.

The council employs approximately 12,000 staff and with 7,000 miles of road dominating the region’s transport network, the car has frequently been chosen to complete council business. In 2007/08, Highland Council business travel by car (the “grey fleet”) amounted to 11.6 million miles and comprised 7% of the Council’s total carbon footprint.

In order to manage these emissions and associated costs, the Council set a target to reduce grey fleet CO2 by 12% from 2007/08 levels by 2012. The target was set at this level to work towards achieveing the 42% emissions reduction by 2020, as stipulated by the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009.

Sustainable travel projects were written into the Council’s Carbon Management Plan and as a result business travel miles reduced by 27% between 2007/08 and 2011/12, surpassing the target of 12% reduction by 2012.

Initiatives to reduce business travel and promote sustainable transport

This reduction was achieved through the development of a number of business travel inititatives.

A Travel Plan Co-ordinator was employed to promote sustainable transport modes and a Business Travel Hierarchy was developed and embedded across the organisation by way of a communication strategy. The Business Travel Hierarchy is a simple step-by-step guide, which helps staff consider whether travel is absolutely necessary and whether other modes or alternatives are suitable.

Alternative communication methods include: phone calls, emails, telephone/video conferencing, online meetings and postponement until more business at a location is required.

The following guidance is given for alternative travel methods:

  • If travel is required and the distance is suitable, walking or cycling are considered. A link to a journey planner website is provided.
  • If the distance is too far, public transport is the next consideration. A link to public transport websites is provided which shows routes and times.
  • If travel by car is deemed absolutely necessary, employees are urged to consider car-sharing, electric pool cars or hire cars if the journey is over 70 miles return.

A major influence on reducing business travel has been reducing the Council’s annual travel budget by 7% for four consecutive years. This gave a strong message to managers that travel must reduce to remain within budget.

Staff travel and accommodation booking has been consolidated into one central booking desk which manages bookings for all staff. This has standardised booking procedures, benefits from reduced rates offered through national travel contracts and ensures compliance with the Council’s Business Travel Hierarchy.

Staff who share a business journey in their car with a colleague are paid 2 pence per mile. In 2010/11, 611,000 miles were claimed at a cost of £13,000 but if staff had travelled these miles in separate cars, it would have cost £158,000 more.

In order that line managers can more closely manage staff travel, corporate and departmental business travel costs and CO2 emissions are to be published on the staff intranet on a quarterly basis and reported through the council’s main committees.

Encouraging behavioural change

To support behavioural change, sustainable travel web pages have been developed on the Highland Council web site to ensure staff and the public can access information on greener travel. The pages include information on why travel needs to be more sustainable, using video and telephone conferencing, producing travel plans and increasing active travel.

In 2010/11, £66,002 of costs were avoided by the use of video conferencing with 56 tonnes of CO2 saved. This cost is over double the £30,181 avoided in 2009/10 and almost three times the £23,000 avoided in 2008/09. Total costs avoided over the three years amount to £119,183.

Video and telephone conferencing training has been webcast to all Highland Council computers and is available as an archived webcast on the staff intranet. This has attracted over 500 viewings to date and it is hoped that this training will further increase video and telephone conference usage.

The council has approached Community Planning Partners in Highland to propose that video conferencing facilities be shared at no cost. In this way, if an organisation’s video facilities are not available, another partner’s equipment can be used, reducing travel emissions and costs.

More sustainable car travel

Projects to make car travel more sustainable include: promoting formal and informal car-sharing and having over 350 staff attend fuel efficient driver training. A grey fleet review has also been completed free of charge by the Energy Saving Trust with several recommendations to be progressed in 2012/13.

The Council has leased two electric vans and two extended range electric cars through part-funding from the Scottish Government. The vehicles are to be used by staff as pool cars for business travel with their use monitored throughout 2012/13 and consideration given to extending to a fuller pool car fleet.

Vehicle contracts are being altered so that cars leased or hired to the Council will not be over a specific fuel efficiency rating limit. Employees are also instructed to request the most fuel efficient car available in the category they require and the most appropriate size of car for their business purpose.

Site-specific travel planning

Funding from the Energy Saving Trust has been secured to develop travel reports for 24 Highland sites. These reports detail a wide range of best practice recommendations for developing guidance, policy, actions and training on green travel planning at the sites. As a result of the plans, cycle storage and lockers have been installed at Council sites, sustainable travel information has been disseminated to staff, bus stops, timetables and signage have been improved and car parks have been more effectively managed. Six sites have also achieved Cycle friendly Employer Awards as a result. The award is in recognition of the Council’s efforts to enable staff to cycle to work and meetings. A grant has also been awarded to purchase personal lockers for staff who travel actively to work and for business.

Flexible working for reduced travel

The Council also has a Mobile and Agile Working Project which aims to reduce costs including staff travel, by creating a flexible workforce that is able to deliver services in the most appropriate manner from the most suitable location using improved technology. It is felt that the requirement for travel and office space can be reduced by increased use of mobile, home and flexible working.

Incentives for greener travel

To balance the tighter management of business travel, staff active travel incentives have been reviewed. The popular Bike to Work scheme which enables staff to purchase a bike at a reduced rate, has been run three times with over 1,300 new bikes purchased. The Council cycle rate of 12 pence per mile was raised to the HMRC recommended rate of 20 pence per mile through the Harmonisation of Terms and Conditions process. The Council also supports the national ‘Bike Week’ and ‘Walk to Work’ campaigns which run annually to encourage active travel.

The Council also promotes and encourages green travel for the public sector and businesses in Highland. Continued work is undertaken with HiTrans, the statutory body for public transport including: funding applications for active travel infrastructure and the development of bike storage at bus stops and at train stations.

A series of Active Travel Masterplans have been developed for each of the main settlements within Highland. The purpose is to help establish a network for walking and cycling and access to public transport. The masterplans identify a core active travel network in each location which will form part of the Local Plan and serve as a framework for future development proposals.

Further information from the Highland Council

Frther information on the Sustainable Scotland Network conference


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