Local authorities rise to the EV challenge

The diverse nature of Scotland’s local authority vehicle fleets has seen many make multi-facetted approaches to the transition towards going ‘all electric’… but it’s not only about reducing their carbon footprint. By Norrie Hunter

Scottish government agency, Transport Scotland says that transport is the largest contributor to harmful climate emissions in Scotland. In response to that news, it launched its Mission Zero for Transport as “A commitment to reducing our emissions by 75% by 2030 and to a legally binding target of net-zero by 2045”.

Transport Scotland’s ‘National Transport Strategy’ targets include phasing out the need for: new petrol or diesel light commercial vehicles in public bodies by 2025; any new petrol or diesel vehicles in public sector fleets by 2030 and new petrol or diesel cars or vans by 2030.

A raft of support programmes has also been introduced to help industry and commerce towards the transition to low carbon vehicles, including £45 million to grow Scotland’s accessible public electric vehicle charging network.

Transport Scotland is also helping Scotland’s 32 local authorities (LAs) “lead from the front”, by investing over £47 million in 3,450 vehicles across the public sector fleet.

“The scale of transformation required through decarbonisation is unprecedented,” says a spokesman. “We support strategically coordinated investment in our public charging network and other infrastructure that promotes range confidence and encourages the uptake of zero-emission vehicles. We are also incentivising the uptake of ultra-low and zero-emission vehicles.”


Despite the devastating effects of the Covid pandemic on Scotland’s 32 local authorities, valiant efforts are now being made to meet the government’s legislative programme starting with their van and light commercial fleets.

Guidance and financial assistance for LAs has been provided through support from the Transport Scotland-funded ‘Switched On Fleets’ initiative.

However, there’s clear evidence that many of the LAs have already made some serious commitments to switching to EVs, particularly in their light van fleets. And that’s despite current supply problems in car and commercial sectors proving challenging in cost and delivery of vehicles. According to some, those issues have led to a sharp rise in replacement costs – including new EVs – and all having a major effect on funding the transition.

“The work that’s being done to reduce our carbon footprint as an organisation is fantastic and the way we operate our fleet is a key component to that”


Glasgow City Council had over 200 electric vehicles in storage during the pandemic due to driver familiarisation and training being on hold. The authority says it’s back on track and has over 300 electric cars and vans in support of light fleet requirements.

For heavier vehicles it views hydrogen as the best option for “meeting the demands of frontline services such as cleansing and road maintenance”.

“We now have 20 dual fuel hydrogen trucks that are used for gritting in the winter but can be converted for a range of road maintenance tasks during summer, such as gully clearing, or used as a hot box for resurfacing work.”

The region is due to receive 20 hydrogen-fuelled refuse collection vehicles (RCV) over the course of 2022/23. In addition, an electric RCV has already been delivered and will become fully operational shortly.

Meanwhile, Dumfries & Galloway Council commissioned a report into its entire fleet asset infrastructure which stressed that... ‘It’s not just about reducing the carbon footprint and replacing diesel for electric, but working smarter by having interchangeable chassis and bodies on some larger vehicles to allow them to carry out a range of tasks, as opposed to ‘only’ being a gritter or lorry, for example.’

D&G Cllr Andy Ferguson says: “The work that’s being done to reduce our carbon footprint as an organisation is fantastic and the way we operate our fleet is a key component to that.”

Vice Chair, Cllr John Martin adds: “The diverse nature of our fleet means we need to be multi-facetted in our approach... by finding not only cleaner, but smarter ways to work (so that) we can continue to provide a top service to our residents region-wide.”

According to the Council’s report: ‘there are currently delays on the supply of HGVs, with the majority manufacturers quoting lead times into 2023/24”.

Elsewhere, North Lanarkshire Council, in 2020, brought Scotland’s first fully operational electric RCV into service, taking to the streets collecting an average of 28 tonnes of waste each day while helping to reduce air pollution with zero emissions. Using a single overnight charge to its 300kWh battery, the vehicle has reduced daily operating costs from around £100 (diesel) to £12 (electricity).

Over the next five years, the Council plans a transition process that will see its entire 300-plus fleet being replaced with electric vehicles.

“Since 2018 the Council has put in place a policy of only procuring electric vehicles to replace cars and small vans in the fleet with the goal of replacing all of these by the end of 2023”


East Dunbartonshire Council has used electric vehicles since 2012 and has grown its fleet to 43 plug-in EVs today. Currently it operates a mixed fleet of 350 cars, buses, vans, commercial vehicles up to and including 32-tonne gross vehicle weight (GVW) trucks and runs around 150 other vehicles including ride-on mowers, tractors, excavators and rollers. It says it is now “Working through its fleet replacement programmes to develop a longer term plan for transitioning the Council’s entire fleet over the next five years”.

The council has worked with the Energy Savings Trust and Transport Scotland to secure grant funding to progress the installation of additional EVs and charging infrastructure.

East Ayrshire Council currently has 101 electric vehicles, with more on order. “Since 2018 the Council has put in place a policy of only procuring electric vehicles to replace cars and small vans in the fleet with the goal of replacing all of these by the end of 2023,” explains a spokesperson. “We are on target to reach this figure, having already replaced 65% of these vehicles with electric. The next phase will target replacing the remaining 97 vehicles up to 3,500kg GVW with the aim of commencing before the Scottish Government target of 2025. Beyond this we will then target potential replacements for the large goods vehicles, however this will be dependent on the available technology at this period in time with hydrogen an option.”

Fife Council boasts a large and diverse fleet of vehicles from 32-tonne GVW Hooklifts, RCVs, fixed gritting vehicles, road sweepers to 29 full electric panel vans and 24 electric cars.

The Council said: “We are currently installing a heavy duty charging station which will enable heavy goods vehicles to receive a charge, once these types of vehicles become available.

In November 2020 Highland Council agreed an approach to ‘greening its fleet’. Councillors agreed a “phased approach proposed to green the fleet by focusing initially on cars and light commercial vehicles building on progress to date and reducing the overall mileage travelled, right-sizing the fleet and replacing vehicles with ULEV alternatives within affordability.” Later the focus will be on heavy goods vehicles and fleet use by contractors and suppliers.

Falkirk Council admits that (government) deadlines for replacing petrol and diesel vehicle “appear to be unrealistic”. A spokesman said: “We understand the Scottish Government guidance to reduce carbon emissions...and we are working towards these timelines. However, this will depend upon infrastructure of charging points that also need to be put in place to facilitate the charging of the vehicles at depots.

“We have already changed some of our fleet, although deadlines of 2025 and 2030 appear to be unrealistic in real terms, as Council’s struggle to balance budgets and there is an expectation that we should be replacing out-going fleets where appropriate with an electric equivalent,” added the spokesman.

Scottish Borders Council currently has 61 EVs out of a fleet of 321 (owned), 81 (leased) and 92 (hired) vehicles. It says: “Our vehicle and plant fleet are critical to the delivery of our front-line services, our fleet needs to be compliant with all regulatory standards, efficient, dependable, safe and environmentally friendly.

“To ensure the delivery of this target, work is underway to ensure the necessary infrastructure is in place, including charging infrastructure facilities … including around 60 charging points at our main depot and offices.”

East Renfrewshire Council says: "We are currently creating our ‘Get To Zero’ action plan and transport forms a significant part of this. Our fleet replacement programme is being finalised in line with Scottish Government guidelines and our electric vehicle car pool system is currently available to staff for use during working hours."

South Ayrshire Council has eight hybrid PHEV and 62 all electric EVs out of a total of 278 vehicles, which includes a 40-strong heavy vehicle fleet. A spokesman confirmed that SAC is “aiming to have transitioned our small vehicle fleet by 2025 and our heavy vehicle fleet by 2030 in line with Scottish Government targets... there are currently increasing market constraints on our ability to transition rapidly, however we are actively investigating the best ways to transition our fleet with the aim of achieving our targets”.

At the end of last year, Angus Council’s own fleet of electric cars and light goods vehicles was over 50. “We will continue to expand our fleet to decarbonise this part of our fleet by 2025 in line with Scottish Government targets and we are currently beginning work with the Scottish Futures Trust in taking forward the new vision for electric vehicle charging infrastructure in Scotland, which includes a new public EV charging fund,” confirms a spokesman.

“What we are experiencing today is a seismic change in our whole approach to transportation,” says Neil Swanson, director of the Electric Vehicle Association. “Scotland is out there leading from the front in many aspects of not only sales, but infrastructure support and creative industry developments.

“Our 32 local authorities can make a substantial contribution to meeting the country’s climate change commitments and we support and encourage them to continue along their respective paths with these exciting changes,” he concluded.

To stay up to date with the latest news and developments subscribe to our weekly Newsletter