Government and industry alliance drives UK rail growth
The Rail Supply Group (RSG) has launched its new strategy to bring innovation and export opportunities to the UK rail industry by 2019.
Currently, the rail sector contributes £3.4 billion to the British economy every year, with its supply chain alone providing employment directly to over 124,000 workers in the UK. Furthermore, an estimated 190,000 are employed in the rail sector, from those responsible for maintaining the British network’s 20,000 miles of track to station staff and train drivers.
The strategy is set to improve productivity and growth in the industry, an ambitious goal that will undoubtedly support rail recruitment opportunities as Government and industry leaders unite to secure the future of Britain’s railway.
Representing the rail supply chain in the UK, RSG presented its detailed plans in an 82-page document to Government officials at the Advanced Manufacturing Training Centre in Coventry. The event was hosted by Business Secretary Sajid Javid, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin and Managing Director of Alstom UK & Ireland Terence Watson.
Among other key points, the Fast Track to the Future strategy focuses on promoting innovation through UK technologies in the industry, maintaining a strategic approach to procurement and planning in the supply chain, and greater support for rail’s small- and medium-sized businesses. The plans call for a harmonised attitude in the industry, working together to make UK rail an attractive prospect for exports and overseas investment.
The strategy comes at a time when the industry looks to encourage growth and assess its impact for decades to come. In recent years, the Government has committed to provide over £38 billion to improve and maintain the UK rail network by 2019. This renewed dedication is part of the biggest modernisation project for the rail industry in over a century and aims to put UK growth on track for success in just three years.
Patrick McLoughlin, Secretary of State for Transport and co-chair of the RSG, explains: “We are funding the biggest rail modernisation programme since Victorian times which is creating opportunities for UK suppliers across the country. We support the rail industry’s plans to strengthen our supply chain so British companies can win more work here and abroad.
“Rail Supply Group’s focus on developing a skilled rail workforce is very welcome. Our priority is to attract the nation’s talent to the industry and to equip them with the skills to deliver on our commitment to build a world-class transport infrastructure system.”
The UK’s rail suppliers are supported in the document, which defines the clear paths that the partnership must take to deliver the Productivity Pledge as follows:
A strategic approach to procurement and planning
A clear plan to drive world-class UK technologies
A coherent skills plan to attract the best talent and increase productivity
A comprehensive package of support for SMEs
A fresh and co-ordinated approach to increase exports and inward investment
With global growth expected to be 2.7% every year, reaching an estimated £128 billion by 2019, RSG’s strategy will put UK rail in an opportunistic position to take advantage of positive trends in the global rail market.
With the industry working in unison, a key priority in the strategy is to ameliorate market conditions for the rail supply sector. It suggests greater visibility of investment plans with government will be a necessary step towards this. Likewise improving procurement and providing some uniformity where an approach works is another way that the whole rail supply chain can support growth.
Innovation will also be important in safeguarding the UK’s global position and the plans call for effective collaboration between clients and vendors in the rail supply chain, as well as championing British research and development in the industry as a whole.
The Government will play a vital role in opening up UK rail to opportunities in foreign markets. The strategy will set about identifying export options and driving inward investment from clients and investors abroad, and also looks to give smaller suppliers here the assistance they need to orchestrate trade opportunities overseas.
Perhaps the most integral element in future-proofing UK rail will be its ability to adapt as the industry and transport change. In order to do this, a skilled workforce is needed to continuously evolve as railways develop. RSG highlights investing in people and skills as essential, reiterating the need for a network of training centres, the cultivation of an industry talent pool and an incentivisation programme for training.
Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and co-chair of the Rail Supply Group said: “The UK was a rail industry pioneer and this strategy will ensure we are global leaders for years to come.
“A strong rail sector supply chain is essential for our future productivity and the commitment to take on 20,000 new apprentices will provide opportunities for our young people to start successful careers in this vital sector.”
The strategy will be revised every three years to measure its success and to ensure it remains relevant for the ever-changing rail industry.
In the meantime, the reception of these plans by the companies and organisations that make up the industry will lie in their ability to adapt - and that requires a talented and well-prepared workforce understanding the challenges ahead.
Image credit: Brian Robert Marshall (geography.org)
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