High speed rail: Grasping the opportunity

Source: RTM Apr/May 16

Following the third reading of the HS2 Bill in Parliament, High Speed Rail Industry Leaders (HSRIL) has launched its latest report – High Speed Rail: Grasping the Opportunity – which looks at how the HS2 project can benefit local economies and create opportunities across the supply chain. Philip Hoare, head of rail at Atkins and a director at HSRIL, explains more.

Representing companies with relevant experience and an interest in high-speed rail in Britain, HSRIL co-ordinates and shares the expertise and experience within the industry – with the aim of ensuring that Britain’s national high-speed rail network is delivered efficiently and successfully to world-class standards. 

‘Grasping the Opportunity’ summarises the findings of a series of focus groups that took place across the country, with SMEs in Manchester, Derby, Ashford and Northampton, and discusses the opportunities businesses associate with the project as well identifying the challenges. HSRIL recognises that its members have a particular responsibility in terms of making sure SMEs benefit from the construction of HS2, and discussions at the sessions identified the following areas where HSRIL members can offer support to SMEs: 

Ensuring businesses have the right skills and resources 

Across the railway, the challenge of recruitment and retention is widely viewed as a top industry-wide priority. In recent months the Transport Industry Skills Strategy (TISS) and the Rail Supply Group  Sector Strategy have both sought to address this, and high-speed rail is identified as a primary opportunity to lead in the upskilling of the industry as a whole. 

There is broad agreement that there is an urgent need to diversify the sorts of people attracted into the industry, so that we are tapping into the widest possible talent pool. This means engaging with a far greater number of women and people from underrepresented backgrounds, as well as people qualified in technology as much as those qualified in engineering. HSRIL has organised a national conference in Birmingham on Monday 11 July 2016 to discuss the issue and finalise a clear industry-wide response to this challenge. 

Making procurement work for SMEs 

HSRIL members fully recognise their own responsibility for making procurement processes as streamlined as possible to help SMEs bid for contracts on the HS2 project. The vast majority of SMEs working on HS2 will be sub-contractors to Tier 1 suppliers, rather than directly to HS2 Ltd themselves, and this gives HSRIL a particularly important role to play. 

HSRIL believes that improving procurement is primarily about two things – communication and process. In terms of communications, it is fundamental to maintain the dialogue with smaller suppliers so they can provide a “running commentary” of how they feel the processes are going. Moving forwards, HSRIL members commit to reviewing procurement and pre-qualification processes to seek to achieve a higher degree of consistency and commonality between its members, making it easier for SMEs to bid for multiple contracts. 

Preparation and building confidence 

Cutting across all of the discussions was a broader awareness of the need for everyone to be fully prepared in order to take advantage of the opportunities that the HS2 project will present. It is in the interests of Tier 1 suppliers that SMEs are as ready as possible to bid for contracts as and when they arise. These observations highlighted the diverse perspectives different companies have in the industry, and in particular the important role Tier 1 suppliers have to play in reassuring smaller suppliers about the status and progress of major projects, and alerting them well in advance of significant contract opportunities. 

HSRIL members will continue with a programme of SME engagement events throughout 2016, in supplement to the events HS2 Ltd themselves organise, to further build confidence and breed understanding in the supply chain about the opportunities that the HS2 project, and indeed others, have to offer. 

What comes next? 

Recognition that the design and construction of the HS2 project offers transformative opportunities for businesses large and small is widespread. ‘Grasping the Opportunity’ sets out a summary of the opportunities and challenges SMEs perceive in respect of the HS2 project, and how HSRIL members are prepared to respond to them. 

This includes the continuation of a sustained programme of SME engagement, a commitment to review procurement processes and the organisation of a national conference in Birmingham this summer to finalise a clear industry-wide response to this substantial issue. By helping SMEs to maximise the opportunities that HS2 brings, HSRIL members recognise that this will in turn help to create new jobs, allow investment in skills and nurture economic growth for the UK more widely.

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