Industrial strategy could create lasting benefits

Source: RTM Feb/Mar 17

Gordon Wakeford, industry chair of the Rail Supply Group (RSG), explains why the government’s Industrial Strategy could create considerable opportunities for the rail sector.

The UK is in the midst of the most exciting investment in the railway for generations. The scale of the work we are now engaged with is unprecedented. Across signalling, rolling stock and infrastructure, the conventional network is seeing huge improvements. Crossrail is now almost within sight and HS2 forges ahead. 

This investment is vital and welcome. But if we were simply to build the projects and then pack up and go home, we would be missing the point. There is a bigger prize at stake here – for the rail industry, and for the UK as a whole.

We must not repeat the mistakes of the past, when the government and the sector behaved tactically, leaping from one opportunity to the next without a long-term strategy. We need to harness the investment to become more sustainable and grow. And while the work of Brexit may have provoked the government to develop the Industrial Strategy, it is clearly arriving at the perfect time and presents a huge opportunity for us. 

RSG is already engaged and meeting regularly with government on this. We are focused on the areas where the UK has strength and we will build on the certainty that comes from some confidence in the pipeline of work likely to be available over coming years.

Certainty is a key watchword for us as we develop our thinking. Moving away from the old ‘feast and famine’ approach and embracing a more long-term procurement of railway systems will be one of the most important things government could do to maximise success of the UK rail sector. 

Rail is already one of the best industries in the country for nurturing talent and developing skills. RSG believes that the Industrial Strategy should take heed of that. If we are to be a success as a country and as a sector, we need the Industrial Strategy to examine how we reward companies that invest in domestic jobs, skills and building up the UK supply chain. 

Also, we have ideas on digitalisation. The UK is on the cusp of being a world leader in this area. Already the government has committed £450m in the Autumn Statement to the Digital Railway and we believe that the Industrial Strategy should go further, nurturing digital technologies so that they can flourish in the UK and develop into a strong export industry. 

But there is more work to do to develop these ideas. Before we submit any formal feedback to government, we will consult widely and deeply. We will discuss these issues with our partners at the Rail Delivery Group, organisations like High Speed Rail Industry Leaders, and businesses throughout the supply chain including the thousands of SMEs that make up the UK’s rail sector. It will be important we speak together with one voice. 

RSG will not shy away from supporting bold ideas that may come up from the supply chain. The smaller SMEs are the beating heart of the rail sector in this country and we are enthusiastic to embrace their thinking. We have already started this process with a survey of suppliers to the industry, and I would urge anyone who wants to get involved with this process to get directly in touch with RSG through our website. 

The opportunities the Industrial Strategy creates for rail are clearly considerable. Based on the principles set out above, RSG believes that the government could create something truly special, which would be of lasting benefit to the sector. 

We look forward to working with our partners across the industry to help create an Industrial Strategy for the UK that will enable the rail industry to forge ahead.


The government’s Industrial Strategy can be accessed at:



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