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RISQS: Delivering both value and benefit to the railway

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Members of the Railway Industry Supplier Qualification Scheme (RISQS) gathered in Coventry recently for the organisation’s second ‘annual’ conference.

RISQS is the pre-qualification service which provides the industry’s 110-plus buyers – including Transport for London and Network Rail – with the assurance and confidence to do business with the railway industry’s 4,300 suppliers.

Administered by the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB), RISQS is run “by the industry, for the industry” to reduce supply chain risk by ensuring businesses have the capabilities they claim and the processes to apply their capabilities safely.

The first annual conference was held in 2019.  COVID-19 then intervened, making the 2022 event, held at the Coventry Building Society Stadium in Coventry, the second event.

Delegates heard from a range of speakers from across the industry on topics that were of interest to all. Tony Howard, director of assurance at the RSSB, hosted this “most rearranged” conference.

RISQS, the industry and the environment

Paul McLaughlin, RSSB’s commercial officer, opened proceedings by explaining that RSSB, a not-for-profit organisation owned by its members, was formed following the Cullen Inquiry into the Ladbroke Grove disaster. RISQS is its cross-industry assurance scheme and every penny generated remains in the industry. As a result, costs have been reduced by 20 per cent and there will be no increase in audit day rates in 2022.

The Railway Industry Association’s David Clarke stated that RISQS is all about connecting buyers with suppliers. He reminded delegates that those buyers are not just Network Rail, Transport for London and HS2, but also other organisations in the railway and their principal contractors.

The railway’s responsibility to the environment was the subject of James Brewer’s talk. Head of the supply chain at BEIS (the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy), he commented that, although rail is already the greenest form of public transport, still more needs to be done to hit zero-carbon by 2040 and it is essential that small businesses be given the opportunity to participate in the ‘Race to Zero’ campaign.

Net Zero does not necessarily mean zero emissions, he commented, but any remaining carbon in the industry will need to be offset to hit that ‘net zero’ target. All companies need to establish a carbon baseline, so they can then judge how they are performing over the coming years.

This theme was taken up by the next speaker – George Davies, RSSB’s director of sustainable development. He talked on recycling, introducing the concept of the ‘circular economy’ in which scarce resources are recycled and reused, and the long-term problem of a shortage of potable water. This, he said, should be reserved for drinking and he urged the industry to come up with new ways to source and conserve water for its other needs.

Social responsibility

The industry’s social responsibility was the topic of a presentation by Claire Dove CBE, the Crown representative for Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprises (VCSE). Joining the conference remotely, she said that government has huge responsibilities in this area, defining social enterprises as businesses that trade but do not seek to make profits for shareholders. The challenge is not confined to the rail sector, she said, but VCSE organisations can make a large contribution to the levelling-up agenda and not to involve them will be a missed opportunity.

RISQS scheme manager Phil Smith looked back at how RISQS had taken account of members’ comments in a ‘You Said – We Did’ session. As examples, members had said that they needed a greater level of confidence in the decisions being made by the scheme. In response, RISQS has introduced a robust governance process that is subject to impartial internal review and external assessment, providing greater control, transparency and accountability in all operations.

In addition, members had asked for help in further identifying potential supply chain risk. RISQS is now moving towards a more intelligent system for the benefit of both the buyer and supplier communities.

Two presentations followed that warned delegates of some of the challenges of doing business in today’s world.  Dr Emma Taylor, head of digital safety at RazorSecure, gave her perspective on cybersecurity.  With a single modern train having as many as 100 internet-connected devices on board as part of its systems, the possibility of someone acting maliciously becomes obvious. “If data can flow,” she said, “then someone can connect…”

Daniel Scully, the chief operating officer of the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, talked about modern slavery and exploitation. It’s a major problem – in 2021, 12,727 people were admitted to the National Referral Mechanism and the true figure of those affected in the UK could well be closer to 100,000. Even in a regulated and safety-certified industry such as rail, possibilities still exist for unwary employers of casual labour to be caught out, and Daniel gave some tips on what to look out for.

Network Rail

The final sessions of the day were turned over to Network Rail. Chief health and safety officer Rupert Lown spoke on the safety framework and safety expectations, and also covered learning from accidents and preventing repeats – a session that was to have been led by director of regulator liaison Allan Spence except he was on the way back from Ukraine having handed over five vehicles loaded with tools that Network Rail had donated to Ukrainian railways.

Rupert said that the hardest thing is his job was visiting the family of a Network Rail employee to explain why that person wouldn’t be coming home that day. It really brought home how safety is personal and that everyone should look out for everybody else.

A slightly macabre talk on accidents over the last two years highlighted the risks still present on the railway. From the derailment and crash at Carmont, scene of the first passenger fatality since Grayrigg on 23 February 2007, to accidents at Roade junction, Surbiton and elsewhere that resulted in rail worker deaths, it was a sobering list.

Some of the accidents were down to people doing things they should never have done and that they should have known not to do. Engineers are being retrained and having their safety knowledge refreshed to prevent recurrences, but everyone on the railway needs to remain vigilant and report any deviation from safety protocols.

Delegates were also reminded that the second highest risk to railway workers is driving to and from site, so employers need to take steps to prevent fatigue and enforce drug and alcohol regulations.

Network Rail’s commercial director Dal Chatta spoke last and on one of the topics everyone in the room had been waiting for. Network Rail’s procurement was his topic, and he explained that procurement had already commenced for Control Period 7 (CP7) that will commence on 1 April 2024. He laid out what was important to Network Rail, gave details of the goods and services it would be procuring for CP7, and explained its use of RISQS.  Answering a question, he confirmed that while all safety-critical work needed to be undertaken by RISQS-audited firms, Network Rail reserved the right to contract with non-RISQS companies for high-street non-railway work such as car parks and the like.

For CP6, Network Rail received a settlement of £53 billion, including £10.4 billion for enhancements. How much it will receive for CP7 Dal doesn’t know. Even if the railway returns to 80 per cent of its pre-pandemic passenger numbers, that is still an income shortfall of £2.4 billion a year, or £12 billion over a control period. “The railway has changed forever,” he said, referring to COVID-19.

Looking forward, Network Rail will be looking for its suppliers to help with its four pillars of sustainability – establishing a low-emission railway, improving resilience to climate change, improving biodiversity and minimising waste.

The two sessions with Network Rail concluded the day’s proceedings.  Judging by the number of delegates that stayed until then end, it had been a well-received conference with interesting presentations from engaged speakers.

Hopefully it won’t be another three years until the next annual event!

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