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A further SME response to the Williams Report

In our initial response to the call for evidence for the Williams Rail Review we spoke about the necessity to create and understand the environment in which companies like PAULEY need to be able to operate, with creativity; with innovation; seeking productivity improvements and being encouraged to do so by the big players and by Government. This is why the Sector Deal and Williams Review are critical – they provide that context, the environment where companies like PAULEY can succeed, without barriers to entry or progress, for the good of the industry, its passengers, its customers, its workers and the government. We stated that we believe that promoting SME Champions in the industry will encourage greater innovation, more creativity and higher levels of improvement in the way the railway operates. If we get it right the Williams Review and the Rail Sector Deal will effectively interconnect the rail industry with the ever-evolving UK digital mobility network.

This blog constitutes the response from PAULEY to the second call for evidence issued in March 2019. This response focuses mainly on the four questions in the Call for Evidence: Objectives and assessment criteria paper, as well as on the other evidence papers published alongside it. This response should be read in conjunction with our response submitted in January 2019.

THE EVIDENCE PAPERS SUMMARISE THE KEY THEMES AND EVIDENCE ON WHICH THE RAIL REVIEW WILL DRAW IN THE SUBSEQUENT PHASES OF OUR WORK. ARE THERE OTHER THEMES OR AREAS OF EVIDENCE THAT WE SHOULD CONSIDER? IF SO, WHAT ARE THEY?

While the evidence papers provide a comprehensive overview of the existing circumstances within the rail industry, they do not explicitly touch upon the urgent need to adopt greater use of modern technology and the urgency on moving the skill base of the industry forward. This is such a critical aspect of productivity improvement and a significant driver of performance, wider economic growth, investment and higher economic value jobs: in 2018, the economic value of the rail supply chain alone (not including the wider rail industry) was over £15 billion, supporting some 250,000 jobs. With the right conditions, the development of the workforce can be seen as a major attraction point for new entrants to the industry, as well as providing a boost for productivity levels.

HAS THE RAIL REVIEW IDENTIFIED THE RIGHT HIGH-LEVEL OBJECTIVES AS SET OUT IN CHAPTER 2?

PAULEY believes that proposed objectives need to reflect how the workforce can be developed to enable and promote the Digital Revolution in rail. There is little commentary in the Objectives concerning the vital role the workforce has in meeting the Objectives for Passengers, Taxpayers and the wider society, and yet, they are a fundamental piece of the jigsaw. If we cannot train and educate our workforce in current and future technologies of the 21st century, we risk falling into the trap of “if we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we’ve always got” (i.e. decreasing productivity and stakeholder satisfaction levels).

HAS THE RAIL REVIEW IDENTIFIED THE KEY ISSUES CONSTRAINING THE SUCCESS OF THE RAILWAY IN CHAPTER 3? WHAT RELATIVE PRIORITY WOULD YOU PLACE ON THEM?

PAULEY generally agrees with the issues set out in the Summary Problem Statement. In addition, there are some key areas that complement what has been mapped.

We need a 50-year strategy and vision for the rail industry overseen by a guiding mind independent from the Government. The rapid pace of change in technology means that the railway cannot afford to get left behind, and a team within that independent body could be deployed to earmark future technology areas to be developed and implemented.

Our analysis has demonstrated that by adopting blended learning (Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Realities, as well as e-learning techniques) in the delivery of training, savings in the region of 30% + can be realised (Calculating the cost savings of blended learning). This excludes the carbon reductions that can be achieved by NOT sending staff to training centres in other parts of the country. What is critical for the industry is the adoption of productivity improvement measures, and the creation of a Digital Academy for training across all employers in the industry, that uses digital means to train digital subject areas is one such area.

Digitisation is the key to driving efficiencies across the industry. It allows staff at all levels to use and reuse digital information for training; maintenance and delivery purposes, enabling better communication between stakeholders at all locations and ensuring that the right information is available to the right person at the right time.

The current boom and bust investment cycles and the lack of visibility of the work plan, introduces considerable inefficiencies, which makes it difficult for employers to take a long-term view of workforce development and skills investment. It causes employers to gear up for surges in work through the training and recruitment of skilled engineers, only to have to either release the individuals when work drops off, or to hold on to them even if no work is available in anticipation of future work. This makes it very difficult to drive productivity into the business and to reduce costs.

In the very near future, and as the Digital Railway programme is mobilised, the industry will be constrained by availability of people with the necessary skills. The recruitment, training and efficient deployment of people in the industry therefore needs to be addressed as part of the ‘guiding mind’ function, because the market (due to the ‘boom and bust’ nature of work) is not incentivised to do so to a sufficient degree.

DO THE BROAD ASSESSMENT CRITERIA IN CHAPTER 4 CAPTURE THE RIGHT ISSUES AGAINST WHICH THE REVIEW SHOULD TEST ITS PROPOSALS? WHAT PRIORITY SHOULD WE ATTACH TO EACH AND HOW SHOULD WE BALANCE TRADE-OFFS? ARE THERE OTHER ISSUES WE SHOULD CONSIDER?

PAULEY generally agrees with the various assessment criteria set out in the second call for evidence. However, we believe the following should also be considered under “Affordability”:

Productivity and efficiency must develop a set of productivity measures that the industry can agree on, including an enhanced regime of training and skills development of the workforce using modern digital techniques and the wider sharing of resources and facilities to maximise utilisation. We don’t need any more shiny new Training centres, regardless of what Ministers might want for their next photo opportunity! This might be achieved through the mandating of a certain number of training days per person employed on contracts, such that we are training constantly and not sporadically, driving efficiency and productivity into everyday activities.

In addition, under System Changes, we believe the following:

There should be a reference to the need for a long term, 50 year, technology driven, strategy which sets out the purpose and expectations of how the railway can adapt to new technology and hence to the digitalisation of rail. A key output from any System Change should be to build a system which both enables digitalisation of the industry, a more productive and digitally enabled workforce and all the benefits arising from it.

Our workforce will need training more than ever before. Because the pace of change in technology is compounded by the desire to do things better, faster, more efficiently. So you have a compound effect of technology change and hunger to be the first; to be the best; to be the market leader. We understand all this at PAULEY. We understand that you need to train people effectively, efficiently and quickly. Which is what we do.

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