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UK Rail Industry – the hardest nut to crack!

At PAULEY, we understand the need to demonstrate the context of what we offer in relation to the environment in which we offer it.

The Rail Sector Deal – launched in December 2018 – brings together a number of initiatives that we’re intrinsically associated with.

At its heart, the mutual commitments between the rail industry and the government set out will allow more trains to run per hour by running trains closer together; deliver more frequent services and more seats and cut delays by getting trains moving more quickly after disruption.

The Sector Deal will enable companies to drive innovation, invest in research and development, upskill the workforce and look beyond the UK to export markets worldwide. It provides certainty for the industry with clarity and involvement in shaping investment in our railways for the first time and, through this collaboration between government and businesses, it will provide better railways for the country’s rail customers.

So far so good with some great commitments for a common purpose and putting passengers and safety at the heart of the railway.

Key and relevant commitments of the Sector Deal include:

  • Development and implementation of an Education and People Strategy will strengthen industry’s leadership and digital rail skills, and will improve promotion of the rail sector as a great place to work, attracting talented individuals to ensure a capable and adaptable workforce, now and in the future to have prosperous places throughout the UK;
  • By increasing the growth of SMEs and apprenticeships, we will improve awareness of opportunities, increase the quality and quantity of applications for apprenticeships and improve knowledge and image of the sector with young people, and enhance the Midlands Engine as a world class rail hub and centre of excellence;
  • Building on the publication of the Rail Network Enhancement Pipeline guidance, which sets out how industry can support and influence CP6 delivery plans, the government will agree a mechanism to ensure more active involvement in the development of CP6 renewals plans. This will provide even greater confidence to the rail supply sector to invest in people, skills and research & development; and
  • Improved export performance doubling by 2025, through:
    • A UK rail supply chain capability map to identify strengths and weaknesses.
    • An analysis of overseas opportunities, barriers and to provide local market rail sector overviews.
    • An export mentoring and secondment programme.

The Sector Deal is critical to the success of the industry. For us at PAULEY, we are interested in three things from the Sector Deal:
-SME initiatives

Our challenge to Govt and leading industry employers is to make good on your promises and commitments. Our industry is awash with fantastic reports, reviews and white papers – however, the reality of life is that the industry needs to address some significant cultural issues around doing things differently. Indeed Keith Williams himself states that his Review is the 31st Government Review of the Railway in the last few decades or so. Why should his be different if the previous 30 haven’t changed the approach?

Addressing each of those initiatives in turn.



We know what we do with technology vastly improves trainer and trainee efficiency, both in terms of money spent on training, costs saved and trainee knowledge retention. This has been demonstrably evidenced by improvements up to 30% vs conventional training methods. Neil Robertson, Chief Executive of NSAR Ltd, is forever eulogising about how skills improvements and training can deliver 15% productivity improvements. So why don’t more large employers adopt a better way of training their people?

We have heard from numerous clients that they want to adopt innovative technologies and that they want to change the way they train their staff in order to drive efficiencies across their business but that they have no budget. It seems that industry is hungry for change, but they are being restricted in delivering that change. Currently, unless it is a specific tender requirement to adopt these new practices then it is not happening.

At PAULEY we are leading the way with our recently won Innovate UK/DfT project delivered in partnership with HS2, WSP, NCHSR and Inventya. Developing and delivering a unique digital twin environment of Old Oak Common Station for use in training, station management and improving the customer experience. Innovate UK/DfT are passionate about delivering growth into the UK economy and through the First of a Kind fund are breaking ground in rail innovation. This pioneering project is a new paradigm in training using spatial computing and real time data. This project utilises cutting edge technology and will deliver significant improvement results, but the challenge now is to commercialise the success of this ground-breaking project and up sell the resulting product into organisations like Network Rail. But this in itself brings significant challenges.


At PAULEY we are an SME, employing less than 50 people. We are passionate about what we do, we’re extremely good at it and we work hard to keep our competitive advantage. And yet, trying to get a service agreement from large employers in the industry has proved frustratingly beyond us. They are happy to procure through a framework with a large supplier that brings limited additional value to our offer, and to us, this seems wasteful and poor use of public funds. So why can’t more procurement departments offer flexible contracts to SMEs to harness that innovation and flexibility?

Over the last 5 years, we have worked hard to forge a relationship with Network Rail and Tier 1’s, we have been invited to many different meetings and supported these companies at wide-reaching events(free of charge) all the while hoping for lasting partnership and growth opportunities to be afforded to us.

We have joined various membership organisations, attended innumerable industry events and got involved with many government initiatives. We’ve been advised that joining various SME frameworks would position us in the right way to be procured by these companies, only to discover once time and money has been invested in joining, that Management don’t know about them or are unable to procure us through them.

We have partnered with many Tier 1 organisations in their pursuit of large contracts across the rail industry and beyond. We have provided expertise and innovative solutions for their tender submissions all with no guarantee of any being engaged to deliver the work once the tender has been won. On a number of occasions, we have provided our services in this way (again for free!) only to be told once the tender has been won that any innovation on the project will be delivered using internal teams – we have added value, exposing our IPR and unique methodologies and provided the differentiator that they need to be successful in the tendering process and we have no guarantee of any ongoing work. Exclusivity is often requested as a requirement of our engagement in this process and we are often asked to provide unlimited access to our background IPR.

We don’t mean to sound a little gloomy! We are doing great work in the industry and have made some long-lasting partnerships which we hope will deliver real innovation across the network through CP6 and beyond. We would simply like to see a greater commitment from the industry to engage SME’s and to treat them as a fair and equitable partner. A commitment from Network Rail to ensure that named sub-contractors/tender partners are used throughout project delivery would be a fundamental game-changer for SME’s like us.

At PAULEY we understand that trying to sell innovation into an organisation which is rightly very risk-adverse will always pose challenges – but there should be a structure in place to help not only SME’s like us but also to help risk-averse organisations to innovate and engage SME’s.

Over the years, we have found that the biggest blocker to innovation is management and trainers unwilling or unskilled to change. The fact that the innovations we propose would deliver unrivalled efficiencies and cost savings to their businesses seems to be lost in a haze of ‘what does these mean for me personally’. Training often seems to be bottom of the priority pile with Management at times reluctant to train staff for fear of losing them to rivals once training has been paid for, but this is counterproductive.

We would love to see SME representatives with Network Rail and Tier 1’s to ensure a fair playing field. We would love to see more accountability – more departments willing and actively encouraged to deliver true innovation and a universal self-motivated approach to upskilling.

We often hear, ‘this is fantastic but where have you used it on the network’. We deliver truly ground-breaking, cutting edge innovations that have yet to be delivered across the network. Without Network Rail or Tier 1s taking the leap into innovative practices, these will never be seen widespread across the network. It seems we are caught in the problem experienced by the next generation today – you can’t get a job without experience and can’t get experience without a job! This vicious circle has transferred into the innovation marketplace.

It seems to us here at PAULEY that everyone wants to be first to be second…no one wants to be the first to implement true innovative solutions that deliver real results, especially if ‘boots on the ground’ aren’t confident to use it.



When it comes to exports, we’re really punching above our weight. We recently opened the day’s trading at the London Stock Exchange with our Saudi partners. We’ve signed an MoU to work in Saudi Arabia with HRH Prince Abdulaziz Bin Faisal Al Saud and Future Solutions Group CEO, Mohammed Mutabagani.

We are excited by the Saudi vision and their willingness to innovate – something that we have not seen in the UK market. We are forging strong relationships in the region and are establishing a joint venture with Saudi Arabia focussed on the Saudi 2030 Vision. It is a shame that the passion and drive seen overseas has not yet been seen in the UK.

We are continuing our global quest to reskill and upskill today’s and tomorrow’s workforce in its use of digital technology. What is evident is that the desire to upskill the UK’s rail workforce is not unique. All nations are seeking more efficient ways of meeting their railway obligations and driving greater productivity in the way they educate and train their workforce. We have contributed to the largest rail conference and exhibition across the Middle East, North Africa, Indian Subcontinent and Central Asia – Middle East Rail – where we have joined high-level executives from all around the world for an event packed with inspiration, ideas and networking at the highest level. We sit on the brink of a new dawn in railway technology. Now, more than ever, disruptive forces are reshaping the competitive landscape. Middle East Rail brought together the biggest global innovators, futurists and gurus that have exploded onto the railway landscape in recent years to inspire. PAULEY is positioning itself at the forefront of the industry and working with companies overseeing major projects and initiatives to demonstrate our commitment to the region.

We do all this because of our own initiative with little UK government intervention. So why isn’t it easier for companies like Network Rail and large Tier 1’s to support companies like ours and to drive exports up as claimed and promised?

We survive through adversity regardless. But we do wonder how many innovative start up’s have fallen by the wayside as a result of the challenges faced. We don’t get wrapped up in bureaucracy, inefficient processes, archaic systems, unrealistic procurement demands or hampered by an attitude of extreme risk aversion.

This is a cultural issue. One of leadership and more agile management. A culture that is responsive to current events and technologies, one that is not fearful of trying to do something different.

If UK rail wants to do everything it says in the Sector Deal, it will need to re-address its approach and culture to make it happen.

Otherwise, we’ll be here signing off yet another glossy government review with no notable improvement.

At PAULEY we absolutely ‘get’ the need to be collaborative.

Progress isn’t just about technology. It’s about creating cultural change. At PAULEY it’s what we do.