On Track – How the Railway Industry Association Fellowship Programme is Connecting MPs with rail businesses
Labour MP Chi Onwurah pictured during her visit to Hitachi | Credit: Railway Industry Association
RIA’s Fellowship Programme is on a mission to help politicians understand the crucial role of rail suppliers to the UK.
Railways link our great cities and towns together, transport constituents to their jobs, and drive the connectivity that leads to economic growth.
Trains are also part and parcel of parliamentary life. The lines that criss-cross the country connect MPs as representatives of their constituents to the seat of Government power, allowing local voices to be heard and democracy to operate.
However, whilst the importance of rail itself is recognised, what is less well known is the role of the many suppliers that support the nation’s rail infrastructure. Behind the scenes, a collection of businesses of all sizes, locations and disciplines work tirelessly to keep the railway running. Yet, they do not always get the recognition they deserve.
The Railway Industry Association Fellowship Programme aims to change that.
Since 2018, the scheme has been providing parliamentarians with a fascinating insight into the scale and reach of the nation’s railway supply industry. It does this by connecting MPs, peers and other politicians across all the political parties with the people, industries, and technologies that sit behind the UK’s rail industry.
These suppliers are providing the goods, services, and expertise that keep trains running and the economy on track. Some of these businesses will be household names. Others will be smaller, specialist local firms. Working together, they are making an enormous contribution, not only to the UK’s transport infrastructure but also to economic growth.
This is borne out by a recent analysis of the scale of the contribution that the UK’s rail industry makes to the UK economy. The sector is worth a staggering £43bn GVA to the UK, supporting 710,000 jobs, and generating £14bn in tax revenue for the Exchequer. It is also an industry made of many SMEs operating in constituencies up and down the country adding value to regional economies and local supply chains.
Since the scheme was launched, more than 30 politicians have participated in the Fellowship Programme, and more are already booked in for 2022. It has helped participants in the programme to connect with local businesses and to learn more about how this is supporting growth in their areas.
It is clear that the rail supply sector is a key driver of national and local economies
“We believe the RIA Fellowship programme plays a valuable role in enabling MPs across the country to connect with and understand the UK rail supply industry,” Darren Caplan, Chief Executive of RIA explains to The House. “Through the scheme, politicians have been able to visit state-of-the-art sites in their own constituencies and further afield, both increasing their understanding of what the sector does in their part of the country, as well as enabling them to see first hand how rail supports highly-skilled local jobs and significant investment.”
The importance of the work that these MPs go on to do in championing the work of the rail supply industry is recognised through the RIA’s Fellowship scheme. Each year, participating MPs become part of the RIA Fellowship Class at the Association’s annual Parliamentary Reception.
One of the parliamentarians taking part in this year’s scheme was Labour’s Navendu Mishra MP, who visited Sella Controls' head office in his Stockport Constituency.
“As a rail enthusiast I was delighted to take part in the RIA Rail Fellowship Programme,” he tells The House. “I found it to be incredibly informative as well as giving me a real insight – both as a constituency MP and now member of the Transport Select Committee - into the priorities of the rail supply sector.”
Labour MP Navendu Mishra pictured during a visit to Sella Controls in his constituency
Chris Loder, MP for West Sussex, who also sits on the Transport Select Committee, agrees with Mishra that the Fellowship Programme plays a critical role in building awareness of the industry with politicians from across Parliament.
“It has been excellent to be a part of the Rail Fellowship Programme,” he tells The House. “Even after a 20-year career on the railways, there is always more to learn. I feel strongly that the railways are a vital piece of our national infrastructure, and I am pleased that RIA is doing so much work to educate people on how they run.”
Parliamentarians like Mishra and Loder are part of a growing number of MPs who are learning more about the way that the rail supply sector works. Darren Caplan believes that, as the UK moves towards its net-zero target, this interest will steadily increase.
“Rail is already a sustainable mode of transport, generating just 0.5% of all UK emissions, despite carrying 10% of all passengers,” Caplan tells us. “However, there is still an ambition to become even greener and contribute even more towards net-zero.”
Conservative MP Dr Kieran Mullan pictured during a visit to Unipart Rail in his constituency
The net-zero transition means that the next decade is set to be a period of unparalleled innovation across the rail supply sector. Electrification will be required for the more intensively used mainlines, and technologies, such as battery and hydrogen-powered trains, will be required for other parts of the network. Both electrification and self-powered battery and hydrogen trains have the potential to bring new businesses to local areas, delivering low-carbon rail and driving sustainable economic growth. This will in turn bring fresh opportunities for local businesses to contribute even more to the industry.
“It is clear that the rail supply sector is a key driver of national and local economies”, says Caplan. “As we celebrate this month the deep connections between parliamentarians and the sector at RIA’s Annual Parliamentary Reception, we extend an invitation across both Houses to engage with the industry and to learn more about how rail is supporting the economy, helping deliver net-zero, and connecting communities together.”
Find out more about the RIA Rail Fellowship Programme at www.riagb.org.uk/RailFellowship
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