Go out and talk to buyers or suppliers in the rail sector and one of the most common complaints heard is about the cost and complexity of supplier assurance.

Suppliers find it difficult to engage with buyers. Buyers find it difficult to understand what levels of assurance are required by whom and where. Industry schemes appear to conflict and duplicate. There are no standard terms and definitions. This is all in addition to a range of changing health and safety regulatory drivers, including Sentinel and ROGS. It’s a red tape nightmare which many find unhelpful for risk management, developing mature relationships, sustainability and cost reduction.

For some types of assurance, there have not always been sufficient levels of oversight and control of arrangements. Duplicated audits, lack of shared knowledge and service providers lacking guidance are just some of the things you’ll hear if you talk to people about the challenges of either qualifying for supply, or accessing information about qualified suppliers.

As a result, companies delivering the railway, including Network Rail and companies working or operating on its infrastructure, and their supply chain, are frequently vexed by procurement matters.

Operational experience has suggested that Link- up has not worked as well as it could and has not always responded to the changing needs of rail buyers and suppliers. Research shows that there is a strong consensus for modernising this scheme and changing the way it works to benefit buyer and supplier alike.

Built by the industry, for the industry

Now things are changing. With the support of Rail Delivery Group and the RSSB Board, industry has set up the Railway Industry Supplier Qualification Scheme (RISQS), with its own Board so, for the first time since BR days, it can govern supplier qualification arrangements. The governance structure involves rail leaders from across the whole system, including RSSB’s Board and representatives from buyer and supplier organisations. It means RISQS is built by the industry, for the industry.

The biggest difference that the new arrangements will bring is that third party service providers (such as Achilles who have provided the Link-up platform and audit service since the 1990’s) will now report into the RISQS scheme managers and the RISQS Board. This change of governance to a cross-industry model will be welcomed by everyone and help keep the scheme on track, working in industry’s interests.

RISQS has already initiated some improvements to the way qualification works – in particular to Link-up, which includes fewer and more focused audits with less duplication and better cooperation with other schemes like RISAS and IRIS.

The long-term goal will be for industry to harness its closer ownership of arrangements to reduce cost even further, this will include:

  • adoption of the new Rail Industry Commodity Classification List (RICCL), a set of universal definitions of all the products and services that industry buys
  • rationalisation of supplier qualification requirements
  • streamlining the audit activity
  • enhancement of qualification arrangements to embrace sustainable development
  • a new IT platform to support the more effective operation of the scheme

RISQS will become the ‘brand’ that people associate with supplier qualification and assurance, and the Board will lead on communications, policy and management of the scheme.

But we are still at the beginning. A lot has been done to get this far, namely getting the governance right. Specifics about how the RISQS scheme works for buyers and suppliers are being developed, but we’re starting to flag up the nature of these developments now so everyone is ready to engage with the scheme and is aware of what’s changing and why.

The great thing about involving the whole industry is that everyone’s behind this. The RISQS Board comprises Network Rail, Toc’s, infrastructure contractors, and suppliers as well as other supporting bodies like RSSB, ATOC, Railway Industry Association (RIA), the Rail Industry Contractors Association (RICA), Rail Alliance, CECA and the Rail Plant Association (RPA), and they’re all backing RISQS to succeed.

Watch out for more messages from the RISQS team about how the scheme will develop and how you can get involved.

Richard Sharp is chairman of the RISQS Board and rail compliance manager at Murphy Group