…that the Great British Railways (GBR) Transition Team have launched a call for evidence on the Whole Industry Strategic Plan (WISP). The WISP will set the direction for the railway over the next thirty years.
BACKGROUND TO GBR
Great British Railways ("GBR") was commissioned in May 2021, as part of the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail. It will be a single, accountable public body responsible for running Britain’s railways (a "guiding mind"). GBR is set to focus on delivering sweeping reforms that create a customer-focused railway. Railways haven't been renationalised, but GBR will take over timetabling, setting fares, owning and managing stations and infrastructure, track access, and procuring most passenger services. There are some things that GBR will not be doing, such as procuring freight services or owning and managing freight facilities but it will be managing their timetables.
GBR CORE GOALS
GBR needs legislation to establish it as a formal body. On 4 October 2021, the Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps outlined the core goals for GBR, including:
- changing the culture of the railways not simply creating a bigger version of Network Rail
- thinking like our customers, both passengers and freight, and putting them first
- growing the network and getting more people travelling
- making the railways easier to use
- simplifying the sector to do things quicker, driving down costs and being more accountable
- having a can-do, not a can’t do culture
- harnessing the best of the private sector
- playing a critical role in the national shift to net zero
- GBR TRANSITION TEAM
Grant Shapps has also announced the creation of the "GBR Transition Team", under the leadership of Andrew Haines (who will continue to work as the CEO of Network Rail). The Transition Team will be responsible for driving forward reforms and preparing the way for Network Rail to be subsumed into the wider GBR, the railway's new "guiding mind". The initial focus is on driving revenue recovery efforts post-pandemic, bringing a whole industry approach to tackling cost and promoting efficiency and establishing a strategic freight unit.
- COMPETITION FOR NEW HQ
There is also a competition to identify new national and regional headquarters for GBR. The national headquarters will not be based in London, making sure skilled jobs, economic benefits and investment are continually available beyond the capital.
GBR will be made up of quasi-independent regional divisions. Key strategic decisions will be taken centrally, with operational matters led by five regional divisions (in line with the regions established in Network Rail's recent 'Putting Passengers First' programme). The competition for national and regional headquarters will "recognise towns and cities with a rich railway history that are strongly linked to the network".
- RESPONSE TO NAO AND PAC REPORTS: INTERIM ARRANGEMENTS
Another recent development is the Government's response to the National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee reports from earlier this year (see NAO report: Overview of English Rail System – Session 2021-22 (HC 1373) and PAC report: Overview of English Rail System – Session 2021-22 (HC 170)). The Government accepts the PAC recommendations and will respond to the Committee in full in December.
One of the recommendations was that "by December, the Department should write to the Committee setting out clear roles and responsibilities between bodies in the rail system for the delivery of reforms, and a timetable for implementing the system-wide reforms proposed in the Rail white paper."
The Government responded that it had set up a Rail Transformation Programme and tasked Andrew Haines with developing plans for establishing interim arrangements. There are three distinct phases to the programme:
- Phase 1 - design the end state Sector Target Operating Model (STOM), giving organisations the necessary parameters and guidance to undertake the organisational design required to deliver the commitments in the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail.
- Phase 2 - progress legislation required for structural reform (2022-23), publish the 30- year strategy, national accessibility strategy and environmental plan. Launch test and learn fares initiatives and the Delay Repay 15 rollout.
- Phase 3 - transition to business as usual operations, with Great British Railways fully operational from 2024 onwards. Transfer statutory accountabilities when legislation comes into force. There will be new local and regional partnerships, a long-term investment programme for accessibility and full multimodal ticketing in place.
The Rail Transformation Programme will join the Government Major Project Portfolio (GMPP) by the end of 2021 and will report progress quarterly, as part of standard GMPP reporting requirements.
- THE WISP
The Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail said that GBR would develop a 30-year strategy for the entire railway network. This Call for Evidence is the start of that process. It is not a list of projects and investments, but it must help to inform decisions on how the railway can improve and contribute to wider benefits over the coming 30 years.
The Call for Evidence wants to engage a wide range of stakeholders, both inside and outside the rail sector, on how rail can support their ambitions and priorities. It is open for eight weeks until 4 February 2022.
It is looking at three different timeframes:
- The short term: the five-year period from delivery of the Strategic Plan in 2022.
- The medium term: the next ten years, which is when they expect to have moderate levels of certainty in their project planning and sequencing.
- The long term: the thirty years up to 2052, which are highly uncertain and unpredictable, making it all the more important that the rail system is prepared for a number of different scenarios that will be able to adapt to the challenges that the future holds.
The Call for Evidence points out that the most valuable responses will show how GBR can make progress towards our strategic objectives over these different timescales, balancing each against the other, highlighting tensions and trade-offs, considering stretching yet realistic ambitions, and linking them to wider long-term trends and national priorities. Responses that identify opportunities for prioritisation, efficiency, and cost reduction in order to drive value for money for the taxpayer and rail user, will be particularly welcome. It's definitely not intended to be a "wish list" of future investments.
- STRATEGIC OBJECTIVES AND QUESTIONS
There are five strategic objectives for the WISP and they guide all the questions in this call for evidence:
- Meeting customers’ needs
- Delivering financial sustainability
- Contributing to long-term economic growth
- Levelling up & connectivity
- Delivering environmental sustainability.
- What long-term trends in wider society, the economy, and the environment will affect these five objectives over the next 5, 10 and 30 years? Interestingly, the Transition Team have identified six external trends that could significantly impact rail over the next 30 years: sustainability becoming more important; mobility behaviour changing; new forms of mobility; accelerated digitalisation and innovation; demographic change; and changing flows of goods.
- What are the most significant opportunities and barriers to delivering financial sustainability and how do we achieve/overcome them?
- In the context of enabling development and regeneration opportunities both in the immediate vicinity of stations and within the surrounding area, how can rail best facilitate improvements to places and local growth, through improved connectivity and unlocking commercial activity, housing, and employment over the next 5, 10 and 30 years?
- How does the rail sector contribute to levelling up and to improving connectivity across Great Britain, and what are the most cost-effective ways at the sector's disposal to improve that further during the next 5,10 and 30 years?
One of the inputs to the WISP will be a Sustainable Rail Strategy (SRS) which will build on and set out how to achieve the policy commitments set out in the Transport Decarbonisation Plan, the Rail Environment Policy Statement and the Net Zero Strategy.
Expect a report on the responses to this Call for Evidence in spring 2022. The Strategic Plan should be delivered to Ministers by late 2022.