The Rail Safety and Standards Board Podcast

Introducing our 2024-25 Annual Business Plan

April 04, 2024 RSSB Season 2 Episode 2
Introducing our 2024-25 Annual Business Plan
The Rail Safety and Standards Board Podcast
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The Rail Safety and Standards Board Podcast
Introducing our 2024-25 Annual Business Plan
Apr 04, 2024 Season 2 Episode 2

Welcome to another episode of the RSSB podcast! Today, join four members of our Executive Committee — Johnny Schute (Chief Operating Officer), Keith Hanlon-Smith (Chief People Officer), Hannah Kingsley (Chief Finance Officer), and Paul McLaughlin (Chief Commercial Officer) — as they outline industry's current challenges, discuss RSSB's priorities in addressing those, and introduce our new 'strategic multipliers'.

You can find out more about our 2024–2025 Annual Business Plan at:

Show Notes Transcript

Welcome to another episode of the RSSB podcast! Today, join four members of our Executive Committee — Johnny Schute (Chief Operating Officer), Keith Hanlon-Smith (Chief People Officer), Hannah Kingsley (Chief Finance Officer), and Paul McLaughlin (Chief Commercial Officer) — as they outline industry's current challenges, discuss RSSB's priorities in addressing those, and introduce our new 'strategic multipliers'.

You can find out more about our 2024–2025 Annual Business Plan at:

Host [00.18]: 
With spring in the air, and the start of the next financial year just around the corner, we’re talking today about our Annual Business Plan. We’ll start with an overview, and then look in closer detail at what it means for our people, our deliveries to industry, how we’ll make the most of our technology and data, and the opportunities we’re bringing to our members.

I’m joined today by four members of our Executive Committee: Johnny Schute, Chief Operating Officer; Keith Hanlon-Smith, Chief People Officer; Hannah Kingsley, Chief Finance Officer; and Paul McLaughlin, Chief Commercial Officer.

Johnny, let’s start with an overview of our Annual Business Plan. What areas of opportunity are we targeting this year?

Johnny [01.05]: 
One of the things that we really have to concentrate on is cost reduction in the rail industry because the rail industry at the moment costs too much. So, we are going to be targeting quite heavily what we can do to try and reduce cost, particularly in the area of standards and system safety and health. In addition to cost reduction, we have to look carefully at performance. At the moment, the rail network is not performing to a level that satisfies either the customers—the paying passengers—or indeed the freight industry. So, there will need to be a much closer look at what we can do to enhance performance across the network to satisfy the aspirations of those customers.

We’re also going to be moving towards getting more satisfied customers safely on the rail network. We’ll be looking particularly at the public health arena, what happens on the platform-train interface, and trespass and suicide—two of the areas that give us the most cause for concern.

System reliability and resilience is a key area, too. We’re going to be looking at what we do in data, what we do in defect reporting, and also the impacts that rail transformation are going to have on both those topics. We’re going to be trying to adopt new technology. We’ll be looking closely at the implementation of research—research we’ve already done and what’s on the shelf—and also as a sort of subset of that, traction power technology and also AI.

Now, there’s a real imperative to try and get more freight on the rail network. And we are going to be looking at not only freight growth, but also freight safety. So, things like differential speeds, freight safety risk, the Precursor Indicator Model that we’re readying up for freight, and also just maxing out as much as we can getting more freight across the sector.

And then I think the final area that we’re going to be concentrating on is the value to society and also to sustainability that the rail sector needs to enjoy. So, things like air quality, social value, and the natural environment are going to be areas of close attention going forward.

Host [03.25]: 
It sounds like reducing costs will be a key focus, alongside improving reliability, resilience, and the passenger experience. How will we help industry balance these priorities?

Johnny [03.38]: 
So, to make sure that industry are making the right choices, and we’re helping them to make the right choices, the first thing we’ve really got to do is follow the data. We’ve got to have the evidence, so we are upping our capability in data collection. And we want to become and are establishing ourselves as the data aggregator for the rail sector. So, that’s the first area.

The second area is providing assistance to the rail sector where there are capability deficiencies to make sure that the right skill sets and the right abilities and capabilities and competencies are there. That will allow people to make more informed choices. But really, the most important element of it is a laser-like focus on what the customer needs. So, as long as we are paying attention to what the customer needs—the paying passenger and also the freight sector—then that will ensure that the right resources and the right balance of investment is being put into the right places.

Host [04.42]: 
Thanks, Johnny. Keith, I’ll come to you next. RSSB’s people are among the most experienced and knowledgeable professionals in the rail industry. How does that support us in the delivery of our business plan?

Keith [04.55]: 
One of the most insights that we had from the recent five-year constitutional review that was carried out by the ORR and from the member consultation on this year’s business plan is that the expertise and credibility of our people is something that our members value the most. And we’re currently recording the highest ever levels of employee engagement across the organisation, as we’ve worked hard to create an environment where people really feel committed to delivering. And these two things combined together mean that we’re in a great position to deliver our commitments in this year’s business plan.

Host [05.32]: 
We’re introducing ‘strategic multipliers’ to this plan, which means combining the expertise of our different teams to maximise our deliveries to industry. How are we going to drive this collaboration?

Keith [05.44]: 
So, as a business, we’re already highly reliant on our people collaborating, both within the business and with our members and stakeholders. The move towards strategic multipliers further enhances this and sits well within the internal changes that we’ve made to things like objective setting, incentivisation, and decision making, which now focuses much more on collective achievement rather than individual achievement.

Host [06.08]: 
Thanks, Keith. Johnny, back to you. Can you tell us some more about strategic multipliers and what they really mean?

Johnny [06.16]: 
We’re all conscious of, and we all know, what it is that RSSB does within its core areas. And we have those strategic business areas that most people are relatively familiar with. But one of the great benefits and advantages of RSSB is that we are a place whereby only the synergies between the strategic business areas actually exist. So, what he strategic multipliers are about are identifying places where RSSB, working across the strategic business areas, will become greater than the sum of its parts. So, expertise in multiple areas sitting in one place allows value to be added. 

Now, we’ve identified six areas where we think we can have this added value, and that’s in safety and health insights, in the automation and the AI sector, testing, exploiting data to really make sure that we’re getting the best benefit out of the evidence that we actually bring together, weather resilience and climate change adaptation—a key part of what we do in these changing times—and then, finally, embedding sustainability. So, by bringing these synergies together across our strategic business areas, focused on those areas, we’ll be producing that much more to the rail sector in the next five years over that which we have done in the previous five.

Host [07.38]: 
Thanks, Johnny. Hannah, over to you. We continue to operate in difficult economic times. As Chief Finance Officer, can you tell us about the challenge or opportunity you see in the coming financial year?

Hannah [07.53]: 
You’re right. Being able to operate within tight budget guidelines is going to continue to be a challenge for our members throughout this year. Although we’ve seen more stability in financial markets, and inflation has reduced from its height last year, we need to remember that it’s a relative measure. The reduction doesn’t really address the underlying cost increases that the industry has experienced and really now have got to manage within the tight budget (and below). 

So, it’s a difficult balance. When the industry is working to attract customers back and would like to be running more trains, both across passenger and freight, finding the money to invest is really challenging. So, many of the straightforward efficiency gains, as you can imagine, have already been achieved, so it’s going to take some more innovative thinking to really drive further efficiency and meet those targets. But we’ve obviously got to remain competitive for businesses and remain affordable for passengers. So, RSSB have a really key role to play here, and we’re focusing on those key industry challenges really closely in this year’s business plan. It’s really important that we ensure that the work we’re doing is genuinely helping members and really meeting those significant challenges, and that includes the economic ones. 

But I am optimistic—we still have a growing population in the UK, we’ve got a really big sustainability challenge of meeting net zero, which is critical to all our futures, and rail travel really does offer the best solution for green, mass transport of people and goods. So, I don’t think we need to get disheartened, and optimism is really the way forward. I think the key to it, and I’ve said it before, is about true cross-industry collaboration, where all stakeholders are involved and engaged. And I’m confident that we can navigate the challenges and probably come out a much stronger industry on the other side.

Host [09.34]: 
The Annual Business Plan says that we will improve our value for money to members by making our finance, procurement, and risk management more efficient. How will we do this?

Hannah [09.46]: 
Over the last couple of years, we’ve been working to upgrade a number of our key underlying business systems, and that includes in finance. So, we’re really excited across my team now to embrace the RSSB-wide digital transformation strategy and all that means. 

So, firstly, we’ll really be looking at using the tools that we’ve already got in the most efficient way. And for my teams, particularly in finance, that’s a focus on automation—really looking to replace many of the repetitive, manual tasks that take up a lot of time but don’t necessarily give a lot of value to the business with smarter, faster tech-type solutions. Wherever possible, we’re looking for things like data transfer, regular data processing tasks to be automated, so really leaving the tech to do what it’s good at—the high volume processing, that sort of stuff—giving the finance partners more time to work with the business on detailed analysis of numbers, perhaps more time spent looking forward rather than looking back, building improved scenario planning modelling capabilities so that, really, we be a lot more responsive in what is becoming, for all of us, an increasingly complex environment in which we’re being asked to operate. 

But it’s not all about tools, it’s not all about fancy new tech. A lot of it is about transformation of our capabilities. So, we’re looking to enhance the skills across the team as well, particularly in areas such as data visualisation, which might be using new products such as PowerBI or Python, but really learning from other parts of the business who are on that journey with us. This is also not just within the finance team; both the procurement and the risks teams are also embracing this digital-first way of working, and they’re exploring other tools, such as CoPilot, and using automated workflows. We’re just looking across the board at how we can be more efficient, which means we’ll be more productive, allowing us to be more responsive to the business, to members’ needs, and really continuing to improve the support we can give, both internally and externally.

Host [11.50]: 
Thanks, Hannah. Paul, I’ll come to you now. Over the next year, we’re also hoping to continue to build our consultancy offering, develop new training courses, and improve our offerings to members in other ways. What’s the thinking behind this?

Paul [12.07]: 
You’ve heard from Johnny about all the exciting things we’re going to be doing next year that sit more broadly across the rail industry. We do commercial work for two reasons: the first is to provide an additional income that helps support some of these new things that our current membership levy doesn’t actually cover, and the second is to allow us to give really bespoke services to individual members where we’ve got the right skills and expertise. So that might be things like a peer review of a safety case that they’ve developed themselves, a version of the Rule Book for a new piece of operational railway, or even the delivery of a bespoke training course to help embed some of our key material—something like accident investigation training. 

Building our offering beyond the industry levy work allows us to get closer to our members. It helps us understand their actual needs and pain points because they are literally asking us to help them fix it. This knowledge is invaluable to informing future iterations of our business plan and ensuring the work we do remains relevant.

Host [13.21]: 
Having the support of the wider industry is going to be crucial in bringing our new plan to proper fruition. So, finally, what opportunities are there for our members to collaborate with us on this journey?

Paul [13.35]: 
Absolutely. We are nothing without our members. We already get a huge amount of contribution from many of them through our groups and committees. They’re vital to how we work and ensure we gain a consensus across all aspects of the industry before we make critical changes to things like standards. But we’re always looking for more. 

A lot our analysis is based on data, so helping ensure we get good-quality, reliable data from SMIS—whether accident reporting or SPAD reporting—is critical, for example. We can help automate the data link between companies’ internal systems and SMIS. So, please tell us if you’re interested in getting rid of double entry within your own company systems. We’re looking for the next Network Rail region to trial the PRIMA extreme weather speed restriction tool. We’re looking for a freight company to trial wheel conditioning monitoring. And we’re looking for a TOC to get involved in the next round of adhesion trials, and so on. We have lots of opportunities, so please get in touch.

Host [14.45]:
Thank you to Paul McLaughlin, Hannah Kingsley, Keith Hanlon-Smith, and Johnny Schute for joining us on the podcast today. And thank you for listening. For more information about our Annual Business Plan, visit our website: And join us next month for another episode of the RSSB podcast.