Rachel Eade MBE, FRSA, Supply Chain Lead for BCRRE and Senior Technical Officer with the Digi-Rail project, continues sharing her thoughts on some of the effects of the Covid-19 lockdown on the SME community.
During this difficult period we at BCRRE, incorporating the BCRRE Rail Alliance and the Digi-Rail project, have been able to continue to work with the rail supply chain in a wide variety of ways.
Digi-Rail – connections and innovation
Digi Rail continues to support eligible SMEs with their key priority actions, whether this is discussing, mentoring or just listening. With the Digi-Rail project now live for the Black Country region, alongside the Greater Birmingham & Solihull and Coventry & Warwickshire LEP areas, initial take-up has been very positive, and my colleagues in our Business Engagement team and I are already working with several SMEs keen for guidance in the rail sector.
March saw Digi-Rail’s Get Into Rail seminar in Birmingham attended by a number of recent SME sign-ups, just prior to restrictions on movement becoming effective. Delegates from a diversity of infrastructure, electronic and engineering sectors gained a general overview of the UK rail industry and its emerging strategy for digital implementation. I was able to complement the presentation element of the day by a visit to the Midlands Metro Alliance offices nearby, which gave an introduction to regional transport infrastructure developments in which there are many supply chain possibilities that can be better understood through precisely this kind of exchange. A walk trackside provided tangible demonstration of just some of the challenges and requirements facing the MMA’s programme.
The Digi-Rail team is well connected in its current home-working capacity and is comfortably maintaining business support. Companies based in the midlands region interested in advancing their knowledge and opportunities of the rail sector are invited to get in touch for an informal conversation by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org
BCRRE Rail Alliance – at the heart of the rail supply chain
The BCRRE Rail Alliance is advising of grant and business support opportunities and sharing news, views and experiences across its Community of nearly 700 companies. The BCRRE Rail Alliance is known as existing at the heart of the rail supply chain and the current conditions mean this is more appropriate than ever before. Rail Alliance has responded rapidly to the Covid-19 lockdown by providing all Community members access to exclusive, online, digital content, free of charge. This has been implemented so that SMEs can utilise the platform to engage digitally, utilise content that is otherwise paid for, and learn and apply skills and training to working remotely. You can read more at www.railalliance.co.uk and sign up for free Silver membership at www.railalliance.co.uk/join.
New enquiries and opportunities
These last few weeks have brought about enquiries I never expected to hear about. Some of the areas we have heard about range from the supply of body bags and body trays; to new PPE with inbuilt 2m personal alerts; to flood defence planning. Between our Digi-Rail project, BCRRE researchers and the BCRRE Rail Alliance Community we have access to people with an extensive range of research and commercial experience who are able to review opportunities and guide you through the potential solutions and the maze of ways to get there.
We are now actively looking at the support that the sector will need to rebuild the supply chain rapidly and strongly as possible as we emerge from the Covid 19 lockdown. HMRC will be hosting a series of webinars on the Job Retention Scheme (to include furloughed workers, scheme eligibility and how to calculate a claim) – details and registration link are on https://www.railalliance.co.uk/event/hmrc-coronavirus-covid-19-job-retention-scheme/
To help us with the wider Covid-19 lockdown issues, we welcome your suggestions on how the industry can drive the resource required now and for the future of your business and the wider rail industry. We need your feedback on the need for support with communications, premises, access to finance, people, logistics, innovation and skills, so we can play our part in shaping support programmes post Covid-19.
Please visit www.railalliance.co.uk/covid-19-company-issues/ to share your questions and concerns.
BCRRE – research and innovation
BCRRE itself is looking at innovative developments, both for the here-and-now and the longer term. Research continues on many of our projects: researchers have set up their PCs and are connecting into their campus-based computing systems to carry out projects which don’t need specialised lab equipment or trackside experiments. All this means that we will continue to provide the raw material for future innovation – innovation which will drive the future supply chain. Check into www.birmingham.ac.uk/railway to read about my research colleagues’ work and to spark your own interest in future product and service innovation.