This week we launched a plan to work more efficiently and closely with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). It’s the latest move in our efforts to make Network Rail Open for Business and easier to work with.

Our SME action plan also considers how we will achieve the Government’s target of spending a third of its annual expenditure via SMEs by 2022.

We recognise the importance of SMEs to Britain’s economy and local communities – they provide about 16 million jobs nationwide.

The action plan aims to create a more mutually beneficial partnership, with Network Rail benefitting from the business community’s adaptability and innovation.

It focuses on six areas of improvement: engagement, pre-procurement, procurement, contract management, supplier management and innovation.

The SME action plan comes amid our Open for Business programme to encourage more third-party investment in the railway

71% – the proportion of the almost 4,000 suppliers Network Rail contracted directly with in the 2018 to 2019 financial year that were SMEs

30% – our annual expenditure with SMEs, which has increased by 5% in the last three years.

We’ve been making Britain’s railways more attractive commercially to builders and investors by cutting costs, internal bureaucracy and red tape.

Providing valuable opportunities for other organisations to invest in, and build on the railway reduces the tax-payer burden. The increased competition drives down cost, while also increasing efficiency, creativity and innovation.

How are we making the railway better to work with?

Brand new service level commitments

For the first time, we're embedding service level commitments by which other organisations can hold us to account. It falls to Network Rail’s asset protection and optimisation (ASPRO) teams to make sure any work on or near the railway is done safely and to the right standards.

By having these new service levels in place, third-party promoters of projects on the railway can know what to expect from Network Rail’s service and when to expect it by. Find out more here.

Customer surveys

We're embedding customer satisfaction surveys for investors and builders who have historically viewed ASPRO teams as gatekeepers and difficult to work with. This will allow us to provide a baseline and benchmark for how ASPRO teams are performing.

Clarifying risks to investors

It’s important an investor or developer knows the risks they’re responsible for when building on or by the railway – they differ greatly than when building on the high street, highway or any other environment. That's why we've looked at 41 separate categories of risk that could cause problems, delays or extra cost to a project and analysed where we can take ownership of that risk, or make it clear who will cover it.

Giving the industry a voice

We opened our standards – the detailed requirements that underpin how the railway and the delivery of improvement projects are run – for feedback and allowed other organisations to challenge them. We did this to encourage more innovation, value for money and third-party funding.

Read more:

The SME action plan

Network Rail is Open for Business

Opportunities for third parties