The volunteering, charitable, and social enterprise (VCSE) sectors are recognised as being an integral part of some sectors but not necessarily recognised in rail. However, even though there are high standards for supplier assurance in rail, they can and do still have a role.

A frequent misunderstanding might be that because rail companies are businesses that need to make a profit, they should have nothing to do with organisations whose primary focus is not about making a profit. However, the impact of the latter type of organisations is significant, both socially and economically. It is estimated that charity organisations contribute £20bn to the UK economy annually. For social enterprises the comparable figure is £60bn annually. This shows that, even economically, rail is really missing out if it doesn’t work with these types of organisations. That’s before we even start considering the multiple social and environmental benefits they have, or how they might further the ‘levelling up’ agenda. Examples of successful social enterprises that operate within the transport sector while also making a profit that is reinvested for social or environmental purposes show how this can work.

Change provides a product that many of us really welcome when travelling by rail - a cup of coffee. They happen to be a social enterprise, specialising in working with, and training, homeless people. Their track record is impressive, for instance over 85% of their trainees go on to further employment and, in 2022 alone they targeted 2,000 trainees, and they now operate in eight different countries. They have been able to do this while also winning ‘Great Taste’ awards in five of the last six years, an achievement that any business would be proud of. They’re an excellent example of a social enterprise in rail that operates successfully commercially, working with a particular disadvantaged group, and investing 100% of their profits in fighting homelessness.

Another excellent example that, very sadly, ceased trading during the pandemic, is Hackney Community Transport. It started in 1982 with 30 community organisations in Hackney who used an initial small grant from the local council to create a shared minibus service for community activities, and a door-to-door minibus service for the disabled. From these humble beginnings it developed so that by 2014 it had an annual turnover of £43.7m, a fleet of 500 buses, and over 700 employees. Sadly, the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic forced it to close in 2022, but by then it offered commercial services in Yorkshire, Bristol, London, and the Channel Islands. That’s a sizeable economic impact and a sizeable set of geographic areas in which to operate. The sorts of social benefits it provided included accessible minibuses for community and voluntary groups, a mobility scooter home delivery service, a bus service for those with difficulty accessing mainstream transport, and various door-to-door services for people with mobility difficulties.

Both these examples show how social enterprises can simultaneously operate successfully within mainstream transport services, as well as being catalysts for social or environmental change. It’s clear that this can be part of a levelling up agenda, but there’s a knock-on effect on the small and medium enterprise sector too. By providing commercially successful services with non-standard employees, products, or customers, social enterprises change the landscape within which other SMEs need to operate.

So what does RISQS think about VCSEs? How should VCSEs fit into supplier assurance processes?

The RISQS supplier assurance process doesn’t distinguish between a ‘for-profit’ and ‘not-for-profit' organisation. If the RICCL code supplied by the supplier is auditable, then they will be treated the same. This ensures continuity of risk management across the supply chain.

Should any VCSE organisation have a question about the RISQS scheme, please contact We’ll be happy to answer any queries you may have.