Case study

Government Economic Service: Student profiles

Government Economic Service (GES) student placements graduates talk about their experiences working on the scheme.

Oliver Smith
, Policy Simulation Model Team, Model Development Unit, Department for Work and Pensions
 - University of Leeds

The division I work for in Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is responsible for building and maintaining a range of forecasting, projection and policy simulation models to help inform and influence the development of work and pensions policy.

The team I work in produces the Policy Simulation Model (PSM), this is the Department’s tax/benefit microsimulation model that is used by analysts to estimate the budgetary and distributional impacts of a range of hypothetical and actual policy changes. The team are also working on the development of a labour supply model that will provide estimates of the behavioural impact of tax and benefit changes. The team consists of my line manager, 2 assistant economists and myself, which means the team is relatively young and lively.

My main responsibilities are to help maintain and develop the PSM, as well as helping users of the model. An example of how I maintain the model is updating tax and benefit information in line with budget and pre-budget report announcements. Development of the model requires me to think of ways to make processes more efficient, as well as making the model more accurate. I help users of the model through providing assistance with more complex analysis and giving them inductions on how to use the models.

I have really enjoyed my work in the Department and would recommend it to anyone thinking of applying. Everyone is encouraged, through attending training courses and undertaking corporate roles, to develop their skills and competencies. There are also weekly and monthly economics sessions which allow me to maintain my economic understanding.

Callum Barthrop, 
ESA and Conditionality Analysis Team, DWP - 
Newcastle University

I currently work in the DWP in 1 of the analysis teams (Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Conditionality Analysis) in the Disability and Work Division. The team specifically work on analysis of Pathways, an employment and health support programme for disabled people on ESA but also do some other ad hoc work as well.

My responsibilities include analysing costs and benefits associated with certain elements of this programme. In particular Return to Work Credit, which is an in-work payment of £40 a week currently for up to 52 weeks to Incapacity Benefit (IB – the previous disability benefit) or ESA customers gaining employment of 5 weeks or more and earning less than £15,000 a year. I have to analyse the latest dataset for any query that we get working alongside another statistical analysis team. On top of this I do a lot of policy costing for existing customers (those customers that where on IB before the introduction of ESA) and more recently some new customer policy options. Alongside this, I am responsible for commenting on new research reports to be published and summarising them for quick access by the team.

I am also helping to organise a series of introductory economics classes, which are taught by economists for colleagues interested in getting an introduction to the subject. This has also given me the opportunity to develop presentation skills and test my economics knowledge, as I presented a class on cost benefit analysis.

My time so far in the Department has been highly fulfilling and very enjoyable. The people that I work with directly as well as in the wider departmental environment are excellent at what they do and provide support and expertise when needed. The experience of full-time work will hopefully set me in good stead for future life and give me an advantage once graduated, but most of all, it is something I will never forget.

Claire McKay, 
Cross-Cutting Pensions Analysis Division, DWP
 - Aberystwyth University

I work for the Cross-Cutting Pensions Analysis Division (XPAD), a small, analytical team mainly consisting of social researchers, economists and statisticians. The work is varied with an overall focus on private pensions, often working with other pension teams in the DWP. My team carry out research into pension provision as well as modelling expected pension outcomes and analysing results. XPAD have contributed to and published several high-profile reports recently and are due to be publishing more work in the future.

My role within the team covers a wide range of opportunities and skills. I have just completed a paper which has summarised publicly available information on certain types of pension. The aim of this piece of work has been to help new starters in the division understand the pensions and the background on issues affecting them, while allowing me to develop a greater understanding of different forms of pension provision. I am currently undertaking 2 pieces of consultation and research to improve the assumption and methodology of a pension model which assesses the effects of policies using a hypothetical individual’s working history (other models use other approaches).

In addition to these projects, I monitor the media on issues relevant to my team and work area, such as the pension reforms, and summarise the key points and quotes into a 2 to 4 side document for my team on a quarterly basis. I further support the team by doing ad hoc pieces of work.

I am also the Learning and Development rep for XPAD and am involved in organising economic classes for colleagues who would like to find out more about economics and understand how economists think and work. This has also provided the opportunity to present a class on the economics of pensions with another placement student and an Assistant Economist.

There are many opportunities to socialise, 1 of which is known as ‘TNDs’ (Thursday Night Drinks). This is open to anyone and gives an ideal opportunity to meet and talk to colleagues from other areas, giving an insight into many of the other things that the department does.

Working in the DWP is a fantastic experience and makes you aware of how much thought and work is behind even the smallest decision the government makes. My colleagues are extremely easy to get on with, and my own development is strongly encouraged (for example, I attend a lot of seminars as well as an economics course aimed at economists looking to secure a permanent job within the government). I cannot recommend a placement year with the DWP highly enough; it is a fantastic and unique experience, and you will take away far more than simply an idea on how the government works, while being supported every step of the way.

Magdalena Bienkowska, International Tax Team, HM Treasury - Liverpool University

I currently work at HM Treasury (HMT) in the International Tax team in Budget, Tax and Welfare (BTW) directorate. In the Economics and Surveillance branch I look at changes to tax regimes announced in all Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, as well as outside of the group, and also European Court of Justice and EU rulings that could have an impact on the creation of UK tax policy and UK tax competitiveness.

One of my responsibilities is the production of several regular, as well as ad-hoc, surveillance products. These include International Tax Comparisons (based on OECD and Eurostat data), the International Tax Standing Brief and also the daily Tax Press newsletter and monthly Environmental Tax Press newsletter. These reach high numbers of staff in the BTW directorate. I am also responsible for answering any internal and Ministerial Correspondence queries, regarding how the UK system compares internationally and what kind of an impact changes both inside and outside of the UK can have on trade, migrations and labour conditions.

My long-term work is mostly project-based. I am currently working on a project on personal tax and the potential relationship between the top rate and migrations of high-net-worth individuals. This involves trying to assess if and how the main rates influence highly-skilled and highly-mobile labour and their choices of where to work. This is to be used as part of the Taxation of the Wealthy project carried out in my directorate.

Apart from international comparisons of the tax systems, my main focus is economic analysis of their (also behavioural) impact on society. I also provide literature reviews for the above mentioned, as well as my own insight where necessary.

Another aspect of my work at HMT is providing my team and external stakeholders, such as British Embassies abroad, with information on international fiscal stimuli. As part of this, I wrote internal reports on the recent packages in Australia, USA and Canada, devised in response to the global recession.

Because my team provides support to other teams in the Treasury, I have managed to get experience in working on most taxes. Also, as part of my directorate’s scheme I participated in an intensive 8-day training course called Tax Development Programme, which touched upon the most important taxes in the UK, the legal side of taxation, international comparisons, the history of tax, policy creation and most significantly, the economics of taxation.

The most exciting things that I have been involved in whilst working here have been: delivering the Pre-Budget Report to the BBC headquarters, looking after the German Finance Minister and the Governor of Bundesbank at the G20 ministers’ meeting (and chatting with the Chancellor and his wife after the event) and helping out in the Budget ’09 process on the night before its publication.

Overall, the sandwich placement is a great experience, definitely worth undertaking. The Treasury working culture is one of a kind and, apart from providing almost limitless development opportunities, it will allow you to meet people that you normally would have never even dreamt of meeting. Don’t hesitate another minute and apply!

Amanda Coleman, 
Macroeconomic Analysis Team, HM Treasury - 
Hertfordshire University

I work in the Macroeconomic Analysis Team, specifically in the Labour Market and Regions Branch. There are 3 other branches within my team: Business, Household and Money & Credit. There are 2 other placement students in my team, in the business and household branches. Between the 4 branches, we collect, analyse and distribute information about every aspect of the economy. This information is used by policy teams and ministers to tackle the issues in the economy.

A lot of my responsibilities reside around the Labour Market Statistics, which are released every month. I receive the statistics, send the pre-release to Ministers and senior officials in the Treasury and from there I handle the data within it. This includes updating the monthly brief so the branch economists can write it and then sending it around to many people; Ministers, No10 and anyone within the Treasury who wants to read it!

I update a number of databases including regional databases covering all aspects of the labour market and also going down to parliamentary constituency level. I am responsible for updating the portion of the intranet that belongs to my branch; most briefings and statistics that I receive are uploaded onto there.

As the branch also has an emphasis on regions, I produce a brief once a month for each region containing facts about the labour market and gross value added figures. This is used by the Chancellor and other Ministers when they go on regional visits. I also deal with lots of ad hoc requests for data on particular regions, counties, towns etc. In addition to this I have received a few parliamentary questions on the labour market and regional issues. At the moment, I am doing my own comparative project, comparing an outside survey with similar data from the Office for National Statistics to see if it is a leading indicator of labour market trends. There are plenty of opportunities to do research, either helping the branch’s economists with their research or doing your own. I have the opportunity to research for my final year dissertation while working here – and you can’t get better access to economic information.

I didn’t know what to expect before I started, especially as the branch head hadn’t been decided upon until the end of my first week. I was nervous with no reason to be, as the whole team are really nice and supportive of students, giving us guidance as we need it. There are almost 30 students within the Treasury so there is a good social scene, going down to lunch together each day. Already my computer skills have improved as most students were placed on excel courses, and we are encouraged to take training courses to improve our skills.

Alex Lam, 
Fiscal Policy Team, HM Treasury - Aston University

I work in the Fiscal Policy team. We are responsible for analysing the public finances set out by the fiscal policies in the latest Budget. The team is heavily involved in the policy process. As a member of the team I had access and information to policy decisions prior to their announcement to the public.

My job is primarily focused around the publishing of the Pre-Budget Report (PBR) and the Budget. In the run up to these 2 publications there is a lot of work involved. I am directly responsible for creating the charts and tables in Chapter 2 of both the PBR and Budget. I am also responsible for helping produce the End of Year Fiscal Report and the European Convergence Programme.

My main duty is to support my line manager and ensure the smooth running of the team as a whole. My daily tasks may involve research for other members of my team and assisting them in any of their work, such as creating presentations. I also have to write short informative notes on topics of interest to the team and the directorate.

My first impressions of the Treasury are that it is a very friendly and relaxed place. I had no trouble settling in and found it was extremely easy to fit in. Most staff are very approachable, and were very happy to help me in any problems I encountered in my work.

The large student population (over 20 this year) also helped me in settling in. I found it very useful to talk to other students before starting my placement regarding what to expect of the Treasury and their thoughts and experiences. I have particularly enjoyed the social side amongst the students and am grateful to have had the opportunity to meet and work with them.

Zahra Yassin
, Debt and Reserves Management Team, HM Treasury - 
Oxford Brookes University

The team I work for in HM Treasury is responsible for a wide array of policy areas. Some of these include, raising the cash to meet the Government’s borrowing needs, managing the UK’s foreign currency reserves and monitoring financial markets.

My main responsibilities are to provide support to my colleagues working on the Government’s Debt Management policy. The objective of this is to raise the cash needed to meet the Government’s borrowing needs in a cost effective way. I also provide commentary and analysis on financial markets. This includes producing a daily report on financial market developments, which is circulated to a wide variety of colleagues within HM Treasury, including the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I also help to produce a monthly market report, which features analysis of the notable movements in equity, capital, foreign exchange and commodity markets.

I have found working for the Government highly fulfilling; as we have to live with the day-to-day decisions made by the Government, it is interesting to understand the rationale behind these decisions. The working environment is supportive and I have been given full access to practical training courses. It is an invaluable experience, which I would recommend for every ambitious economist.

Published 11 October 2011