Treasury economics chief eyes better knowledge-sharing across government

Civil service network seeks to build pan-Whitehall expertise in areas such as payment-by results and agent-based modelling

By Jim Dunton

09 Sep 2016

The Government Economic Service has set out plans to improve the way it shares knowledge with the rest of the civil service.

The GES is the professional body for economists in the UK public sector and has a federal structure. Service members are employed by individual departments or devolved nations, but central functions are carried out by the Government Economic and Social Research Team, based in HM Treasury. 

Its just-published 2020 Strategy says recent experience with analytical forums such as the Public Sector Efficiency Group suggest there are further benefits to be derived through better collaboration on shared interests. 

The strategy says that the learning can be applied to other areas to help spread specialist knowledge.

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“We will encourage the growth of ‘GES Networks’ based around an area of cross-cutting economic analysis,” it says. “Examples could include agent-based modelling, labour economics, or design of payment-by-results policies. 

“They will facilitate peer-to-peer learning, deepen expertise, and contribute to important cross-government projects. 

“They will also provide a critical mass for economists to help each other develop infrequently needed skills, which are nevertheless essential that the GES maintains and in-house capability.”

Dave Ramsden, chief economic adviser to the Treasury and ​GES head, said the strategy was aimed at strengthening the profession and “continually developing our members to help them become effective economists and civil servants at all levels”.

Ramsden added that he expected the next few years to be “challenging” for economists, as the United Kingdom forged a new relationship with the European Union after June’s referendum result.

“These challenges will require us to work flexibly across organisational boundaries and quickly develop expertise in new areas, such as international trade, regulation, environmental, and agricultural economics.”

The strategy did not go into detail about how it expected the civil service to strengthen its capabilities.

“Much of this will be led within departments, but the GES will be proactive in working with them and ensuring that we are able to quickly develop expertise and knowledge is able to be shared across government,” it said.

The 2020 Strategy also stresses the need for the GES to ensure public-sector have  a “clear and comprehensive offer” in terms of their career path.

It said 2015'​s Civil Service People Survey showed solid evidence of a drop in engagement scores among Grade 6 and 7 economists across “almost all departments”. The strategy said the finding was in contrast to the levels of engagement of both more junior assistant economists and higher-level Senior Civil Service Colleagues.

“An underlying theme seems to be a lack of direction, support and advice in terms of career progression,” it said.

The GES said it aimed to have established a talent management programme for economic advisers by the start of 2018, and that the programme would provide training and mentoring for those who wanted to develop their careers.

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