Six months ago I joined UK Export Finance (UKEF): my first role in the Civil Service. Looking back, I wanted to reflect on my experiences, the opportunities that have arisen and how my perceptions of the Civil Service have changed.
From Westminster to Whitehall
Before joining UKEF I worked as an MP’s Parliamentary Assistant or, as the stereotype goes, an MP’s ‘bag carrier’. Regularly running from one side of the Parliamentary estate to the Commons chamber with speeches and briefings in hand did not always help dispel that notion! Likewise, MPs’ assistants would often refer to 'The Thick of It' or 'Yes Minister' when characterising civil servants as passionate advocates of acronyms and committees. Six months in and I now inform my old colleagues that their perception of civil servants is incorrect - mostly!
Last September really did feel like diving into the deep end. In my first week I attended an Executive Committee meeting, worked on Ministerial briefings, Parliamentary Questions (PQs), and attended a training course on Freedom of Information requests. All while meeting new people and trying to get to grips with the unique function of UKEF and the very different world of the Civil Service.
When describing living in London to friends and family back home, I often describe London as a collection of diverse villages. These villages each have a distinct character but come together to make the great city that London is. In many ways UKEF is also a collection of different villages carrying out specialist functions, but we are all united by our mission that no viable British export should fail for lack of finance or insurance.
I feel very grateful that colleagues took the time in my first few weeks to meet me and explain the different divisions and functions of our Department. At no point did I feel like the ‘nuisance newbie’ and I continue to rely often on the generous collaboration of colleagues. When I have expressed an interest in another division’s work, it’s been met by genuine enthusiasm and a willingness to work together.
Proud of what we do
As I have learnt more about the Department and our mission to help UK exporters I have become increasingly proud of what we do. I even welcome that question from family and friends: what exactly do you do and what is UK Export Finance?
In the past six months, my role has already given me a number of opportunities in addition to the day job. Perhaps most rewarding was the opportunity to spend two weeks working in our Minister’s Private Office. This not only gave me the chance to tour the historic Foreign Office, but also to work closely with the Minister and his team.
Working with Private Office gave me the chance to champion a project I suggested. Every time UKEF supports a new business the Minister now sends a letter to the company’s constituency MP. I have found that new ideas and initiatives are really encouraged by UKEF, even from a newbie like me.