Wednesday 10th October 2007 by C. Freeman
Treasury official, Paul West, visited Brooke Weston on a recent fact-finding tour. Mr West is the Treasury's Schools Capital Policy Adviser. His main role is overseeing how the government's schools capital budget of £6.4 billion (2007-8) is allocated across different priorities. This includes monitoring to ensure that delivery of the programmes is timely, good value for money, affordable within spending constraints and dealing with the development or approval of any new or novel changes in approach to the delivery of the programmes.
Mr West, who has an economics degree and MSc in development economics, has worked in the Civil Service for ten years but has only just taken on his new role.
He said: 'A big focus is overseeing the 'Building Schools for the Future' programme, which has now been integrated with the Academies building programme. Together these are currently investing over £2 billion pounds a year in building new secondary schools or refurbishing existing buildings.' He liaises with the Department for Children, Schools and Families (formerly the DfES) and 'Partnership for Schools' on the programme, which is being rolled out in 15 waves of investment. Funds have already been allocated to authorities in the first six waves, which targeted areas of deprivation and greatest need.
Mr West, who visited Brooke Weston as part of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust 'Futures Vision' tour, said: 'I'm very impressed with the facilities here and the ethos of the College. The library was very impressive, as was the amount and use of new technology. The IT skills of the students are excellent and the technology is used in very imaginative ways.'
An increasing investment in schools means the capital investment total is set to rise to over £8.2 billion per year in just four year's time, and more funds will now go into strategic primary sector investment.
Mr West said: 'The government is now putting into place a primary school investment programme, to complement the Building Schools for the Future programme for secondary schools. Some extra money was allocated to primary school investment as part of the recently announced Comprehensive Spending Review and one of the big issue we're trying to take forward is putting primary schools at the heart of the community É providing facilities, such as libraries, IT facilities and Children's Centres that can be used by the wider community.'
Mr West would recommend a career in the Civil Service to anyone who is interested in developing and implementing public policy. There is a good career structure and a wide variety of departments to work in. So far he has worked with the Office of the Rail Regulator, the telecommunications regulator OFTEL (now OFCOM), and the Cabinet Office, before ending up at HM Treasury. 'There are several ways of becoming a policy advisor in the Civil Service, firstly you can apply for an externally advertised vacancy after having already got some outside work experience (as I did), secondly as a graduate you can apply to the 'fast-stream' of the Civil Service, which is a fast track route to becoming a policy adviser or thirdly, you could join the civil service in a business support role and gradually work your way up. Obviously, you need to be fairly well educated and have an analytical approach to problem solving, but there's plenty of scope for work, both in this country and abroad in institutions such as the European Commission.'
But it's not all top level meetings, high finance and billion pound budgets - Mr West has recently returned from Limpopo (formerly the Northern Province in South Africa) where he and a friend were carrying out research for the Rough Guide, dodging giraffes and making sure all the entries in the travel guide are still up-to-date!