From Private Secretary to Policy Fund Management
Ben Pledger (Mathematics, 2002, Lonsdale) started his career after Lancaster by training to teach, but after three years decided to join the Civil Service, initially as a Fast Stream statistician.
Ben had always had an interest in politics and when the opportunity arose, he applied for a Private Secretary role firstly with Paul Burscow and then Lord Heseltine. He is currently Acting Head of Policy for the Regional Growth Fund in the Department of Business Innovation and Skills. He recently attended an event in the Management School and we took the opportunity to ask him about his time at Lancaster and beyond:
What made you choose Lancaster University?
I wanted to go somewhere far from home to ensure I became self-sufficient - either the Midlands or the North West. I also wanted a campus university and not a sprawling city.
What is your fondest memory of your time at Lancaster?
Definitely the friends I made in Freshers' week and with whom I still remain in contact. They are based all over the country, but we meet up fairly regularly.
What was the most valuable part of your student experience?
I took my degree very seriously, but also grew up and gained my independence. We had disagreements, but that helped to make me a better person as I learned life skills and the importance of friendship.
What is your least favourite memory?
Horrible nights out at the Carlton! The sticky floors and having to wait for the bus to get back; you were stranded and couldn't just leave when you wanted to!
What was your favourite student meal/snack?
My friends will tell you that I had a horrendous diet which included olives, cheese, crabsticks and Dairylea lunchables.
Who particularly inspired you at Lancaster and why?
No-one in particular, although I had favourite lecturers and people in Lonsdale such as the college porters and barmen who were great on the pastoral care side.
Have you been back to campus since you graduated in 2002?
I came back in 2008 and again recently to attend a conference event. I used to come back every two years initially for the Roses weekend. It was a bit disconcerting to see that Lonsdale had moved to the other end of campus.
Were you in any student groups at Lancaster?
I was a big darts player and captain of the Lonsdale team.
Is there anything you particularly miss about student life?
Certainly the carefreeness, but on the whole I am pleased to have moved on. I realise that you can't live like a student forever!
Why did you make the change from teaching to the civil service?
I had taught for three years and I was working very hard with the marking, planning etc I wondered what I could do next and was keen to do something with my mathematical background. I saw an opportunity to join the government statistical service and applied whilst I was still teaching.
How did you move into the Private Secretary roles?
Once I entered the Civil Service, I became aware of these roles. My first appointment was as Assistant Private Secretary to Phil Hope, who then lost his seat. I then became Private Secretary to Paul Burscow and then Lord Heseltine. I continued to work long hours, but this time because I wanted to, rather than had to.
How did you make the move from Private Secretary to your current role?
Lord Heseltine published his 'No Stone Unturned' report in 2012 and so my project with him came to an end. I then moved into the job I originally applied for before I was given that appointment which was Acting Head of Policy for the Regional Growth Fund.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I enjoy managing people, seeing them develop and succeed. It may mean losing them in the long run, but I like to see them progress.
What has been your greatest achievement so far (in any aspect of your life?)
My degree - I worked hard and got the result I wanted. I've been quite fortunate and everything has been a consequence; my teaching led to the Fast Stream scheme in the Civil Service.
What advice would you give to today's students?
Make the most of your university experience; it goes so quickly. Work hard and have fun!