Life in the Fast Stream - Stuart Armstrong


Stuart Armstrong, Fast Steam Civil Service

I grew up in the Lake District and went to Lancaster University straight after A-Levels. I’m still waiting to do the gap year! I completed a BA in International Relations and Strategic Studies between 1999-2002 and an MA in Defence and Security Analysis between 2002-2004. My first role after graduation was with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I actually can’t remember how I first became aware of the Fast Stream, but it was probably through the internet.

When I joined the scheme, I was a generalist and chose to go to HMRC as I was really interested in working in the customs and the law enforcement functions. I completed the (then) standard four postings over four years. My postings included time in criminal investigation where I worked on tackling serious fiscal fraud, international intelligence where I led a team based in British embassies overseas, a secondment back to the FCO Afghanistan Drugs Department where I worked on building the capability of the Afghan Police and as a Private Secretary to a Director General.

I successfully completed the Fast Stream in 2010 and went on to be an Assistant Director in Customs enforcement in HMRC. I stayed there for four years and led work on preventing illicit exports from the UK of firearms and military equipment and breaches of international sanctions. I also worked on the Olympics. I found leaving the Fast Stream for a permanent, more senior role to be quite easy as I was keen to have more stability and had a great team to support me. Having been a manager of a team before really helped ease the transition challenge too. 

Since 2014 I have worked in the Department for International Trade where I helped UK companies export goods and services to Africa and South Asia by running activity like trade missions. I then moved to a more senior role in the Food Standards Agency where I led policy work on chemical safety, food allergy and food borne diseases. I have recently been promoted to the Senior Civil Service and have moved to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

My three key pieces of advice to any Lancaster University students considering applying for a career in government, or specifically the Fast Stream programme, are:

I)                   Look at www.gov.uk to build your understanding of the what the Civil Service actually does day in, day out. It’s probably much more varied, interesting and challenging than you might think and it will help you identify areas you might want to work in.

II)                 Use your time at Lancaster to gain experience of leadership, team working, managing projects and money. Roles on the JCR exec and in the student union are perfect for this and can generate useful examples for interviews.

III)                Apply for Fast Stream and non-Fast Stream roles. There are great jobs at every level and promotion can be rapid.

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