Creon Butler: Case study

at HM Treasury

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Senior Adviser, International and European Union Group, HM Treasury

The 2008-9 financial crash marked a watershed for the UK economy. It was clear, as we emerged, that our economic model had to change radically – relying more on investment and exports to drive growth, and less on consumption and government spending. But what did this mean in practice? What new technologies should we invest in? How were changes in the global economy, and new threats to world food supply and public health, changing the environment in which we would have to compete?

My job at HM Treasury involves negotiating with other G20 countries to co-ordinate our economic policies, with a strong emphasis on the medium term and on the structural policies required to bring about lasting change. When I heard about the CSaP Fellowship, it seemed a unique way to get insights into the broader context for my work. And that it has certainly proved.

My two-year Fellowship began with a packed week of up to seven meetings a day with academics working on a very broad range of subjects – plant sciences, clinical microbiology, computer science, manufacturing technology, process innovation, international business and many more. The common thread was the way the world environment was changing, and the risks and opportunities this created for the UK.

Meeting some of the smartest and most thoughtful people in these fields, one-to-one, for an hour at a time, I had the chance to ask any questions I wanted to, from the basic to the advanced, and to piece together my own answers to the really big questions that underlie my professional work. Remarkably, the academics managed to make difficult technical subjects incredibly clear, even when I had practically no prior knowledge.

Since my introductory week, I have kept in touch with a number of those I met. For example, I went back recently to Cambridge to attend a fascinating seminar on the rise of the emerging powers, organised by Amrita Narlikar in the Department of Politics and International Studies. This came just as I was working on the preparations for the Chancellor’s annual Economic and Financial Dialogue with India.

I could cite many other examples from my experience so far. But a common theme is the way the kinds of discussion I have had have opened up new perspectives and new ways of looking at the policy issues I am working on. Some of the knowledge I have gained has been immediately useful; other bits will kick in down the road, but I have no doubt they will be useful. And if I, or a colleague at HM Treasury, need help in any of these fields, I know I will be able to pick up the phone to one of the leading thinkers in the field.