Rob Palmer

Rob Palmer
Department:Department for Transport
Education: BSc Physics

Reasons for joining GORS

Having applied for several jobs, including a few scientific research-based ones, I accepted an offer from DWP as an Operational Researcher. This appealed to me as it seemed an interesting way to apply many of the skills I had learnt during my physics training in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. This, coupled with a craving for change and learning new things which is where I find much of my motivation, made OR in Government sound like a great opportunity.

Since it can provide the chance to improve the way Government works, and contribute positively to society, I feel my skills and knowledge can be put to better use than perhaps they would be in the private sector. Also, the possibility of engaging in a huge range of different subjects by moving around Government is an excellent motivator (although I still love physics!)

Career path and experience

I started out in DWP in one of the Fraud and Error teams. We produced a six-monthly report on Fraud and Error in Housing Benefit, based on a survey of claimants. Having not done any OR at university this was my first experience of this and as such it provided me with much of my early training. I was responsible for cleaning the data and running some of the processes to produce results. I also developed a couple of new methodologies to give us a better understanding of claimant behaviour, which was my first real experience of new research.

After just over a year I moved to HM Revenue and Customs, where I have done several very interesting projects. Early on, I measured the tax gap relating to employees excluding people on Self Assessment. This particular gap had not been measured before and so this was a high-profile piece of research and I received high praise from Treasury for it.

Another important project I did involved developing a new process for analysing Self Assessment returns and selecting cases for investigation based on multiple types of risk. This has enabled risk profilers to better, and more efficiently, target individuals not paying the right amount of tax. My work has directly benefited the government's coffers by several million pounds per year.

Later, I transferred to the Department for Transport (DfT) to provide the analysis and modelling for the UK Search and Rescue Helicopter procurement project. This was a project to replace the ageing Sea King helicopters with modern aircraft that are more efficient, reliable and capable and to provide the opportunity to optimise the helicopter base locations. My input was critical in ensuring that the bidders proposed base locations and chosen aircraft would enable the service to meet the requirements, such as being able to reach all high risk areas of the UK within 60 minutes.

My work also supported communications with ministers and the public, providing facts, figures and ‘lines to take’ in order to present a case for the new service. It was especially important to demonstrate that the new service will be at least as good as the old in terms of how many lives it will be capable of saving.

The project was extremely successful and has been held up as an example of how to do government procurement right. I’m proud to have contributed to that!

Current role and responsibilities

Once the contract had been signed for the new Search and Rescue Helicopter service, it shifted into the transition programme to implement it. Thus, an analyst was no longer needed.

I therefore transferred to a team within DfT that acts as an internal consultancy that takes on, and charges for, analytical work from all over the department and its agencies. This team is based partly in London and partly in Hastings and I now lead the London part.

We undertake a wide variety of work including analysis of electric vehicle charging points data to understand their usage; various vehicle compliance checks - analysing data from checks of the condition of buses and lorries; utilisation of driving test centres – are they in the right places and does capacity meet demand?; Coastguard Tactical Deployment Tool – creating a tool to allocate coastguards (who perform a similar function to 999 operators) to the right parts of the country at the right times to meet demand.

This role is an excellent opportunity to get a broader view of the department’s work, as well as to gain management experience.

Life in GORS

Being a member of GORS provides the opportunity to do things that may not normally come up in general working life.

For example, I produce graphics and marketing materials for GORS, including the brochure, flyer and timetable posters for our annual conference. In fact, I get to do anything that’s a bit arty, which lets me contribute to GORS more widely in my own way.

The Conference is always a good learning experience, and is a great way to meet other OR professionals from across government and find out what they do.

There are also regular learning events throughout the year which allow us to demonstrate the work we've been involved in and learn what is happening in other Government Departments.

I feel that there is a strong sense of community in GORS. I am in regular contact with people from various other departments and there is a strong social aspect to being a member.