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My secondment to the BBC: Olivia Podmore

Natasha Bance

This blog is part of our Analysis in Government Month 2023 series. You can find more articles and resources on our Analysis in Government Month hub.

In January 2023, I was fortunate enough to spend three months on secondment to BBC News. The secondment challenged me to work outside my comfort zone and taught me the benefits of different ways of working.

I have worked in the Civil Service since 2017. Most of my work since 2018 has been on the topic of trade analysis, so I was used to my work feeling consistent and (dare I say it) predictable. From my first day at the BBC, that all changed.

At the BBC, my work changed from day to day, and even hour to hour. In the morning, I could be advising on what recent data revealed about increases in the number of stay-at-home dads, while by the afternoon I was frantically live fact-checking various statements made during the Prime Ministers’ Question Period. It forced me out of my comfort zone and the variety of different experiences I had was one of the most interesting aspects of the secondment.

Highlights from my secondment

I was lucky (or perhaps unlucky!) that the Spring Budget fell during my secondment. This provided me with a unique chance to witness the behind-the-scenes chaos but perfectly-executed-results that accompany major news items at the BBC. Days before the Budget were spent guessing and researching important topics that could be covered. This included speaking to various thinktanks and attending the BBC’s traditional pre-Budget conference.

On the day of the Budget, I was charged with noting down all the Chancellor’s main figures as he spoke. This enabled the BBC to produce a chart analysing public sector borrowing 30 minutes before the figures were officially released. In the news business, any advantage, no matter how small, is beneficial!

Later that evening, I sat with the producers as they used that very chart as part of the 6pm news segment covering the Budget. Despite the hours  spent on Budget preparations, analysis, and on-the-day work across numerous teams at the BBC, we were allocated just 3 minutes on the evening news program. This really highlights  just how much news is being reported at any moment each day.

I also had the chance to do some field work with the BBC. As part of my task to look ahead for news-worthy statistical releases, I noticed an upcoming release on home repossessions, or forced evictions. I told the relevant team about the release and  they invited me to come to Bristol to watch them prepare a news segment on the topic. I sat with the reporter and his team as they discussed and edited a video interview with a family who had recently been evicted. On the day of the release, I helped them navigate the data and provided them with the best lines to capture the trends in evictions. It was a powerful experience to witness how they combined impersonal data with real-life consequences to truly humanise what the statistics were showing.

What I learned

Throughout my time at the BBC, I learned a lot about:

  • how to quickly navigate government statistics
  • the challenge of writing headlines succinctly
  • the important role that the news plays in highlighting and fairly interpreting the important updates that constantly surround us

The secondment was an amazing experience and I would strongly recommend it to anyone!

Olivia Podmore
Natasha Bance
Olivia Podmore currently works at the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), where she works in international trade. She leads the World Trade Organisation (WTO) analyst team, which provides analysis to support Defra’s interests and obligations at the WTO.