Public sector automation 'would kill off 250,000 jobs'

Automating the public sector would reduce the workforce by almost 250,000 roles, increase efficiency and save the economy billions of pounds, according to a new think tank report.

Reform's report argues that emerging communication technology and AI could replace up to 90% of Whitehall and NHS administrators by 2030, saving over 4 billion a year in wages.

The integration of back office admin technology across multiple practices could also reduce GP receptionist numbers by 24,000.

According to the report's statistics, only 1,640 roles in the 127,000-strong police workforce belong to administrators, however up to 1,590 of these could be replaced by automated technology.

Frontline roles would also be at risk, as technology is now able to perform data collection, and other hardware innovations are capable of administering non-intravenous medications and even anaesthesia during procedures more efficiently than human counterparts. Up to 30% of nurses and between 13% and 31% of doctors could lose their jobs as a result.

"The report finds that the current workforce is a legacy of past approaches. It is built around siloed attitudes of yesterday's governments and fails to embrace technology and new ways of working to meet user's needs in the most effective ways," the Reform press release read.

"That there is one receptionist for every GP should be alarming in a world in which online banking is the norm."

If many of the roles were to be automated, NHS staff would be able to focus on the highest-risk patients and reduce the need for unnecessary hospital admissions, the report argues.

The proposals would engender a completely new approach to the way the UK public sector operates, with flatter hierarchies and less middle management. The report highlights the "agile" approach of the Government Digital Service, which it praises for its work on "self-management teams".

Over 20% of public-sector roles involving "cognitive" decision making and identifying patterns could be better performed by automated technology, Reform said, calling for a 'gig' economy, where workers support themselves "through a variety of flexible jobs acquired on online platforms". This would represent a shift towards a more private sector-style approach to organisational structure, including the use of "shared kitchens and feedback boards" that would "enable spontaneous interactions that will support a new culture of public service innovation".

"Such a rapid advance in the use of technology may seem controversial, and any job losses must be handled sensitively," said Alexander Hitchcock, co-author of the report. "But the result would be public services that are better, safer, smarter and more affordable."

Dale Walker

Dale Walker is the Managing Editor of ITPro, and its sibling sites CloudPro and ChannelPro. Dale has a keen interest in IT regulations, data protection, and cyber security. He spent a number of years reporting for ITPro from numerous domestic and international events, including IBM, Red Hat, Google, and has been a regular reporter for Microsoft's various yearly showcases, including Ignite.