AI could automate 84% of repetitive service transactions across government, UK half way to net zero: news in brief

By on 04/04/2024 | Updated on 04/04/2024
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Global Government Forum’s weekly news roundup of public service intelligence

AI could help automate around 84% of repetitive service transactions across government

A recent report from The Alan Turing Institute found that AI could help automate around 84% of repetitive transactions across 200 government services.

According to researchers, 201 of almost 400 transactional government services examined – such as applications for passports or benefits – require a decision and an exchange of information between government and a citizen. These are the kind of services that could be automated by AI – and researchers say they believe 84% could be easily automated.

Dr Jonathan Bright, the head of AI for public services and head of online safety at The Alan Turing Institute, said: “AI has enormous potential to help governments become more responsive, efficient and fair. Even if AI could save one minute per transaction, that would be the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of hours of labour saved each year.”

He said that achieving responsible and accurate automation with AI “will require a lot of work” in government – but the “huge benefit justifies the investment needed” and could make government services more efficient and citizen-oriented, improve public satisfaction, cut costs and free up civil servants’ time to focus on other tasks.

The UK government’s Public Sector Productivity Programme has launched a number of pilots to test the ability of AI to automate back office functions in the National Health Service and other public services with the aim of unlocking this potential. Recent GGF articles have also looked at how government digital chiefs are viewing the powers and perils of AI, as well as how Canadian government departments are balancing AI optimism with caution.

Artificial intelligence developments are happening at pace in government. To help public servants stay up to date, Global Government Forum has launched a new AI Monitor newsletter. You can read the latest edition here – looking at AI takeaways from GGF’s Innovation 2024 conference and more.

Subscribe to receive GGF’s AI Monitor, as well as monthly newsletters on management and workforce, data and technology, and sustainability.

UK civil service hit by ‘chronic’ pay and recruitment issues

The effective operation of the UK government is being hindered by low pay, a parliamentary committee has found.

The Public Accounts Committee has warned that Whitehall is increasingly unable to keep staff because salaries have declined in real terms for a decade. As a result, staff satisfaction is lower and recruitment of the specialists government needs in areas such as digital skills and procurement harder, its report warned.

In his evidence to the committee, outgoing civil service chief operating officer Sir Alex Chisholm said that the decline in pay was “a chronic rather than an acute problem”, adding: “[If] you look at it on a 10-year view, paying less and less in real terms year on year at every grade, bar the bottom one, must be storing up increasing problems of competitiveness with the wider economy. Effectively, the discount required to work in the civil service has been growing for all of that period, which is why a key part of the Civil Service People Plan is not only about trying to fix the recruitment time to market and quite immediate issues like that, but there is a much bigger reward strategy that needs to be produced as part of that, because that is a really big strategic issue for the civil service.”

The recent Civil Service People Plan, which runs from 2024 to 2027, sets out a vision for a smaller, more efficient and more productive civil service, where civil servants are rewarded for delivering for the public. However, the committee warned that the plan omits crucial detail on how it will meet its aims and how success will be judged.

Dame Meg Hillier MP, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said “it is welcome to see government pointing in an ambitious direction with a plan for a smaller, better paid and more highly skilled civil service, but these outcomes will not materialise without more specific aims”.

She added: “For too long Whitehall has found itself in a losing recruitment battle with the private sector, without the right data, curiosity or willingness to act to tackle the problem. The challenges this country faces are immense – an ageing population, climate change and a more volatile and hostile world, to name a few. Whitehall needs to plan to ensure it has the right skills and rewards to deliver.”

The PAC report comes as Gallup research found that one in four US federal government employees report “very often” or “always” feeling burned out at work, and another two in five report “sometimes” feeling burned out.

The report, based on data collected quarterly in 2023 from 5,410 survey respondents, found that managers (35%) experience burnout at an even higher rate than individual contributors (23%).

Respondents cite workload as a major factor in government employee burnout, and employees of many other governments have also raised concerns about increasing workloads.

A majority of public and civil servants around the world told Global Government Forum last year that their workload has increased since 2020 – and an even higher proportion think that their workloads are going to increase further.

The global citizen experience survey, undertaken with knowledge partner Appian, also revealed how public servants rate the quality of the services they provide for citizens – and how they rate the government and private sector services they use themselves.

Read in full: Global citizen experience survey: How public services are standing up to unprecedented pressure

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Australia’s Digital ID Bill passes Senate

Australia is on the verge of implementing an economy-wide Digital ID system that will provide a way to securely verify users who access government services and businesses.

The legislation will support an accreditation scheme for private sector digital ID service providers, and help to grow the system into Australian states and territories. The government said creating a digital ID system was “a critical capability and… one of the ways the government is keeping Australians safe and responding to the increase in third party data breaches”.

Global Government Forum’s Digital Leaders Study in 2021 identified strong digital ID systems as vital to realising the vision of seamless wraparound services, but many governments have faced what the UK government has called “misconceptions” over their potential use.

Announcing the bill late last year, Katy Gallagher, Australia’s minister for finance, said that the provisions of the bill aimed to make all online transactions easier and safer for Australians. She said improving online safety was a priority for the government, and that the bill would “ensure strong independent oversight” for the expansion of services from mid-2024 onwards.

“We’ve spoken with business, community and privacy groups to ensure the bill will deliver the privacy safeguards, accreditation options and consumer safeguards they expect,” she said.

Register now for Global Government Forum’s newsletters, including a monthly Digital and Data Monitor

UK ‘half way to net zero’

Provisional data has revealed that the UK’s greenhouse emissions have been cut by 53% compared to 1990, or 50% when including emissions from international aviation and shipping.

The data from the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero shows that electricity supply and homes show big declines in emissions, as the country shifts to renewable energy sources. These statistics from recent years remain affected by the unprecedented economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the government said the long-term trend shows that the UK is rapidly driving down emissions.

The report also stated that since 2010, the UK has attracted £300bn in low carbon investment, with a further £100bn expected by 2030, supporting up to 480,000 UK jobs.

A recent Global Government Forum webinar looked at how governments from around the world are funding green investment and how sustainability can be embedded in government spending decisions. Senior representatives from Sweden, Estonia and the European Commission discussed how integrating climate action and government budgeting focuses minds, with Mattias Frumerie, climate ambassador and head of the delegation to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Sweden’s Ministry of Climate and Enterprise, emphasising the importance of the positive feedback loop that policy, technology and finance have on one another in climate reform.

“Once you accelerate your policy action, you will also create the demand for more innovative technology,” he said. “Once that kind of technology is in place, you would also feel that you’re confident in accelerating your policy action.”

Read the webinar report in full: Money talks: Integrating climate action and government budgeting focuses minds, say European leaders

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About Richard Johnstone

Richard Johnstone is the executive editor of Global Government Forum, where he helps to produce editorial analysis and insight for the title’s audience of public servants around the world. Before joining GGF, he spent nearly five years at UK-based title Civil Service World, latterly as acting editor, and has worked in public policy journalism throughout his career.

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