Automation ‘could replace 250,000 public sector administrators’

By on 06/02/2017 | Updated on 24/09/2020
HM Revenue and Customs has already reduced its administrative headcount from 96,000 to 60,000

Automation could lead to almost a quarter of a million UK public sector administrative roles being made redundant, according to a new report.

In a new report, the think tank Reform said that, over the next 15 years, technology could allow central government departments to reduce headcount by almost 132,000 of the total, saving £2.6bn in wages.

It also said that automation could free up time for workers in frontline roles, such as police officers and teachers, along with chief executives and senior managers.

The report said: “Cutting numbers should not be seen as an end in itself; technology should replace jobs where it can deliver a better service, as well as a more cost-efficient one.”

Replacing civil servants with computers would enable public sector organisations to move to a “diamond-shaped” model, where the bottom tier of administration is reduced to almost nothing.

According to the calculations in the report, 91,000 of the current 113,000 NHS administration roles could also be made redundant by new technology, providing another £1.7bn of savings.
Such changes could eventually lead to a radical change in government structure, replacing departments with teams which are formed to work on specific projects.

Its report said: “A less hierarchical, self-management model is suited to organisations which must respond to unpredictable demand. These models put much more power into the hands of those executing tasks, which, it is argued, allows those closest to the problems to solve them and does not rely on removed management to deliver flawless solutions.”

Last year, UK technology industry body TechUK told a committee of MPs: “It does not have to be the case that technology will replace people but rather how could AI, robotics and autonomous systems free up human resources so that they can be used more productively and generate more value.”

However, Reform’s report said that administrative functions can, “in many instances, be fully automated and replaced” through integrated working. At a senior level, however, technology would be more likely to improve efficiency, it said.

HM Revenue and Customs has already reduced its administrative headcount from 96,000 to 60,000 by expanding online services and providing better real-time information.

Last year, Enfield Council in London hit the headlines after installing artificial intelligence to respond to queries from citizens. The council said there were no plans to replace any of their 50 call centre workers.

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See also:

New pay system saving Canada’s government $50m a year rolled out today

India to roll out cashless food subsidies system

From counting figures to reconfiguring: the changing role of the government finance chief

UK government’s shared services programme cost more than it saved, report warns

UK government departments to face further cuts, chancellor reveals in budget


About Colin Marrs

Colin is a journalist and editor with long experience in the government and built environment sectors. He cut his teeth in local newspaper journalism before moving to Inside Housing in 1999. He has worked in a variety of roles for built environment titles including Planning, Regeneration & Renewal and Property Week. After a spell at advertising industry bible Campaign magazine, he became a freelancer in 2010. Since then he has edited, local government finance publication and contributed news and features to Civil Service World, Architects’ Journal, Social Housing, management titles and written white papers for major corporate and public sector clients.


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