AI in UK Civil Service: Facing a Bureaucracy Revolution

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The UK government has recently declared its intention to explore AI technologies to enhance efficiency and output within the civil service. Duties that AI technologies might undertake encompass administrative tasks, analyzing responses to government consultations and formulating initial replies to parliamentary inquiries.

In recent years, there’s been a noticeable surge in the number of civil servants, with an increase of over 100,000 since 2016, bringing the total to 519,780 in the last year. Simultaneously, the group of employees commanding six-figure salaries has also seen growth. Consequently, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has directed public services to decrease spending to pave the way for tax cuts. He is likely to announce reductions in income tax or national insurance in the upcoming Spring Budget.

In this scenario, AI emerges as a pivotal tool capable of streamlining government bureaucracy and curtailing staffing costs. “It really is the only way, I think, if we want to get on a sustainable path to headcount reduction,” said Dowden, speaking to the Telegraph. He also underlined the critical need for this AI-driven shift because of the expansion of the civil service due to COVID-19 and Brexit readiness measures.

Dowden referred to a recent report by think tank IPPR, which suggested that increased AI adoption could potentially lead to approximately £24 billion in savings for the government, a target he affirmed as worthy of pursuit. Furthermore, he announced similar AI trials within the NHS, spanning numerous areas such as diagnostics and prescription customisation, which in the long run, could result in a saving of hundreds of millions of pounds.

Insisting on the need for relentless pressure for the public sector to embrace AI, the Deputy PM highlighted the contrast with the private sector, stating, “we can’t have the private sector adopting it at pace, and then us being laggards.”

To aid this transition towards AI, the government has plans to double the ‘i.AI’ team — a group of scientists, engineers, and experts commissioned last year to collaborate with various public sector departments in adopting AI – from 35 to 70 personnel.

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