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Robots could replace 250,000 UK public sector jobs by 2030

Mon 6 Feb 2017

Robot public sector

Robots could replace a forecasted 250,000 UK public sector workers over the next 15 years, according to a new report released by thinktank Reform.

The group suggests that the public sector could become the ‘next Uber’ and workers should be prepared for the rise of automation and the ‘gig’ economy – where workers support themselves through a variety of flexible jobs acquired on online platforms.

The report argues that robots would increase efficiency, as well as save the sector billions of pounds. As an example, it suggests artificial intelligence (AI) solutions will manage day-to-day operations on websites and replace as many as 90% of administrator roles. By 2030, it also sees automation replacing tens of thousands of jobs in the NHS and GP surgeries – saving up to £4 billion each year.

Reform predicts that even doctors and nurses could be faced with robotic competition. It opines that robots could outperform humans at diagnosing some conditions, performing routine procedures, and collecting patient information.

The report advises that public sector employees should learn to embrace a new Uber-style ‘gig’ economy, where workers such as doctors and supply teachers are employed on a locum basis. It further recommends that public services will become “diamond-shaped”, as it employs technology to improve the efficiency and quality of front-line and strategic roles.

‘Twenty per cent of public-sector workers hold strategic, “cognitive” roles,’ says the report. ‘They will use data analytics to identify patterns – improving decision-making and allocating workers most efficiently.

‘The NHS, for example, can focus on the highest-risk patients, reducing unnecessary hospital admissions. UK police and other emergency services are already using data to predict areas of greatest risk from burglary and fire.’

‘Contingent-labour platforms’, it continues, could suit hospital and school settings as replacements for traditional agency frameworks, as well as agencies which experience seasonal peaks such as in HMRC at the end of the tax year.

Reform adds that there is a need for an organisational shift to mirror private sector culture – ‘Shared kitchens and feedback boards, for example, enable the spontaneous interactions that will support a new culture of public-service innovation.’

The report’s co-author, Alexander Hitchcock, commented on the paper: “Such a rapid advance in the use of technology may seem controversial, and any job losses must be handled sensitively. But the result would be public services that are better, safer, smarter and more affordable.”


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