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Around 16% of total public sector jobs in the UK could be automated by 2030 as automation technology evolves while public sector budgets recede.
Research from Deloitte predicts that while many public sector jobs, – such as those in education and caring – are still at a lower risk of automation, there are many roles in administration and operations that are easy to automate.
As a result, Deloitte predicts that more than 861,000 jobs in the public sector could be automated by 2030, with £17bn cut off the public sector wage bill.
In the UK public sector, 1.3 million (27%) of the total workforce are in administrative and operative roles, which are the most repetitive and predictable. To address this, the London Borough of Enfield uses a software robot to provide customer services so it can redirect resources.
The north London council is using the artificial intelligence platform from IPSoft, known as Amelia, which was launched in 2014.
The platform has an understanding of the semantics of language and can learn to solve business process queries like a human. It can read 300 pages in 30 seconds and learn through experience by observing the interactions between human agents and customers.
The council said Amelia will free up staff from repetitive staff and enable them to offer more valuable support to citizens.
UK local government administrative roles fell from 99,000 in 2001 to 87,000 in 2015, and are projected to fall to 4,000 by 2030, said Deloitte.
Another 2.6 million public sector jobs are interactive roles requiring a high degree of personal interaction, which are much less likely to be automated, while 20% require strategic thinking and complex reasoning, which are at the lowest risk of automation.
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All sectors of the UK economy will be affected by automation in the next 20 years, with 74% of jobs in transportation and storage, 59% of jobs in wholesale and retail, and 56% of jobs in manufacturing having a high chance of being automated, according to Deloitte.
Mike Turley, global head of public sector at Deloitte, said across all sectors of the economy, technological advances mean that repetitive and predictable tasks are increasingly undertaken by software and hardware robots.
With many jobs difficult to automate in the public sector, the need to reduce costs will put repetitive jobs in the firing line.
“The public sector has a high number of public-facing roles, particularly those in areas such as education and caring. These will be relatively safe from automation and could see the public sector affected less than other sectors,” said Turley.
“However, automation still has significant potential to support cost reduction, meet citizens’ expectations of public services, free up real estate, save staff time and improve productivity.”
He said automation is already being used in local government for data entry, such driverless trains.
“Automation will not displace employees overnight, its impact is gradual and manageable and there could well be social or political resistance to the full deployment of technology in place of people,” said Turley.
“Our wider research on automation also shows that while jobs are displaced by automation, new, higher-skilled and better paying jobs are created as a result.”