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Is automation the future for public sector jobs?

University of Oxford and Deloitte has suggested that automation could take over 850,000 public sector jobs by the end of the next decade

According to predictions from experts, caring and administrative roles will be significantly impacted by technology; however, better-paid and higher-skilled positions will be created.

Research conducted by the University of Oxford and Deloitte has suggested that automation could take over 850,000 public sector jobs by the end of the next decade. In the report, The State of the State, researchers claim that by 2030 as many as 861,000 state-funded roles could be lost to automation. This would free up the amount of office space available and reduce the wage bill, which is taxpayer-funded, by £17bn.

The predictions state that only 4,000 administrative positions in local governments would remain by 2030. The number of these roles has already reduced in recent years, falling to 99,000 in 2001 and 87,000 in 2015. Other predictions suggest that over half of home carer and care worker jobs would disappear in the next 15 years, with nursing roles also dropping to 8,000.

Roles for senior prison, ambulance and fire officers have already fallen to 9,900 in 2015; by 2030, Deloitte predicts this will fall to 8,000.

It is suggested within the study that data input roles could be taken over by robots. It is also suggested that there is significant potential for automation to reduce costs, boost productivity, meet citizens’ expectations and free up the time of employees.

Speaking about the findings, Mike Turley, the global head of public sector at Deloitte, said that the role technology is playing in the public sector is already being witnessed. It is being used in hospitals in the form of sensor technology; it is helping driverless trains to become more widespread; it is assisting local government with data entry; and it is monitoring patients to provide carers and nurses with more quality time to interact with patients.

Turley also insisted that employees will not be displaced overnight by automation and that the impact of technology would be manageable and gradual; in addition, he admitted that there may be political or social resistance to the full deployment of using technology to replace people. He went on to say that wider research has found that although some roles can be replaced by automation, there would be better-paying, higher-skilled roles created as a direct result.

The president of the Public Service People Managers’ Association, Sue Evans, said that the findings came as no surprise. Due to financial constraints, councils are constantly looking for ways in which they can reduce their face-to-face contact with people, as this is so time consuming. She added that robotics are being used in a number of interesting ways across the country.

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