250,000 UK public sector jobs lost to robots by 2030, report predicts
250,000 public sector jobs in the UK could be lost to robots and computers over the next 15 years, according to a new report.
The Reform thinktank states that technology will improve the efficiency of services which in turn will save billions of pounds, albeit at the cost of human employment opportunities.
It said the use of websites and artificially intelligent “chat bots” would remove the need for 130,000 Whitehall administrators - around 90 per cent of the total - by 2030, saving £2.6bn a year.
A further 90,000 NHS administrative posts and 24,000 GP receptionists could be subjected to automation in a similar way, with savings of more than £1.7bn.
Even roles normally associated with human practitioners could fall victim to the march of the machines, with around 30 per cent of nursing activities, such as collecting information and administering non-intravenous medication, suitable for automation.
Doctors also would not be immune, with computers already proving more effective at diagnosing lung cancer, while robots are outperforming human surgeons in routine procedures.
The report also highlights the scope for increased automation in policing through crowd-monitoring drones and facial recognition technology, although it recognises the concerns involved in holding people’s images.
It argues that public services should become more flexible by embracing an Uber-style “gig” economy with workers supporting themselves through a variety of flexible jobs acquired through online platforms.
Such “contingent labour” platforms, it says, could suit hospitals and schools as an alternative to traditional agency models, as well as organisations which experience seasonal peaks in demand such as HMRC at the end of the tax year.
Alexander Hitchcock, the report’s co-author, said: “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.”
Neil Kinson, chief of staff for automation company Redwood Software said: “The implementation of robotics across the public sector will ensure that efficiencies will be gained, simply by ‘taking the robot out the human’.
“That is, freeing staff up from repetitive manual tasks to allow them to focus their efforts on more value-add, strategic activities. However, as long as we remain fixated on the idea that robots replace humans, or narrowly define the sets of tasks to which we can apply robotics, the true potential of robotic process automation will be overlooked.
“Robotics brings the opportunity to completely re-imagine how the entire process is executed – e.g. cash to billing, record to report, procure to pay – as well as the interdependencies between these processes. It’s time for a shift in language on how the ‘robotics revolution’ is defined and explained.”
Last year, online grocery company Ocado demonstrated its automated warehouse that uses more than 1,000 robots remotely controlled with 4G to pick items for delivery.