Tony Blair: ‘AI could automate 40% of DWP tasks’

Former prime minister’s think tank publishes a report claiming that technology could take over a significant portion departments’ workloads and deliver annual savings of £10bn within the next five years

Former prime minister Sir Tony Blair has launched a policy paper pushing the potential for government to save billions of pounds a year through the greater use of artificial intelligence across the public sector.

Blair’s think tank, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, this week published a report suggesting that the adoption of AI across the UK public sector could save around 20% of workforce time – amounting to £10bn a year by the end of the new parliament. In some organisations – in particular the Department for Work and Pensions – technology could take over as much as 40% of workload.

The TBI said that by the end of the next parliament, the annual savings could be £34bn a year. A related paper on impact for the public sector workforce acknowledged that over the two-decade period around 1.15 million jobs would be lost as a result of the drive. It said the cost of those job losses would be redundancy payments in the region of £24bn at today’s prices.

The think tank said the current government – and future governments – could choose how they spent the money that would be saved by the use of AI, either investing the savings in better frontline services or banking the proceeds for HM Treasury.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Blair said some parts of government’s work had potential to yield greater savings from the use of AI than others.

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“Government’s all about process. You can automate a lot of these processes,” he said. “We have a report specifically around the saving of workforce time in the public sector, which we estimate at 20%. But in the DWP… where we’ve done a deep dive with one of the UK’s leading AI companies, we believe that you could automate 40% of the tasks there. And also, by the way, give a much better service to people.”

The TBI report urges ministers to create a “mission control” at the centre of government that would be focused on harnessing technology to drive the adoption of AI technology. It says the move should be complemented by the creation of new chief productivity officers in all major government departments and a new “technology and forecasting unit” in HM Treasury that would explore how the use of AI should evolve.

A study published in March found that around four in five of the government’s decision-based services are highly automatable.

In addition to the further automation of business-as-usual tasks in departments and other parts of the public sector, the Blair Institute is calling for greater use of AI in preventative health and for the introduction of a digital ID system.

It says that could improve services and save citizens time in their interactions with government – as well as  generating £2bn a year through reduced benefit-fraud and improved tax-collection.

Jim Dunton

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