Experts predict technology will have significant impact on administrative and caring roles, while also creating ‘higher-skilled, better-paying’ positions

More than 850,000 public sector jobs could be automated by the end of the next decade, according to new research from Deloitte and the University of Oxford.

The State of the State report suggested that 861,000 state-funded roles in the UK could be lost to automation by 2030, reducing the taxpayer-funded wage bill by £17bn and freeing up office space for sale.

The report predicted that just 4,000 local government administrative positions would remain in 2030. The number of such roles has already fallen in recent years, from 99,000 in 2001 to 87,000 in 2015.

More than half of care worker and home carer jobs would disappear over the 15 years to 2030, according to the report, which also said nurse numbers would drop by 8,000.

The number of senior fire, ambulance and prison officers has already fallen from 10,000 in 2001 to 9,900 in 2015 and was projected by Deloitte to fall to 8,000 by 2030.

The study said robots could replace humans in data input roles. “That is a current burden in shared-service arrangements, such as those in local government, where legacy systems may not be interoperable,” it said. “Robotic process automation now provides a software alternative.”

The report found that automation has significant potential for supporting cost reduction, meeting citizens’ expectations, boosting productivity and freeing up employees’ time.

Deloitte global head of public sector Mike Turley said: “We are already seeing examples of technology playing a role in the public sector. Robotic processes are supporting local government in their data entry, driverless trains are becoming more widespread and sensor technology is being used in hospitals and care homes to monitor patients and give nurses and carers more time for quality patient interaction.

“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. 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.”

Sue Evans, president of the Public Service People Managers’ Association, said she was not surprised by the findings. “Local government funding is in such an appalling state that councils are looking for ways to reduce time-consuming face-to-face contact,” she said. “There is some very interesting work going on across the country with robotics.

“HR has a big job getting people to think differently about work and how they present information to allow people to solve things for themselves. We have to get away from the nanny state attitude of having all the answers.”  

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