Artificial intelligence “could replace two-thirds of public administration jobs” over the next 15 years

Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence is likely to have a big impact on the number of civil servants working in the UK, with two-thirds of roles under threat, a former government HR chief has warned. Rupert McNeil, who was the Civil Services Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) for six years, said MPs’ departments will need to carefully manage the rollout of automated systems and highlighted the lack of risk management and governance by the government as well as program management weaknesses.

Artificial intelligence and automation will replace frontline personnel in the civil service (Photoby pxl.store / Shutterstock.com)

McNeil was speaking to MPs on the Parliament’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee as part of a hearing looking into recruitment issues and bullying within the civil service.

While plans to cut 91,000 civil service jobs were scrapped by Rishi Sunak in November 2022, McNeil said the deduplication of roles was still something he believed in. He also warned that trade unions, ministers and senior civil servants need to forge closer relationships due to the inevitable job cuts from implementing AI.

McNeil also spoke out about weaknesses in senior management, citing a lack of specialist skills across the civil service, and said the organization should be able to grow its talent rather than relying on the private sector. McNeil joined the civil service as a CHRO in 2016 following his time at Lloyds Banking Group, and held the role until 2022. He was also the government’s director general for shared services

He was responsible for implementing the Civil Service People Strategy, examining what needed to be done to attract the most capable and civic-minded people, and focused on new ways of working and how to build a good culture within the Civil Service.

During his tenure, the former CHRO said he noticed there was competition between departments when it comes to the IT workforce.

Frontline work in the civil service must be automated

McNeil commented that the digital transformation of the economy means it is inevitable that some frontline civil service jobs will be automated, pointing to sectors such as banking where technology is replacing many customer-facing and administrative roles.

[Youd have] a team of high skill and higher ability, he explained. Not necessarily the people at the top of the organization, but the people at the management level. McNeil said he believed that by the mid to late 1930s there should be only 150,000 people within the civil service; it currently numbers around half a million, with the majority working for the DWP, the Ministry of Justice, HMRC, the Ministry of Defense and the Home Office.

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For this reason, McNeil said he wanted to see a closer relationship between unions and civil services ministers and their management: I think this is the best way to address some very thorny issues over the next couple of decades, he said. he said she. Something I definitely said when I left [was to] start now having these conversations about the inevitable workforce reductions that will be needed because of AI.

Abandonment of public administration technical teams leads to project delays

Another question posed to McNeill concerned the churn that occurs within the civil service, which he confirmed was a major cause of project delays. One reason for this, he said, is that the system doesn’t incentivize people to stay in work.

He pointed to an issue he saw during his time where there was departmental competition for a small but critical IT skill set between HMRC and DWP, with departments offering pay raises to required staff. How we approached it meant we would have a common set of conditions, she explained. We could not change the HMRC pay scales to DWP pay scales, but we could bring them to the same level with a special allowance.

And the way we’ve encouraged payment from the Treasury is to get rid of contract labor, which is one of the things used to respond to churn, he added. You could put the savings back into these benefits and business cases which have started to ramp up and has been very effective as a way of dealing [churn].

There must be a risk management function in government

McNeil told the committee the government and civil service were not prepared for the challenges and disasters of the 21st century and one reason was due to a lack of risk management for national departments.

If you look at what you have on the national security and defense side from the Joint Intelligence Committee to its intelligence assessment capabilities that is not replicated in any way on the domestic side, McNeil said. So when you have an issue like Covid-19 or Brexit, which are mostly domestic issues, you see that issue and you don’t have the maturity to coordinate.

When asked if the Cabinet Office has sufficient powers to effect change across government, the former CHRO said it lacked some key tools, including managing risk significantly and a compliance. He also commented that while improved during Brexit and Covid-19, program management within the civil service was not adequate.


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