Replace 250,000 public sector jobs with robots, urges think tank Reform in radical workforce overhaul driven by technology

Lynsey Barber
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Robots should replace receptionists, says Reform (Source: Getty)

Automating admin jobs could reduce the public sector workforce by more than a quarter of a million people saving the economy billions of pounds, a leading think tank has suggested.

And adopting technology such as artificial intelligence, chatbots and drones, could radically overhaul the public sector and streamline Whitehall even further, according to a new report from Reform.

Automation could cut 137,000 administrative civil servants jobs, 90,000 NHS administrators and 24,000 GP receptionists with the introduction of self-serve websites and chatbots. Departments should follow the example of HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), which has reduced its admin staff from 96,000 to 60,000 over the course of the past decade.

Read more: The 10 jobs where you're most (and least) likely to be replaced by a robot

But even frontline jobs could be disrupted, with the report suggesting police should use drones and facial recognition technology to fight crime, while AI can be used for diagnosing illnesses.

Meanwhile, some government departments should be run in the style of Uber's "gig economy", with flexible temporary staff being taken on as and when required through online platforms.

The current workforce "is built around siloed attitudes of yesterday’s governments and fails to embrace technology and new ways of working to meet users’ needs in the most effective ways," said the report.

Read more: Londoners can now use an AI chatbot instead of the NHS 111 number

"A traditionalist mentality fails to cultivate a culture of change: mistakes are covered up, risk-aversion is rife and leaders have not built the workforce around the needs of users. That there is one receptionist for every GP should be alarming in a world in which online banking is the norm."

The radical proposals suggest a complete rethink across the public sector with flatter hierarchies cutting out middle management and an "agile" approach pioneered by the Government Digital Services (GDS) team.

“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," said Alexander Hitchcock, co-author of the report.

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