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The role of AI in the public sector

In a recent ‘hackathon’ hosted by AI experts from Microsoft, Whitehall civil servants gathered to discuss the role of AI within the public sector.

There was a particular focus on the technology’s potential to boost productivity, given the current financial challenges facing local services. 

Mike Potter, the government’s chief digital officer, said: “We have to find the things that make the most material differences to people.” 

The aim is to help turn Jeremy Hunt’s vision to increase public sector productivity by 0.5% a year into a reality, as to “stop the state growing ever bigger as a proportion of our output”.

The Home Office released recommendations on 20 Novemeber, aimed at enhancing police productivity, with the potential to save officers up to 38 million hours annually by reducing “unnecessary bureaucracy.” A forthcoming cross-departmental review has “revealed huge opportunities to cut admin, safely harness AI and deliver early interventions to relieve pressure on public services,” Hunt said. 

Which areas of the public sector will be improved by AI? 

Hackathon attendees named the following as areas that they aim to improve with the help of artificial intelligence: 

  • Enhancing call center effectiveness
  • Optimising public contract value
  • Efficiently organising ministerial “red boxes” to enhance decision-making
  • Improved law enforcement
  • Modeling flood defense strategies
  • Advancing skills and training within the public sector

How is AI already making an impact?

“Ask Tom” the automated digital assistant is helping Telford & Wrekin council decrease waiting times by answering queries from the general public e.g. questions about council tax and bin collection.

Gemma Hancox, Telford’s customer contact team manager, commented: “We haven’t reduced headcount, but we have brought in four new services — library, registration of births, deaths and marriages, homelessness and free school meals — all with no extra cost.” 

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