AI could save the public sector millions of hours of time each week, claims report

A new report from Microsoft argues AI could save more than four hours per week on administrative tasks - per staff member across all public sectorsA new report commissioned by Microsoft claims that the scale of administration required of the UK’s public sector is drawing front line workers away from delivering frontline services, and impacting the motivation, engagement and even mental health of large proportions of the public workforce. The research, developed by Dr Chris Brauer, Director of Innovation at Goldsmiths University and Symmetry features in a new report from Microsoft, Harnessing the Power of AI for the Public Sector and argues AI could save more than four hours per week on administrative tasks per staff member across all public sectors.

With an estimated 5.93 million public sector employees in the UK, as of December 2023, this equates to an overall saving of 23 million hours, every week.

In terms of potential impact for specific public sector job roles:

  • Doctors: The analysis argues artificial intelligence could save doctors four hours in admin time each week, equating to 149,596 hours per week across the sector.
  • Nurses: AI could save nurses five hours in admin every week, adding up to 1.8 million hours per week across the sector.
  • Teachers: AI could save teachers two hours in admin time each week, equating to 936,742 hours per week across the sector.
  • Police Officers: AI could save police officers 6.5 hours in admin every week, equating to 1.1 million hours per week across the sector.

Based on surveys of over 1,000 public sector workers, the report claims that managing information and data is the administrative task that takes the biggest proportion of time across the public sector, with each worker spending, on average, more than eight hours doing so every week. The sheer amount of administrative work is significantly impacting staff performance and morale:

  • 45% of public sector respondents say they are ‘drowning in unnecessary administrative tasks’ and that this high administrative workload is negatively affecting their mental health and wellbeing.
  • 55% say the amount of admin work is having a negative impact on their ability to get on with their day job, and 54% feel this is reducing their job satisfaction and motivation.
  • Half of respondents also say high admin workloads are compromising the quality of service they provide (48%) and limits the time they can spend with the public or patients (49%).
  • 57% of all public sector staff say they would prefer to spend less time on administrative tasks, with more than half (52%) feeling like they are always playing catch up, due to the amount of admin.

The report also offers seven key recommendations for the next Government, which would broaden and strengthen the adoption of artificial intelligence throughout the public sector:

  1. Establish a National AI Delivery Centre: Create a centralised unit within Whitehall focused on driving AI adoption across government departments. This centre would pool expertise and resources from government, academia, and industry to develop scalable AI solutions.
  2. Declare ‘AI for All’ Principles: Introduce a set of guiding principles to ensure all public sector employees benefit from AI while being protected from potential risks. This declaration would emphasize the need for AI literacy and continuous learning.
  3. Implement a Comprehensive Upskilling Strategy: Develop a holistic approach to upskilling the public sector workforce. This strategy would target public sector leaders, employees, and the general public, fostering a culture of continuous learning and innovation.
  4. Unlock the Power of Public Sector Data: Break down data silos and treat data as a strategic asset. This involves modernizing data infrastructure and promoting data sharing across government entities to enable seamless AI integration.
  5. Reimagine Procurement Processes: Update procurement mechanisms to prioritize AI technologies. An AI-First policy would ensure the acquisition of cutting-edge technologies that drive transformative change while adhering to ethical standards.
  6. Accelerate Local Government AI Adoption: Support local authorities in scaling successful public-private partnership models. This involves creating networks of ‘change agents’ who can drive AI adoption and share best practices.
  7. Maximise Economic Opportunities: Update the Treasury’s approach to strategically invest in AI technologies across the public sector. This includes introducing an AI Transformation Mandate for all departments to identify and implement AI opportunities.