Artificial Intelligence
In 90% of stroke units across England, advanced AI tools have halved the time it takes to treat stroke patients and tripled their chances of living independently after a stroke. DADO RUVIC/Reuters

In a bid to explore how artificial intelligence (AI) can revolutionise the public sector and increase productivity without breaking the bank, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, John Glen, hosted a meeting with AI experts on October 11, 2023.

The discussions revolved around the safe and secure use of AI to enhance public services and find ways to balance public spending with the need to manage taxes more efficiently.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, has been vocal about the need to rein in public spending, which cannot continue to outpace economic growth without adversely affecting taxpayers. Consequently, Glen has been tasked with overseeing the Public Sector Productivity Review, with the results expected to be published in the autumn.

During the meeting, Glen emphasised that AI, when employed safely and responsibly, could be a vital driver of productivity growth within the public sector. The benefits of AI implementation were evident in various sectors, with cutting-edge AI tools already making a difference in England's stroke units. These AI tools assist clinicians in treating stroke patients more efficiently, cutting treatment time in half and significantly increasing patients' chances of independent living post-stroke.

Glen's roundtable discussions included input from both academia and industry, offering valuable insights into how AI can be harnessed effectively. It was evident that companies were already using AI to benefit their employees and customers. AI has been instrumental in enhancing customer experiences and has shown remarkable results in terms of productivity.

He also cited an example from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, where AI has been employed to tackle tedious and repetitive tasks. This has resulted in an impressive 25,000 working hours saved, underlining the immense potential of AI in increasing efficiency and reducing costs.

The role of AI in the UK

The chief secretary underscored the United Kingdom's burgeoning AI landscape, boasting an influx of £18 billion in private investment since 2016. In the 2022 Government AI Readiness Index, the UK secured the third position, the highest in Western Europe. However, the UK's standing in the public sector category was considerably lower, ranking tenth.

In light of this, Glen solicited opinions on what it would take to implement AI safely and responsibly in the public sector, as well as addressing the current challenges that may be hindering progress.

In a statement, the chief secretary emphasised the importance of public services becoming more productive. He expressed concerns about the sustainability of an unchecked cycle of spending increases, highlighting the potential consequences for taxpayers.

He said: "Through the use of safe AI, we can unchain our nurses, teachers, police officers and civil servants from time-consuming admin - freeing them up to help the taxpayer."

To further delve into the role of digital transformation, AI and innovation in driving productivity, Glen participated in Google Cloud's flagship annual event, Google Next London. In his speech, the chief secretary emphasised the importance of these technologies and innovations, highlighting their potential to revolutionise public services. The event witnessed the presence of public sector decision-makers and business giants such as Unilever, John Lewis and BT.

The meeting hosted by Chief Secretary John Glen serves as a significant step in the UK's efforts to harness the potential of AI to improve public services and reduce costs. As the government grapples with the challenge of maintaining fiscal responsibility, AI offers a promising path toward achieving a balance between public spending and efficient management of taxpayers' money.

The insights gained from this gathering of experts will play a crucial role in shaping the future of AI implementation in the UK's public sector and the upcoming Public Sector Productivity Review promises to be a pivotal resource in this endeavour.