Technology can be beneficial to the civil service but not if we forget about the humans involved

18 February 2020

Cabinet Secretary and head of the civil service Sir Mark Sedwill has said that increasing automation and use of artificial intelligence to deliver services will result in a smaller civil service in future.

Sir Mark made the comments in the government’s Civil Service Quarterly, reported by Civil Service World. His statement has raised some concerns with Prospect whose research shows that people working in public service do not think they will be involved in decisions about new technology.

73% of workers in the sector were either “not that confident”, or “not confident at all” that their employer would involve them in decisions about the way technology is implemented.  More than 40% did not think they would receive the necessary training or be helped to update their digital skills.

Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of Prospect, responded:

“Of course Mark Sedwill is right to say that there will be a greater use of AI and other new technology in the civil service in the future, just as there will be in workplaces across the country.

“The challenge is how that change is managed, and our research shows that compared to other workers, civil servants are less confident that they will be involved in decisions about tech or that they will share in the benefits that it could bring.

“If the move to a more technology-driven civil service is going to succeed, Sedwill and others need to focus as much on the humans as they do on the machines.”