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AI skills: A call to action for local and regional government

The public sector in the UK has been grappling with the challenge of “doing more with less” for four decades. With high demand, squeezed budgets, and stretched resources, the sector is now turning its gaze towards Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a potential solution.

Guest post by Jess Coomer from Microsoft UK

AI’s advances offer immense potential for the public sector to revolutionise its interaction with residents. From simple productivity gains to more complex applications like managing contact centre calls, preparing case notes, or analysing images to remove graffiti, AI has shown promising use cases.

The question now, is how do we turn these ideas into reality?
The answer lies in skilling.
To harness these technologies, organisations must seize skilling opportunities and foster a culture of continuous learning. With a fully skilled and engaged public sector, we can build AI systems that are safe, effective, and fair for everyone.

The skilling opportunity

Digitisation has significantly improved the working lives of employees and made services more accessible for residents over the past four decades. The recent breakthrough of workplace-ready AI promises another leap in capabilities.

But how can local authorities keep up? And why now?

Local authorities aspire to skill their residents and employees, invest in infrastructure, and create inclusive economic growth. However, delivering these goals presents challenges: services are in high demand, social care costs are continually rising, and recruitment for digital roles remains challenging.

AI offers enormous potential here because it can enhance productivity and reduce digital debt. Our work with the public sector has already demonstrated the benefits. However, AI won’t simply “fix” work — leaders will need to help employees learn to use it effectively and responsibly to reap the benefits. Therefore, comprehensive skilling in AI should be a primary focus.

A culture of learning can make AI a success

AI is more than just another digital technology that government organisations need to learn. Building skills in AI promises to unlock a vast range of other benefits and even compensate for skill gaps in other areas.

Encouraging a culture that embraces continuous learning will be essential to maximise the benefits. Teams may face a learning curve while adapting to new features, so training and support will be required to help employees feel comfortable using tools effectively.

Investing in learning is crucial for making the most of AI

This means allowing people the time to become familiar with the technology and to experiment with it as it develops. Empowerment must come from the top, meaning leaders must be the initial drivers of change. But it can then become a virtuous circle. Microsoft research indicates that over three-quarters of employees would be more inclined to remain at a job if they were given more opportunities for learning and development.

AI can help support this learning culture. It can help leaders understand their skill gaps and provide the necessary training to fill them. With AI and a culture of continuous learning, the public sector can look forward to a future of increased productivity and improved service delivery.

Microsoft’s guide, “Building skills for an AI-enabled public sector”, aims to help leaders across local and regional government to understand AI’s potential and build the sector’s AI skills to benefit employees and citizens.

We know that the journey towards AI looks different for every organisation, which is why we have created an AI learning companion that includes persona-based recommendations, so you can get up to speed on getting the most from AI.

To learn more download our guide: Building skills for an AI-enabled public sector

You are also welcome to take part in the free Change Agent training programme.

The guide has been produced by:

Simon Lambert (Chief Learning Officer), Paul Griffiths (Public Sector Skills Lead) and Jess Coomer (Industry Go to Market Lead) from Microsoft UK


  • Robin Denton, Director – Local Government for Microsoft UK
  • Tony Ellis, Service Director of ICT for Buckinghamshire Council
  • Francis Hutchings, Business Relationship Manager with Haringey Council
  • Mark Lumley, President of Socitm and Director of ICT and Digital at the London Borough of Hounslow
  • Andrea McCheyne, Copilot Programme Manager for Scottish Water