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New Data: AI could take four hours of admin time, every week, off Council workers’ plates

Robin Denton, Director: Local Government at Microsoft UK writes:

The potential uses of AI in the public sector in the UK are remarkably broad

But one area of immediate and remarkable promise lies in reducing administrative burden for everyone – from office-based council staff to frontline social workers.  

A new report, ‘Harnessing the Power of AI for the Public Sector‘, features recent research from Goldsmiths, University of London, in collaboration with Microsoft, and finds significant gains in efficiency are possible. Due to both the scale of the admin burden on workers and the time savings AI could deliver.

The admin burden takes its toll   

Goldsmiths’ analysis[1] suggests AI could save each public sector worker more than four hours a week on administrative tasks.

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.

Researchers found simply managing information and data is taking each worker more than eight hours every week.

The same data reveals this is having a major impact on staff performance and morale. A striking 45% of public sector respondents say they are ‘drowning in unnecessary administrative tasks’ and 45% again say this high admin workload is negatively affecting their mental health and wellbeing.

Additionally, nearly half of respondents also say that these high admin workloads are compromising the quality of service they provide and limiting the time they can spend with the public or patients.

These findings highlight the urgent need for solutions to improve working conditions and service. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, 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, as a result.

Empowering council workers

When workers get to experiment with AI themselves, they quickly see the benefits.

Goldsmiths’ research shows public sector workers who use AI at least once per month believe the technology could save between 25-50% of the time they spend on admin.

This could be by:

  1. Summarising meetings.
  2. Reducing manual notetaking or transcribing.
  3. Streamlining how tasks or actions are triaged.
  4. Decreasing time spent on compliance reporting.

All of which ultimately enables people to spend more time on the front line.

Public sector staff who use AI at least once a month for administrative work, also report…

  • they complete tasks more quickly (46%),
  • finish more tasks (33%),
  • and produce higher quality work (29%)

…than they do without AI assistance.

This is welcome news for staff working in adult and children’s social care services who are dealing with staffing shortages and increasing demand.

Barnsley Council, for example, is working to equip its social care professionals with Copilot for Microsoft 365, which acts as their ‘personal secretary’ by quickly reorganising visit notes into accurate, categorised records.

This saves social workers hours of analysis, allowing them to prioritise urgent interventions and better support vulnerable residents.

Amid the challenges of today, public sector leaders cannot afford to remain frozen as AI transforms the world around us. And by seizing the opportunities the technology provides, councils can reduce the admin burden and help staff do more of what they do best – serving their communities.

Read the ‘Harnessing the Power of AI for the Public Sector‘, including the report’s seven key recommendations for the next Government.

[1] Research commissioned by Microsoft in partnership with Dr Chris Brauer, Goldsmiths, University of London, in May 2024