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Oliver Dowden’s ‘hit squad’ aims to replace UK civil service jobs with AI



LONDON — Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden has set up a new unit dedicated to using AI to streamline the functioning of government, fight welfare fraud and help process asylum claims.

Outlining the new £5 million “Incubator for AI” in a briefing on Monday, Dowden said the emerging technology could be a “significant downward driver” in reducing the size of the civil service, which he said had ballooned because of Brexit and the COVID pandemic. 

“I’m a Conservative, I want the smallest possible state and the best possible outcomes,” Dowden told a pack of journalists.

Dowden said the unit would likely look at how AI could be used in areas such as tackling welfare fraud; asylum and immigration processing and in how the public interact with the healthcare service.

“What I see with this is a transformative tool to be able to enhance the pace of technology in a way that can help us deliver better outcomes with fewer inputs, and ultimately, that should be able to save taxpayers money,” he said.

The move to cut costs through AI comes ahead of the autumn statement by the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, who in October announced a freezing of the expansion of the civil service with the aim to return its size to pre-pandemic levels. 

Recruitment for an initial 20 technical experts went live on Monday, though Laura Gilbert, chief analyst at No. 10 Downing Street, said the government had already poached some experts from “quite big companies.”

“This is about trying to get a hit squad … that is going to go out there and actually bring a high level of expertise to try and identify innovative solutions to projects,” Dowden said.

The idea behind incorporating AI into the function of government would be to help speed up internal processes, assist in decision-making, as well as help improve the public interface with areas such as healthcare.

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