June 18, 2024

Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, has told ministers to step up work on seizing the opportunities of artificial intelligence in order to save money, boost Britain’s sluggish growth rate and reboot failing public services.

That is according to a report in the Financial Times.

The report says that John Glen, Hunt’s deputy at the Treasury, has been charged by the chancellor with drawing up a report ahead of the Autumn Statement on raising public service productivity, with a focus on accelerating the rollout of AI.

Additionally, it has been revealed that Steve Barclay, the health secretary, said the technology could be used to transform the NHS by increasing its productivity without requiring staff to work harder. Hunt hopes that, by boosting growth and saving money in the public sector, he can find some fiscal room for tax cuts before a 2024 general election. However, time is running out.

The Treasury wrote to ministers last week to remind them of the need to find efficiency savings, while Hunt’s allies have said Glen is pushing ministers to speed up the AI rollout.

The potential for an AI revolution has become the principal preoccupation of prime minister Rishi Sunak and Hunt in recent weeks, as they seek to break a cycle of low growth and high taxes.

Responding to the news Joanna Reynolds, Managing Director of Bordeaux & Burgundy said: “Harnessing the potential of transformative technologies like AI is essential for improving public services and boosting business productivity. Far too many fast-growing companies are operating outdated, manual systems for key functions like marketing, customer relations and sales, when they should be tapping into the latest tech to get ahead of the competition.”

Steven Mooney, CEO, FundMyPitch, commented: “This rise of AI presents an exciting opportunity to boost public services and turbocharge the economy at a time when growth remains sluggish. However, the fact remains that many UK start-ups which are already making waves in this area are not getting the funding they need to develop and grow. If Britain wishes to lead the world on AI development and regulation, then it’s time to give these ambitious entrepreneurs a level playing field to secure a valuation and get the financial backing they need to hire, grow, and thrive.”

Meanwhile, Sjuul van der Leeuw, CEO, Deployteq, said: “AI is a powerful tool that can have a major impact when deployed correctly, boosting growth, and unlocking innovation. Having a dedicated taskforce in place which is led by tech experts will enable the government to properly assess the requirements and benefits associated with deploying this technology into key areas such as the NHS.”

However, Chris Downie. Co-founder & CEO at Pasabi reaffirmed that safety remained key: “AI has huge potential to impact so many areas of the economy. Whilst it’s encouraging to see the chancellor calling for adoption to be accelerated, there should be an equal if not greater focus on Safety and alignment. In an increasingly dangerous digital world, AI can be used to tackle a myriad of problems such as online fraud, cyber crime and fake reviews, all of which place a huge strain on businesses. In the wrong hands, however, unfettered use of AI by bad actors can cause untold harm to people already vulnerable to scams. There isn’t a moment to lose, government  needs to help industry strike the balance between productivity and safety and the sooner we harness the power of key technologies to do so, the better.”

On Sunday, Sunak announced the appointment of Ian Hogarth, a tech investor and entrepreneur, as chair of the government’s foundation-model task force, which will look at developing AI.

Hogarth will also play a leading role in the first global AI summit, to be hosted by Sunak in the UK in December, which was announced by the prime minister alongside President Joe Biden at the White House earlier this month.

Sunak believes Britain can lead in the safe but minimal regulation of AI, taking what one minister called “a less draconian” approach than that likely to be adopted by the EU. Hunt is also a zealous advocate of AI. However, Sajid Javid, the former chancellor, warned last week that Sunak would have to put far more money into the sector, arguing that the £900mn allocated for a new supercomputer to support AI was too feeble.

Barclay has told colleagues that “we need to shift the sense that productivity is telling people to work harder”, and wants to use technology to remove NHS bottlenecks and treat conditions earlier. Last week at an NHS conference he singled out “the rapid developments in AI” and said that, as an example, his department was exploring “how we can use AI to improve patient safety in maternity services”. Smith told the FT: “In fields like AI we think there’s a unique role the UK can play that builds on our existing strengths but draws on some of the differences from some of the larger blocs.”

Read more:
Chancellor tells ministers to quicken adoption of AI to boost economy