Whitehall to bring in AI experts from private sector to drive innovation

The Cabinet Office plans to parachute in data and AI specialists from the private sector and second them to the civil service. The focus will be to address the technical skills deficit in government and increase confidence in using AI. 

Cabinet Office Minister Jeremy Quinn announced the plan in a speech to think tank Policy Exchange, where he set out a number of measures which will drive forward the government’s plans to harness innovation and increase efficiency. 

The Digital Secondment Programme for AI and data specialise is scheduled to begin during the autumn. The aim is to target digital workers from the FTSE100 to allow civil servants to spend time learning from world leading businesses.

In addition to the secondment scheme, Mr Quinn also announced that i.AI, the unit which explores Automation and Innovation in government, will become a permanent civil service team. 

A Data Marketplace will also be set up to facilitate better sharing of data between government departments. By 2025 the aim is to share some of this data with third parties including researchers. 

Tackling bureaucracy 

Mr Quinn acknowledged the challenge in government to attract tech firms, given the disparity in pay between the private and public sector. He said there is scope to be “flexible,” with secondees remaining on their companies’ payrolls and having their salaries recharged to the government. 

Existing civil servants that can demonstrate skills in this field could also see themselves rewarded: “I’ve got no problem with paying civil servants more for being more productive.”

Mr Quinn said the plan is part of a wider push to unlock the full potential of "brilliant people" in the civil service. "I know there are many, as can be the case in any organisation, that feel frustrated and stiffed by bureaucracy," he stated. 

He also called for: "More specialisation, more access to outside voices and fresh ideas, staying longer in post, delivering certainty on what we are seeking to achieve and benefitting from crisp evaluation on whether we have, while embracing the digital future which will transform all our working lives.” 

Addressing ethical concerns 

The hope is that by understanding AI now, with experts and developers, the government will be able to understand how it can be used safely in the future.  

Minister Quinn’s announcement comes as the World Ethical Data Foundation announced an 84 point checklist in the form of an open letter for AI developers to check if their developments are ethical. 

Adopting the framework is voluntary but it was developed in line with companies at the frontier of AI innovation including Google and Meta, highlighting a recognition of the potential dangers of AI by big tech companies. 

Derek Mackenzie, CEO at Investigo, a global skills provider, emphasised the importance of the government’s role in AI development saying: “Tech experts and the government should oversee AI's increased usage and continue to highlight how businesses should follow suit for best practices.”  

Government Data Forum

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