BEIS committee publish government response to report on future of work

March 24, 2020

The UK government has issued its response to the House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee Select Committee report on automation and the future of work. It agrees with the Committee that growth across the UK’s economy in adopting technologies that support automation and other smart and digital technologies will play a crucial role in securing future growth and prosperity and improving the UK’s productivity. It also agrees that the UK has the potential to be a global leader in the new field of Smart Robotics, where widespread adoption would bring significant benefits in terms of productivity and competitiveness in a range of sectors. 

The Committee’s recommendations related to adopting automation, automating UK business, automation and the industrial strategy, research and innovation, trustworthy automation systems; and new areas of application such as drones and self-driving cars.

The government is responding to the report in part through the recent establishment of the new Robotics Growth Partnership. However, it says that physical automation of workplace tasks depends on very different technologies in different contexts. They vary significantly in technological maturity, levels of adoption (between sectors, and within sectors between businesses of different sizes and profiles), and the types of roles they could augment or automate. These differences can be considered in the broad context of rules-based manufacturing robots and ‘intelligent robots’ with the ability to make autonomous or semi-autonomous decisions on their actions in increasingly complex environments, potentially shared with human beings.

The government therefore believes that a unified over-arching workplace physical automation strategy does not necessarily represent the most effective policy approach. It believes that more targeted leadership is required, that more closely addresses the specific barriers and opportunities companies face. The government’s approach should instead be seen as providing strategic leadership with initiatives such as Made Smarter and the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles targeted at sector verticals.

In terms of automating UK business, the government recognises the Committee’s view that perception constitutes an important barrier to firms automating. It is working with industry through a range of different mechanisms to address this, which include a guide to AI in procurement and a guide to using AI in the public sector. It has various other programmes such as providing businesses with information and funding to improve productivity.

With regard to industrial strategy, the government agrees that the UK has the potential to be a world-leader in the emerging service robotics sector. The UK has strengths in key areas underpinning the new generation of robotics and autonomous systems including software, AI, sensing technologies, design and engineering. It has a reputation for innovation in regulatory design and implementation, and world-leading research and technologies in specific applications such as self-driving cars and drones. The government also agrees with the Committee’s view that service robotics have the potential to make a significant contribution across society’s challenges. The government has highlighted a few areas of activity such as clean growth, the future of mobility, healthy aging, AI and data, manufacturing, agri-food; and hazardous environments.

The government considers that the UK’s regulatory environment is conducive to doing business and has passed legislation related to self-driving cars and drones. The Law Commission is also involved in reviewing legislation.

The report also made suggestions related to collaboration with the EU and associate membership of EU projects. The government has said it values those links and will aim to maintain such partnerships if they are in the interests of the UK.