Automation and the future of work Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Automation adoption

1.The UK’s progress on automation, to ensure its industries are globally competitive, has not been fast enough. The UK’s problem is too few, not too many, robots. The potential for an increase in automation to help tackle the Productivity Puzzle and improve living standards has not yet been effectively addressed by the Government. We recommend that the Government should develop a UK Robot and AI Strategy by the end of 2020 to improve automation adoption and support British industries. The remainder of this report includes some of the key measures we expect to see in the Government’s new strategy. (Paragraph 13)

Automating UK business

2.It is clear to us that the future of manufacturing in the UK depends on higher levels of productivity. Robotics and automation provide possibilities to enhance productivity and therefore support higher production and more jobs in the UK. (Paragraph 15)

3.Some of the barriers to automation identified by UK businesses are real, and we make recommendations throughout this report on how they can be overcome. However, some of the barriers to automation are issues of perception. We recommend that the Government works with the automation industry and businesses who have introduced automation to make information and case studies on the costs and benefits of automation easily available to businesses. (Paragraph 18)

4.Made Smarter has the potential to boost UK productivity in SMEs through the adoption of new technology, and while take-up of the North West pilot has been impressive, overall progress has been slow. We recommend that in responding to this report, the Government provides a timeline for the evaluation of the North West pilot and commit to a fully-funded roll-out of the scheme across the UK based on the results of that work. (Paragraph 22)

5.A lack of awareness and understanding of automation is harming business productivity, especially for SMEs. The Government’s decision to close the Manufacturing Advice Service in 2015 was a mistake and has contributed to making it more difficult for businesses to find help and advice. We recommend that the Government funds an impartial source of advice for businesses that want to invest in automation. This new service should be commissioned with a focus on ensuring it is fully accessible to SMEs, building on the experience of successful examples like Be the Business. (Paragraph 27)

Automation and the Industrial Strategy

6.Developing the UK as a leader in service robotics has the potential to make a significant contribution to the delivery of the Government’s Grand Challenges. The Government should ensure that a UK Robot Strategy forms part of the Government’s Industrial Strategy, and that robotics is considered an integral part of all of the Grand Challenges it is pursuing. The Government should ensure that a UK Robot Strategy forms part of the Government’s Industrial Strategy, and that robotics is considered an integral part of all of the Grand Challenges it is pursuing. (Paragraph 30)

7.The lack of focus on automation, beyond AI, in the Government’s Industrial Strategy is a missed opportunity. Its absence strengths the case for a UK Robot Strategy, which supports British innovation as well as encouraging automation adoption We recommend that a UK Robot Strategy includes actions that support UK automation businesses to grow and remain in the UK. (Paragraph 32)

8.We welcome the Government’s support, via the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, for reducing the number of dirty, dangerous and demanding jobs which workers may be required face while supporting clean growth. We recommend the Government should identify new areas of automation for further waves of Industrial Strategy Challenge funding and support British automation businesses to deliver the Grand Challenges. (Paragraph 35)

9.Having ignored calls to build and support leadership for the automation sector, the Government now has a chance to rethink its attitude. Using the Sector Deals approach, on which it has focused the Industrial Strategy, the Government has a chance to bring together the industry, drive investment in the sector and demonstrate actual support for a sector in which we can be world leading. We recommend that the Government establish a robotics leadership group, co-chaired by a Minister and an industry leader, to bring together Government, business and academia in support of a Robotics Sector Deal. (Paragraph 40)

10.We need more robots and not fewer. A tax on them would further discourage take up. We do not believe that a tax on robots is in the interest of businesses or workers in the UK. (Paragraph 41)

11.Incentivising business investment in productivity-boosting technologies such as automation should benefit both individual businesses and the economy as a whole. The UK’s lagging rate of automation adoption is undermining efforts to boost productivity and risks leaving Britain behind in the automation revolution. The Government should adopt measures which include prioritising SME adoption of automation. We recommend that the Government brings forward proposals in the next budget for a new tax incentives designed to encourage investment in new technology, such as automation and robotics. (Paragraph 44)

12.The regulatory environment for automation is currently working well in the interests of both businesses and the public. There is likely to be significant pressure on regulators and other public bodies to reconsider how automation is managed in light of rapid technological developments We recommend that the Government ensures that regulators in industries likely to be impacted by automation have the necessary expertise to ensure that innovation is fostered among automation businesses, while maintaining public safety. (Paragraph 47)

Research and innovation

13.The sale of successful technology businesses to overseas investors is an issue for countries or regions trying to develop their own expertise or competitive advantage in robotics and automation. We recommend that the Government and Universities should work with spinout businesses to offer an alternative to selling-off, including helping with access to finance, networking and business advice. (Paragraph 50)

14.Given the success of an industrial automation and robotics focused Catapult in the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, there is an untapped potential for a similar model for service robotics, where the UK has a chance to lead globally by building on academic excellence. We recommend that the Government works with research institutions to consider establishing a service robotics catapult within the Catapult Network. Based outside of London and the South East, a Catapult would help grow a robotics cluster, ideally near a university or technical hub, to encourage public and private funding and support British robotics businesses and other businesses who would benefits from the diffusion of new technologies. (Paragraph 52)

15.Businesses and research institutions are not doing enough to ensure women are entering the automation field. Failing to actively work to ensure opportunities for half of the available UK workforce, in a sector where the UK has potential to lead globally, is a major barrier to success. We recommend that the Government works with business and academia to ensure automation is an attractive career with a diverse pipeline of applications to higher education, research and the wider world of work. (Paragraph 54)

16.Unless and until Government and business act to create a pipeline of UK researchers and workers who can support the domestic automation industry, we will need to recruit from overseas. The Government’s immigration policy should provide certainty and ensure that as we leave the EU, we can recruit and retain researchers from around the world to support the sector, including where they earn below the £30,000 threshold recommended by the Migration Advisory Committee. (Paragraph 56)

17.Automation research institutions benefit from international collaboration, and while we welcome commitments to maintain and replicate EU funding when the UK leaves the EU, this is no substitute for the collaboration that comes from joint projects. We recommend that the Government seeks to ensure that the UK has at least associate membership of EU research projects and can effectively collaborate with neighbouring states. (Paragraph 58)

18.For the UK to be a world leader in service robotics and automation, it will need to work globally to succeed. The Government should seek to ensure that our future relationship with the EU and future deals with the rest of the world support new collaboration between institutions, including the free flow of researchers and academics. (Paragraph 59)


19.The Government’s optimism on the impact of automation on UK jobs is justified only if it is working with industry to ensure that the most at risk sectors and professions have the support they need to manage this transition. The lack of any proactive research or strategy to deal with this change to how we work suggests an complacency or a faith in the market, which is at odds with the approach in the Industrial Strategy. We recommend that the Government works with industry to identify the sectors and skills most at risk from automation and develops an action plan for how this transition will be managed. (Paragraph 63)

20.The transition to a more automated workplace and society risks reducing the quality of work, widening existing inequalities and increasing regional disparities. The lack of planning and action in this area is worrying given the role that the Government has in schools and education policy, as well as regional and business policy. We recommend that the Government supports those most affected and provides local areas with the support and incentives needed to enable this transition. (Paragraph 69)

21.There are already good examples of businesses, research institutions and trade unions who are supporting workers in the transition to a more automated workplace. While businesses should be responsible for retraining workers as jobs change, whether through automation or other developments, there is a role for Government in ensuring that everyone in work or able to work can develop the skills they need to adapt. At a business level, the Government should consider financial incentives for businesses and organisations who invest in learning and development, both for their own employees and for workers more widely. At the national level, the Government should prioritise reskilling to meet the needs of the economy and to ensure demands of new technologies and skills are available to all. (Paragraph 79)

Conclusions: The Future of Work

22.The Prime Minister has decided to keep an Industrial Strategy as part of the Government’s approach to supporting businesses. The potential gains that automation can bring for the UK economy cannot be left to chance, and instead the Government needs to bring forward a strategy to help businesses, workers and researchers use the transition to deliver a change to how we live and work. (Paragraph 85)

23.If managed well, the transition to a more automated British workplace should make businesses more productive, improve the supply of high-quality jobs, and support working people to have more leisure time. British businesses working in automation could be world-leading in the field of service robotics, and British universities could be collaborating across the world to provide new technologies to improve how we live. If the transition is managed badly, entire groups and regions could be left behind, British businesses could find themselves uncompetitive, SMEs will continue to form a long tail of unproductive businesses and academics will be working in isolation attempting to catch-up with other nations’ technologies. (Paragraph 86)

24.The Government needs to take more seriously both the opportunities and risks of automation than it has to date. It should not do so in isolation, instead it should collaborate with all those who want to harness automation to boost productivity and living standards, and it should not delay doing so. We recommend that the Government urgently brings together employers, workers, academia and automation developers to design a UK Robot Strategy on how it plans to promote and manage the transition to a more automated world of work. (Paragraph 87)

Published: 18 September 2019