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Technology could replace 1 in 6 civil servants' jobs in Northern Ireland, claims Deloitte

One in six state jobs in Northern Ireland are at risk of automation by 2030, research shows. Those in administrative and operative positions are in greater danger of having their roles replaced by new systems, software or apps, according to a report from business advisers Deloitte.

It predicted 32,960 public sector posts were threatened by advances in technology over the next 15 years.

Jackie Henry, senior partner at Deloitte in Belfast, said: "Across all sectors of the economy, technological advances mean that repetitive and predictable tasks are increasingly undertaken by robotics - either in the form of software or devices. The public sector, and the public sector in Northern Ireland, is no different.

"The public sector has a high number of public-facing roles, particularly those in areas such as education and caring. These will be relatively safe from automation and could see the public sector impacted less than other sectors.

"However, automation still has significant potential to support cost reduction, meet citizens' expectations of public services, free up real estate, save staff time and improve productivity.

"As this happens new types of jobs are likely to emerge and it is important that we act now to prepare ourselves for the change - this will include developing new skills among our young people."

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney warned earlier in 2016 that alongside the great benefits of technological progress in lifting people out of poverty, every technological revolution "mercilessly destroys jobs and livelihoods" before new jobs emerge.

He said the "hollowing out of many middle-class services jobs" through machine learning and global sourcing was the same process that saw certain jobs made obsolete in the industrial revolution and the displacement of manufacturing.

A quarter of all employees work in the public sector in Northern Ireland, the highest proportion in the UK.

In a State of the State report, Deloitte said that in Northern Ireland a new "outcomes-based" Programme for Government, which holds ministers to account on delivery, was cause for optimism that more could be achieved by the Executive than previously.

It noted that while political complexities had stalled decisions in the last Executive, the civil service was still able to reduce its headcount by 17% over two years.

Ms Henry said the formation of a first official opposition was a further sign of maturing government in Northern Ireland that would help build confidence in governance and stability.

She added: "The combination of mature government, high calibre ministers and continued economic opportunity suggests that Northern Ireland is ready for the next phase of devolved power."

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