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MPs warn some regions risk being left behind in automation revolution

Entire regions of the UK face being left behind as workplaces become more automated with robots and artificial intelligence (AI) systems, a group of MPs has warned.

A report published today (18 September) by the business, energy and industrial strategy select committee warns that the transition to a more automated workplace risks ‘reducing the quality of work, widening existing inequalities and increasing regional disparities’.

In particular, it calls on the government to support those most affected and provides local areas with the support and incentives needed to enable the transition to automation.

It also adds the UK is lagging behind other countries in the adoption of robots and the problem for the British labour market ‘is not that we have too many robots in the workplace, but that we have too few’.

According to the report, in 2015 the UK had just 10 robots for every million hours worked, compared with 167 in Japan.

The report also concludes that a lack of awareness and understanding of automation is harming business productivity, especially for small and medium-sized businesses.

The report is critical of the government’s decision to close the Manufacturing Advice Service in 2015, describing it as ‘a mistake’ which ‘has contributed to making it more difficult for businesses to find help and advice’.

And it recommends that the government funds an impartial source of advice for businesses that want to invest in automation.

It also calls for the government to come forward with a plans for a fully-funded UK-wide advice and information scheme based on the ‘Made Smarter’ North-West pilot.

‘The switch to automation brings challenges for businesses and for workers, with fears for livelihoods or disruption to job roles coming to the fore,’ said committee chair, Rachel Reeves.

‘The real danger for the UK economy and for future jobs growth is, however, not that we have too many robots in the workplace but that we have too few.

‘For all the potential of the UK, and despite our excellent tech and research base, the fact is that we are lagging behind our international competitors in our adoption of robot and automation technologies. Productivity, economic growth, and ultimately job-creation and higher earnings, will flow to those countries that capitalise on these technologies.

‘The government should come forward with a UK Robot and AI strategy to support businesses and workers as they manage the transition to a more automated world of work.

‘This new strategy must seek to get the right support in place, on issues such as skills, investment and training, to ensure that all parts of the UK share in the jobs and growth benefits offered by automation,’ added Reeves.

Photo Credit – Geralt (Pixabay)

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