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Skills shortages, an ageing population and investment in new tech – these are the key issues that the UK’s public sector will need to address to be in step with the needs of society in 2030, according to a new national study by leading software consultancy ThoughtWorks.

As part of its rolling insight study looking at the shape of British society in the year 2030, ThoughtWorks asked a representative sample of 2,041 adults which issues the public sector would need to tackle in the next decade to meet the changing needs of society.

At a time when the public sector has come under enormous strain in helping the country through an unprecedented pandemic, 89 percent of respondents believe the public sector will need to adapt and modernise in the years ahead.

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David Howell, Portfolio Director, public sector at ThoughtWorks UK, commented: “Given the crucial and valued role the public sector has played in helping to keep the country together in recent months, we wanted our study to explore how aspects of our society and public services will change by the year 2030.

“From our latest round of research, there was huge public warmth and value placed on our public services, but there was also a sense that in the years ahead people would expect more without wanting to pay more for these services.

“There is no question that an ageing population will put more pressure on many of our frontline services, yet people’s expectations for simpler and faster services – based on the way they use technology in their everyday lives – will intensify. The shape and focus on our public services will be different in tomorrow’s world, as it adjusts to reflect the changing needs of society.”

The key challenges facing the public sector

Technology was seen as the most significant force for change – with 63 percent of people citing tech and data factors that would require the UK public sector to modernise.

Almost one in two respondents believed the public sector would need to deal with skills shortages in key areas such as health and social care, and 25 percent believed there would need to be a major investment in skills. Financial pressures were also evident, ThoughtWorks adds, with 17 percent of people believing the public sector of 2030 would come under increasing pressure to lower both costs and headcount.

The ageing population was cited as another major social issue by 43 percent of respondents – and the associated need for the public sector to deliver more services cost-effectively and sustainably. These concerns were most strongly felt in Scotland (58 percent), the north of England (48 percent) and Wales (47 percent).

Whilst technology featured heavily among the perceived issues that the public sector would need to address in the next decade, survey respondents also believed that the upside was worth the pain – with technology able to transform the public sector into a more effective and modern entity by 2030.

According to the survey, the five key perceived benefits of a tech-enabled public sector included:

  • the ability to respond faster to national emergencies (45 percent)
  • making public services cheaper to run (38 percent)
  • improving community health and wellbeing (38 percent)
  • ensuring remote communities feel they enjoy the same rights and access to services (32 percent)
  • enhancing inclusivity and fairness for all people (28 percent)

David concluded: “Technology has a key role to play in updating legacy systems in place and ensuring that Britain’s public services can be world-leading in terms of speed, access, personalisation and value for money.”

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