Founders call on Sunak to embrace AI in public sector

Rishi Sunak AI letter Image credit: Simon Walker / No 10 Downing Street

UK tech founders have called on the prime minister to embrace artificial intelligence products in the public sector, open up datasets and provide more incentives for startups ahead of the AI Safety Summit this week.

The letter to Rishi Sunak – signed by the founders of 25 startups including Faculty, Stability AI and Mind Foundry – said the UK has “an immense opportunity in AI for good”.

Signatories said the government should simplify procurement processes for low-risk AI to boost productivity in public services.

They argue that embracing AI tools developed by homegrown startups will provide better value for money than current procurement strategies.

“Contracts with government departments, even if they amount only to a trial, are a much better use of the same money and time than grants because they allow the startups to invest in products and understand real users’ needs,” the letter states.

“Startups can leverage commercial contracts to gain future investment funds in a way that grants can’t be used for – this gives leverage from private sector money.”

Organised by Founders Forum Group alongside Tech Nation, the letter – seen by UTKN – adds that the government should launch “AI pilots” in government departments, backed by central government funds.

The government has already been exploring ways to adopt AI tools into departmental operations. Sunak is planning to launch an AI chatbot based on technology provided by ChatGPT-maker OpenAI to help the British public access public services such as taxes and pensions, according to The Telegraph.

And in July, the government said it planned to bring in “digital gurus” from the private sector to support Whitehall civil servants with expertise in AI and data.

Privacy concerns over dataset access

The founders’ letter goes on to say that the government should “safely” open up UK datasets “before it is eroded through inaction”.

It comes as controversial US tech company Palantir is seeking a £500m government contract to use its AI software to improve data management at the NHS.

In response to privacy concerns, Michelle Donelan, the tech secretary, told the BBC that people’s private data would not be sold without their consent.

The Founders Forum-organised letter added that regulators should be upskilled with AI expertise and that startups should have a “significant voice” in crafting regulation.

While incentives such as R&D tax rebates and grants have been successful, the letter said, the government should ensure the AI ecosystem has access to enough compute and called for AI skills to be “prioritised in the school curriculum”.

It comes ahead of the UK hosting its first summit on AI safety this week at Bletchley Park. The home of World War II codebreakers will open its doors to tech executives, foreign diplomats and academics to discuss the risks of frontier AI technology.

Read more: Leaving out startups will undermine AI Safety Summit