Case Studies

Generative AI in Local Government


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Barnsley Council has initiated a groundbreaking trial by implementing generative AI (GenAI) tools across its entire organization, utilizing Copilot for Microsoft 365. This move aims to alleviate the heavy administrative burden on staff and explore avenues for cost savings and productivity enhancement. Despite the inherent risk aversion in the public sector due to its responsibility for public funds and vulnerable populations, Wendy Popplewell, the executive director of Core Services at Barnsley Council, emphasizes the necessity of innovation to address tough challenges and deliver services efficiently.


With a significant reduction in budget and workforce over the years, the council is constantly seeking innovative ways to optimize resource utilization while maintaining service standards. The six-month trial of Copilot, initially offered to 300 staff members and later extended to 2,300 employees, is focused on assessing the technology's effectiveness and exploring various applications across departments. Already, 60% of staff with access to Copilot are actively using it, with departments like corporate services, public health, and social care leading the adoption.


The potential benefits of GenAI extend beyond administrative efficiency to improving staff well-being and enabling them to focus on higher-impact tasks. By automating repetitive tasks and providing support in data analysis and report generation, GenAI tools like Copilot aim to free up staff time for more complex decision-making processes. While acknowledging the risk of AI hallucinations, where tools generate inaccurate information, Popplewell underscores the importance of staff oversight and accountability in ensuring the reliability of AI-generated outputs. Looking ahead, Barnsley Council sees vast potential in further applications of GenAI, fostering a culture of innovation and ambition within the organization.




  1. Embrace Innovation Everywhere: The text shows how local councils are embracing AI despite being seen as risk-averse. Digital leaders should explore innovation in unexpected places and foster a culture of experimentation to drive change.
  2. Prioritize Staff Efficiency and Well-being: Barnsley Council's AI trial aims not only to boost efficiency but also to support staff well-being by reducing administrative burdens. Leaders should invest in AI-driven solutions to streamline workflows and enhance job satisfaction.
  3. Ensure Accountability in AI Adoption: While AI offers benefits, it also poses risks like inaccuracies. Leaders must emphasize accountability and oversight, training staff to verify AI outputs and maintaining transparency in implementation to build trust.