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Saqib Bhatti MP: digital identity verification on way

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 29 Apr 2024

Following ICAEW’s Manifesto call for the UK to develop the skills to lead on AI, Saqib Bhatti MP discussed the government’s technology priorities in a conversation with CEO Alan Vallance.

Saqib Bhatti MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology confirmed that the government is pushing forward on Government Gateway amalgamation and digital identity verification, at a recent meeting with ICAEW’s CEO Alan Vallance and Head of Tech Policy Esther Mallowah. 

He cited the example of Estonia, where the process became popular as soon as banks adopted digital identities. The UK government aims to accelerate progress to instigate wider uptake, he said.

Bhatti asked what specific areas of tech policy ICAEW is interested in. They then discussed the importance of skills, safety and regulation.

ICAEW has welcomed government funding into AI skills following its Manifesto call for the UK to invest in the technologies where it can lead the world. 

It is also revamping the ACA qualification to ensure it continues to include relevant tech skills when the updated qualification is launched in September 2025. Vallance said that ICAEW wants to give students the opportunity to specialise in a certain area of accountancy – including technology-focused areas – before they have qualified.

Bhatti, an ICAEW member himself, reflected on his experiences working in practice. From 2014 onwards, new software for audit started to emerge. His father’s business had to adapt. He anticipates that current technological changes will have a similar effect on areas such as tax advice.

LLM accreditation

A major concern that ICAEW members have raised in relation to AI is the accuracy of data coming from large language models (LLMs). Bhatti said that the government is examining how LLMs can be accredited but that developers have a responsibility to ensure data is reliable. He said that it’s a priority for him to get SMEs adopting AI, and that this will not happen if the models aren’t reliable. However, he said that he was confident that uptake by SMEs would happen.

Vallance asked Bhatti how he thinks adoption of AI will affect firms such as the one he used to manage. Bhatti said that adoption is still at an early enough stage that ICAEW has a great opportunity to mediate the relationship between SMEs and the uptake of new technologies. While there are frequent stories about how AI will take away jobs in accounting – and AI will lead to efficiency changes for example in relation to tax returns – Bhatti added that the profession has always adapted to technological change and will continue to do so.

Vallance and Bhatti agreed to convene a meeting between the minister and representatives from different professional bodies to begin discussing codes of conduct surrounding uptake of new technologies.

On the Online Safety Act, Bhatti said the main challenge for the government is ensuring proper implementation. There is a need to tell tech companies that they do not need to wait for implementation deadlines; what is expected of them is already quite clear.

As a parting question, Vallance asked how sectors can support the UK becoming a global leader in AI. Bhatti said professional bodies such as ICAEW should not be shy in asking to get involved. He also referenced how the government has given professional bodies money to upskill their own people through qualifications such as the CMA and the FCA. For mainstream adoption of AI, he said, professional bodies will be indispensable.

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