Trust me, I'm a policymaker
“Trust plays a very tangible role in the effectiveness of government” finds a new report for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Yet “public trust has been eroding just when policy makers need it most”. Why’s this?
- Weak economic growth across the global economy, affecting incomes, employment and inequality.
- Evidence of “weak respect” for the rule of law in the form of “corruption, tax evasion and regulatory capture."
- Lack of faith in the ability of government to manage global challenges including climate change, geopolitical tensions, migration, and terrorism.
Trust is a matter of both competence and values. It’s not assured solely if governments demonstrate capacity and judgement in delivering public goods. Instead, the authors assert that the “underlying intentions and principles” guiding government are just as important. So how can governments prove their intentions are good? The OECD point to four policy levers.
- Defining principles and adhering to them.
- Seizing the opportunity to demonstrate integrity, “such as large public infrastructure projects and major events.”
- Senior politicians leading by example.
- Setting out common standards and expected behaviours at all layers of government.
In the second category, the UK is singled out for praise for the organisation of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Spelling out policy objectives, consulting widely, and creating a standard code pre-empted risks to the procurement process. Instead of the mismanagement and occasional corruption that frequently derails such events, the games passed in a warm glow of medal victories and flying NHS beds. The National Audit Office congratulated the organisers and 69 per cent of respondents to a BBC/ComRes survey thought that public money had been spent wisely. As for leading by example, the OECD nod to the 2014 Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act - although its reception has been less universally positive than the Olympics, especially if you are a charity.
But trust is built and eroded day-by-day. As Paloma Baena Olabe writes, the literature suggests that “positive individual experiences of citizens with government agencies aggregate into a society in which government is respected as a competent and trustworthy ‘partner’ of citizens in their daily lives.”