Public spending and service delivery ‘key to public trust’

27 Mar 17

The use of taxpayers’ money and service delivery are two arenas where the battle for public trust can be won or lost, the OECD has highlighted.


Inequality protests

People protest against inequality.


In a report published today the think-tank looked at the policy tools that can be used in order to regain the trust in public institutions that has been lost since the financial crisis.

This trust deficit has been tied to the rise of populism and anti-establishment sentiment that in turn drove the election of US president Donald Trump, the UK’s vote to leave the European Union and support for nationalist politicians across the bloc.

“Few perceptions are more palpable than that of trust or its absence,” the report’s foreword noted.

“Governments ignore this at their peril.”

It highlighted three “pressure points” that are chipping away at the public’s confidence in government and its institutions.

These are: concern over slow economic growth and its impact on income, jobs and equality; anger over persistent problems of corruption, tax evasion and other signs of weak respect for the rule of law; unease over governments’ ability to manage global risks like climate change, geopolitical tension, terrorism and large-scale migration.

Since the financial crisis, such issues have seen trust in governments decline to 43% in 2015, according to the Gallup World Poll, and to around 50% in political parties and parliaments according to the European Social Survey.

The OECD pointed out that strengthening the access, quality and responsiveness of public services plays an important role in tackling this.

“Service performance, citizen satisfaction and public trust are closely connected,” the report said.

“Better understanding citizens’ needs, experiences and preferences can result in better targeted services, including for underserved populations, often at little extra cost.”

The management of public money is another domain where trust is “easily lost”, it continued. Fiscal transparency and creating a dialogue with citizens on spending decisions are key to maintaining trust in this area.

Overall,  the OECD advised governments to apply a framework for understanding public trust that emphasises two complementary components that are key to whether it is cultivated or not – competence and values.

Competence, which includes operational efficiency, capacity and good judgement, is built on responsiveness and reliability.

The OECD pointed out that the private sector companies gain trust and loyalty from its customers by creating a reputation for quality and reliability. This would bring “tangible benefits” for the public sector too.

With regards to values, citizens expect governments to espouse qualities like integrity, openness and fairness. Governments should seize critical opportunities to demonstrate these, for instance in big infrastructure projects and major events.

Political leaders should lead by example in areas like transparency and asset disclosure, it continued, and common standards should be applied at all levels of government.

A perception of fairness in processes and outcomes, greater openness and a strong justice service were all also highlighted as key to growing public trust.

“Perhaps the most important lesson is that trust is not only an indicator of success,” the report stated.

“It is, more significantly, one of the ingredients that makes success – for a business or for a government – possible.”

Did you enjoy this article?

Related articles

Have your say


CIPFA latest

Most popular

Most commented

Events & webinars