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14 Nov, 2013

Trust in governments at record low: OECD report


Paris, 14/11/2013 (OECD media release) – The global economic crisis has undermined trust in government. Today only four out of ten citizens in OECD countries say they have confidence in their national authorities. Not surprisingly, trust declined in the countries hit hardest by the crisis, such as Ireland, Greece, Slovenia and Portugal.

But measures can be taken to rebuild trust, according to a new OECD report.  The OECD’s latest edition of Government at a Glance argues that governments need to be more inclusive, transparent, receptive and efficient. For that, they need to put their fiscal houses in order, deliver high quality services to their citizens and provide open and transparent data.

Restoring trust

“Citizens look to governments to lead the way. Without strong leadership, supported by effective policies, trust is easily eroded. Good governance means putting the needs of people at the centre of policy-making,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría.

“Action needs to be taken urgently,” he added. “Building back trust is crucial to implement the necessary structural and fiscal reforms that are key to restoring growth and promoting well-being. Government at a Glance is a unique international comparator that can help policy-makers chart the way towards rebuilding that trust.”

This year’s edition of Government at a Glance measures the performance of governments in the OECD’s 34 member countries through more than 50 indicators ranging from hospital waiting times to government spending; from public sector employment to procurement policies.

The report finds that, despite diminishing trust in national government, citizens are generally pleased with the many public services they receive locally in their daily lives. For instance, on average 72% of citizens reported having confidence in their local police force. Almost the same percentage considered themselves satisfied with health care, and 66% were satisfied with the education system. The report also highlights the persistent gender gap in the public sector: women still occupy only 40% of middle management and just 29% are represented in more senior posts.

The indicators in Government at a Glance provide international comparisons and trends in eight broad areas: strategic governance; public finance, budgeting practices; public sector pay and employment; women in government; public procurement; open and inclusive government and quality and accessibility of public services. It provides readers with a dashboard of key indicators assembled with the goal of contributing to the analysis and international comparison of public sector performance. Indicators on government revenues, expenditures, and employment are provided alongside key output and outcome data in the sectors of education and health.

Government at a Glance also includes indicators on key governance and public management issues, such as transparency in governance, regulatory governance, new ways in delivering public services and HRM and compensation practices in the public service. While measuring government performance has long been recognized as playing an important role in increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of the public administration, following the economic crisis and fiscal tightening in many member countries, good indicators are needed more than ever to help governments make informed decisions regarding tough choices and help restore confidence in government institutions.

Detailed summaries for individual countries and further information on the findings are available here.

Remarks at the launch of the report by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General

13 November 2013, OECD Headquarters, Paris

This is a hugely important study. The financial and economic crisis that started in 2008 has reopened the debate on the role of the State in our economies and society.

Government at a Glance provides policy makers with crucial support as they work to restore public confidence and trust in their institutions with limited means at hand. It provides a wealth of data for countries to benchmark their governments’ performance and measure their progress over time with a view to strengthening and enhancing their policy making.

It is no surprise that Government at a Glance is among one of our most downloaded publications and most consulted datasets: the report provides analysis and information that can help governments solve problems. And with this edition’s new features, I expect that the demand for this publication will be even greater. Before I turn to its main findings, let me first provide a brief review of the economic climate in which our governments are operating.

Moderate recovery: yes; end of the crisis: not quite yet

The global economic outlook is indeed tepid. There are signs of a moderate recovery in some OECD countries: North America, Japan and the United Kingdom have reported encouraging growth rates, and the euro zone seems to have come out of recession. The signs are less positive in some emerging economies, which are beginning to feel the brunt of slowed economic growth.

The crisis is by no means over yet! This year, the global economy is expected to post the slowest rate of growth in GDP since 2009, so governments cannot be complacent. They need to continue to take corrective actions. Our Better Life Index shows us that there has been a loss of confidence in governments since the crisis; it needs to be rebuilt.

We all know that sustained economic recovery cannot be achieved without good government institutions and government institutions cannot function well without gaining the trust of citizens and business. This is the heart and soul of Government at a Glance 2013.

Government at Glance: a unique tool to restore trust!

Between 2007 and 2012, after nearly 6 years of crisis, confidence in national governments across OECD member countries declined, on average, from 45% to 40% of respondents in a recent opinion poll. It is absolutely essential to reverse this trend. Without trust in their national governments, citizens’ and businesses’ support for reforms is difficult to mobilise – and those reforms are needed to leave the crisis behind. Government at a Glance can help us break this cycle.

Government at a Glance 2013 can be a very useful tool to improve governance and restore trust. It is the only international comparator which provides a dashboard of 50 indicators covering the whole production chain of public goods and services – inputs, processes, outputs and outcomes. And it includes a wide range of indicators on key areas of public management and governance, such as budgeting practices, integrity and open government, e-government and ICT strategies, and employment of women in all branches (low and high) of government.

The 2013 edition has gone a step further to address issues that have emerged out of the crisis. For example, citizens can now assess how their government is able to act strategically. In other words, they can gauge its ability to anticipate possible new crises, and how Open Government Data can be used to bridge the gap between government and citizens.

Empowering citizens to participate and monitor government can go a long way in bridging the trust gap that affects our countries. When we think about the economic and social impacts of the global financial crisis, it’s not difficult to understand why.

Restoring trust starts here

How can Governments build back the trust that is needed to implement the necessary structural and fiscal reforms that are key to restoring growth?

First, governments need to put their fiscal houses in order. Despite the huge efforts that governments have made to restore the health of public finances, long-term challenges still remain. Based on our most recent estimates, the consolidation required to reduce government gross financial liabilities across the OECD area to 60% of GDP by 2030 will require a permanent adjustment of around 3% of GDP on average for OECD countries. And fiscal space will remain limited for many years to come. Thus, long-term consolidation will be sizable in some countries.

Second, governments must deliver high quality public services and strive to be more efficient and effective. Governments in OECD member countries are increasingly focused on making quality public goods and services accessible to as many citizens as possible, while also ensuring they are more responsive to the diversity of individual needs. Many countries are introducing more stringent service and performance standards and implementing mechanisms to measure and integrate citizen feedback into delivery processes. Obviously, there is a close connection between the satisfaction with public services and trust in government.

Measuring service quality is also crucial to evaluate the effects of current spending cuts. Government at a Glance 2013 makes a first attempt to compare service quality not only across countries but also across key public service areas: health care, justice and education.

Can we say that tax administration is efficient when it can take up to 90 days in some countries to process a tax return with expected refund (when others do it in 10 days)? Should citizens in some countries pay almost 5% of their household income in out-of-pocket medical fees, while in others the figure is under 2%?

Government at a Glance highlights the increasing use of ICT by government as a way to streamline service delivery and make it more accessible. For example, in around half of the countries surveyed, citizens interact with public authorities over the Internet, but in most cases, less than a third of citizens can send completed forms to the authorities electronically. Speeding up these initiatives would help to cut red tape and make government more responsive to citizen needs and preferences. They increase the sense of a working partnership between government and citizens. Our work on e-government will help to identify good practice in this area.

Third, open and transparent government is another area that can help to re-establish trust. No national government can expect trust from its citizens and businesses, if suspicion of corruption looms around, when data on government spending or officials’ income are not readily accessible, and when accountability is in doubt. Open government data is a promising way to further increase transparency and public awareness of government activities. Our survey shows that 56% of OECD countries now have a national strategy to open up government data.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The capacity of our governments to deliver is being contested like never before. The level of trust in public sectors is hitting record lows. It is time to reverse this trend. And we can do it by building more inclusive, effective, responsive and transparent governments. We very much hope that our governments move forward in this transformation and let me assure you that the OECD stands ready to support you in every step.