Trust in governments suffered as a result of the financial crisis and its consequences. People were angry that governments didn’t stop the irresponsible behaviour in the first place, and that they had to pay the price for a crisis they didn’t cause. They felt helpless to influence events, and simplistic, extremist solutions became attractive to an increasing number. To win back and keep the trust of voters, governments need to be able to reassure citizens that their affairs are in safe hands.
The OECD is working with its member governments and (non-members too) across a range of interconnected issues to restore or reinforce trust, because democracies depend on trust and confidence to function. Trust and confidence legitimize decisive and effective action by governments, and encourage citizens and businesses to accept it. Without trust, policy making becomes risk-averse. Furthermore, a fall in political trust can reduce social cohesion. Low levels of trust are particularly problematic when reforms involve difficult and unpopular choices, and when the confidence of markets is critical to restart growth.
Fluctuations in trust, often related to economic cycles, are common, but the current situation suggests a loss of trust in government that is deeper, more prolonged and more systemic than previously, going well beyond mistrust of a particular leader or institution. Good economic management is part of the answer. Trust will increase when incomes rise and jobs are easier to find.
It is not simply the policies themselves or the outcomes of policy that determine levels of trust. The way policies are designed and implemented, and policy makers’ compliance with broader principles and standards of behaviour count too.
A crucial determinant is that government can be expected to take the right decisions without the need for scrutiny. Two of the top reasons cited for a lack of trust in government include corruption or fraud, and wrong incentives driving policies. Governments must act on these issues, building measures to ensure reliability, fairness, responsiveness, inclusiveness and integrity into policy making and service delivery.
Supporting efforts to restore trust is one of the OECD’s missions, and is integral to our efforts to help governments design “better policies for better lives”, and we have a number of unique tools and projects to help make governments (and business) more trustworthy.
- Government at a Glance 2013 provides indicators on government revenues, expenditures, and employment as well as data on education and health. It also includes indicators on governance and public management issues, such as transparency in governance, regulatory governance, new ways of delivering public services and human resource management and compensation in the public service.
- The OECD Policy Forum on Restoring Trust in Government on 14-15 November 2013 will take stock of the key policy challenges and trends in regulating money in politics to enhance fairness, integrity and transparency in decision making.
- The OECD Public Governance Reviews help governments identify where they perform well and where they could improve the performance, sustainability and delivery of public value. This year’s review of Greece’s social welfare programmes for example highlights areas for significant efficiency gains, to support informed and concrete decisions by the Greek government on where budgetary savings can be made, taking into account the balance between societal groups and the need to maintain social cohesion.
- CleanGovBiz helps governments to fight corruption and engage with civil society and the private sector to promote integrity.