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OECD Government at a Glance 2021 – Right on target; resilience and trust are key – but missing the link on public services and social dialogue

11 July 2021

The OECD flagship report “Government at a Glance” published on 9 July, looks post-COVID-19 stressing the importance for governments of building resilience to crises and regaining citizen’s trust. While the OECD’s focus on resilience and trust in government is welcome, there is little said about the disastrous impact of past austerity measures on government and services on the causes, nor on the importance of social dialogue and tri-partite agreements on the solutions.

The 2021 edition of Government at a Glance highlights the importance of governments’’ ability to respond to crises at speed and scale while safeguarding trust and transparency as one of the biggest lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic. The TUAC welcomes these conclusions but regrets that the OECD does not adequately stress that trust in governments is first and foremost about governments and public services being able to deliver. Years of austerity measures have reduced governments’ ability to respond to e.g. a health crisis like COVID-19 where hospitals in many OECD countries suddenly found themselves overwhelmed.

The report concludes amongst other that governments should step up efforts in three areas to boost trust and transparency and reinforce democracy:

  • Tackling misinformation
  • Enhance representation and participation seeking to ensure inclusion and diversity
  • Strengthening governance to tackle global challenges while harnessing the potential of new technologies.

The TUAC agrees that these are important aspects but would also underline equitable access to public services as paramount in ensuring trust and a well-functioning democracy. During the crisis, TUAC affiliates have demonstrated how social dialogue and tripartite agreements helps ensure broadly founded solutions to acute problems keeping a hand under workers and businesses – see TUACs overview of trade union and social partners’ responses to the crisis.  It is therefore very regrettable that the new OECD report does not reflect on the importance of such measures especially considering that the report notes that “active engagement of external stakeholders in policy making has often been limited during COVID-19, potentially reducing the quality of policy design and citizen trust”. The report does acknowledge that “governments which locked in lessons from similar crises, and drew on partnerships, have often been more resilient to COVID-19”. However, it does not present a satisfactory picture of the involvement and importance of social partners in ensuring effective government responses to the crisis.

The report stresses that governments should not cut back on necessary support whilst the crisis is ongoing. However, it also expresses concern about “large primary deficits” which it concludes is unlikely to be sustainable over the longer term. The TUAC worries that this could encourage member countries to end support measures before time is right. The OECD and member countries must not repeat the mistakes of the financial crisis of 2008 where a too quick turn to pro-cyclical austerity measures did not only fail to reduce public debt volumes, but depressed economic growth and affected job quality in the years to come. Instead, governments must take action to facilitate a sustainable recovery and indeed help “Building back better” by putting people, workers and the environment at the centre of policy action.

Published every second year, the OECD report Government at a Glance provides internationally comparable indicators on government activities and their results in OECD countries. This year, the report includes input indicators on public finance and employment and data on amongst other budgeting practices and procedures, human resources management, regulatory governance, public procurement, the governance of infrastructure, public sector integrity, open government and digital government. The report, also addresses core government results such as trust in public institutions, political efficacy, income redistribution and the reduction of inequality, rule of law and cost effectiveness as well as indicators on access, responsiveness, quality and citizen satisfaction for a number of sectors – including health care and education.

Read the Government at a Glance 2021 here.