Half of UK public does not trust government with long-term planning

02 November 2023 Consultancy.uk 4 min. read
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The UK's public institutions face a multitude of systemic problems, which they must plan for to deliver a healthy and prosperous future for the country’s residents. However, with a yawning void opening between the attitudes of the government and the general public, institutions first need to find ways to restore trust in their operations.

In February 2023, PwC conducted research to explore what is driving levels of trust in public institutions. The consulting and accounting firm surveyed 4,060 people and undertook multiple focus groups. It found that an increasing divide between government priorities and public expectations has taken a dramatic toll on trust for the state’s operations.

According to the researchers, a mere 37% of respondents thought that public sector institutions would represent their interests. The same number also expected them to spend public money wisely. And while a majority of 53% did say they did at least trust government organisations to plan for the future, almost half were still unconvinced of this – with issues such as climate change, the pandemic and matters of global security weighing heavily on their minds.

To what extent do respondents trust the UKs publicsector institutions to perform the following tasks

Rachel Taylor, PwC’s UK government and health industries leader commented, “The UK's public institutions face the challenge of declining trust from members of the public. Our research shows that while organisations are trusted to plan for the future, the public does not trust them to spend money wisely or represent their interests.”

When it comes to trusting the state to spend public money wisely, the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic will likely linger long in the minds of the public. Having initially failed to stock adequate levels of protective materials for frontline health workers, or to procure a necessary number of respiratory aids for the under-funded and overwhelmed NHS, the government proceeded to rack up huge fees paying consultants to oversee their public health response – with many critics unconvinced of the value for money this provided.

Meanwhile, the UK government’s attitudes toward a number of issues seems to be impacting belief that the state’s organs act on the public’s behalf. For example, recent polling from UK-based public data company YouGov indicated that 76% of British adult citizens believe a ceasefire should be implemented in the Israel-Hamas war, and an estimated 500,000 people recently marched in London to call for it. However, so far the chief response of the government has been to discuss how to criminalise peaceful protest and empower police to crack down on it, while ignoring those demands for a humanitarian end to the conflict – and sacking public representatives who acknowledge the demands.

At the same time, the portion of people who do not trust the UK government for long-term planning may grow, as it backs away from a number of plans relating to climate change. While another online poll conducted by YouGov recently showed an overwhelming 82% of respondents considered climate change to be either very or fairly important, the public sector is moving away from a number of key commitments to the cause. For example, incumbent Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's revised priorities – including a weakening of key net zero policies, including pushing back the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in the UK – already seem to be impacting UK industry’s sense of urgency around meeting carbon reduction targets.

Even so, according to Taylor, “There are opportunities to build on higher levels of trust amongst young people… This will be crucial in tackling major challenges like inequality or climate change. It will require bold action to transform business models, invest in new capabilities and seize opportunities.”

Looking ahead, PwC now plans to “activate our work” researching trust in the public sector, to help re-engage people with their government institutions. This will be delivered through “a multi-channel campaign to facilitate widespread engagement and ownership” of the change needed – including a larger role for the private sector in assisting the delivery of key projects. How much that will do for trust in public spending remains to be seen, though.

Elsewhere, PwC has resumed work with the UK’s party of opposition. According to reports from Open Democracy, the Labour Party – which looks set to form the next government – has accepted more than £230,000 worth of free staff from PwC and EY since Keir Starmer took over as leader in 2020 – and just four years after an inquiry chaired by Rachel Reeves, now Labour’s shadow chancellor, recommended the accounting giants be broken up and a new independent regulator be established.