The thoughts that count - the best of global thought leadership (August 2021)

What will the public services we use look like in the future? The Serco Institute’s monthly digest – The Thoughts That Count – pulls together some of the best thinking on public services policy from across the world.

Public Services & Culture

AEI Polling Report: COVID-19 update, critical race theory, crime and the police, capitalism and inequality, and Ordinary Life: Getting more expensive? – American Enterprise Institute

This AEI Polling Report examines Americans’ views on COVID-19, school curricula, crime and justice, capitalism and other subjects. The report finds that Americans’ confidence in being able to overcome the pandemic has been dented by the Delta variant; that 56% of Americans support allowing private businesses to impose vaccine mandates on their employees; only half of Americans are familiar with ‘critical race theory’, but 73% support teaching high school students about racism in the US; 70% agree that violent crime is on the increase but only 22% support defunding the police; 57% support capitalism but 80% believe prices for petrol and groceries are rising.

Health & Social Care

Infinity war at the health law fight club: Administering and interpreting the Affordable Care ActAmerican Enterprise Institute

This report examines the many conflicts, using litigation, regulation and administration, and their limited resolutions that have ensued since the Affordable Care Act was passed in March 2010. For the Biden administration, the report recommends new rulemaking to close the regulatory loopholes created by the Trump administration, rather than the ‘politically facile’ option of making ACA coverage more financially attractive.

Community first social careInstitute for Public Policy Research (UK)

The IPPR not only argues for increased state funding for social care, but a restructured social care strategy to secure better outcomes for patients. To this end, this report advocates ‘community first social care’, shifting care into the community and the places ‘people call home’, as an alternative social care reform agenda.

The public health workforce: overdue for attentionThe King’s Fund (UK)

This blog post calls for a comprehensive workforce plan for directors and public health, and public health workers more broadly, to meet challenges such as staff shortages, delivers attractive career paths for public health workers in the NHS and local government, and supports directors of public health to shape and influence the reformed system.

COVID-19, Vaccines, Lockdown & Financial Support

The Good Credit Index 2021Demos (UK)

The third edition of the annual Good Credit Index has found that the government’s financial support measures, such as the furlough scheme, eviction ban, payment deferrals and the £20 universal credit uplift, have reduced the need for credit and been a lifeline to many vulnerable households. The report calls upon the government to publish a roadmap for gradually ending furlough and to retain the universal credit uplift.

The Power of Food: Community experiences of tackling food insecurityDemos (UK)

This report finds the government lacks a long-term strategy to lift people out of food insecurity and that food support for vulnerable households during the pandemic was inadequate. Demos therefore calls for the government to introduce more funding to alleviate food insecurity, including a Community Infrastructure Grant to develop better local social infrastructure.

Place-based pathologies: economic complexity maps COVID-19 outcomes in UK local authoritiesBennett Institute for Public Policy (UK)

This working paper finds that local authorities in the UK with a lower economic complexity score, typically those specialised in agriculture, manufacturing and mining, registered significantly higher COVID-19 cases and death rates, suggesting that local economic conditions have shaped residents’ experiences of the pandemic.


Principles of a good tax: Evaluating our taxation choicesThe Australia Institute

This paper discusses what makes a good tax, laying out five guiding principles. In addition, the report also reviews the performance of several different types of tax, including income tax, goods and services tax, carbon tax, and estate duties, along with several tax concessions, to assess their compliance with the five guiding principles.


A good match: Optimising Australia’s permanent skilled migrationCommittee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA)

There is evidence that Australia’s permanent skilled migration programme has not reached its full potential, with research indicating nearly one in four permanent skilled migrants in Australia are working beneath their skill level, at an estimated cost of 1.25 billion dollars’ worth of foregone wages. CEDA sets out a number of recommendations for the Federal Government to adapt Australia’s permanent skilled migration programme to suit the skills needs of the Australian economy.

Nationality and Borders Bill BriefingCentre for Social Justice (UK)

The Centre for Social Justice reviews and welcomes the provisions in the UK’s Nationality and Borders Bill which concern identifying and supporting victims of modern slavery and human trafficking. However, the briefing argues the bill does not go far enough, suggesting that the bill’s identification mechanisms are insufficient, that the reduction in the referral period in which victims are supported and protected from removal is disappointing, and criticising the bill’s restriction of leave to remain to victims whose needs are deemed to be addressable only in the UK.

Employment & skills

Bridging German and US Apprenticeship Models: The Role of IntermediariesUrban Institute (US)

This report compares the apprenticeship systems of the US, where intermediary organisations often play a vital role connecting apprentices with employers and aiding them in navigating the apprenticeship system, and Germany, where many of these functions are institutionalised and fulfilled by chambers of commerce and industry, employer associations and the government.

Delivering a fair work recovery in Scotland: Securing a living income for allInstitute for Public Policy Research (UK)

This paper makes the case for fair work, described as delivering decent living standards and the security on which to build a good life, for more Scottish workers. The report argues that this leads to improvements in financial security across pay rates, sufficient and reliable hours, working conditions and opportunities to develop and progress.

Productivity: firing on all cylindersInstitute for Government (UK)

This report assesses the UK’s productivity shortfall since the 2008 financial crisis, finding that although high-value service industries such as finance showed far slower growth, lower-value but high-employment sectors such as hospitality and retail made impressive productivity gains. The Institute for Government therefore suggests the government adopt an economy-wide approach which does not assume high-employment sectors are a drag on growth and addresses problems with management and infrastructure, slow adoption of technology, a skilled staff shortage and lack of access to finance.

Driving Uncertainty: Labour Rights in the Gig EconomyCentre for European Reform

This insight considers how the European Commission can best protect workers in Europe’s expanding gig economy from poor working conditions, such as low pay. The thought piece calls for the Commission to use competition policy to ensure fairer outcomes for gig economy workers.

Getting young people on board of the European Pillar of Social RightsEuropean Trade Union Confederation

This thought piece highlights the problems faced by young Europeans in securing good-quality employment and education, endangering the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights.


Policing after the pandemic: harnessing the power of dataReform (UK)

This event write-up summarises a policy roundtable held by Reform on the topic of post-COVID policing and how law enforcement might better use the power of data to understand the changing crime landscape and better prevent and solve crime.

Criminal Justice Reform: victims, probation, and prisonsCentre for Social Justice (UK)

The Centre for Social Justice outlines in this blog post its response to a major policy speech, hosted by the CSJ, by the Secretary of State for Justice Rt. Hon Robert Buckland QC MP. While the CSJ welcomes the minister’s measures and commitment to victims, it encourages the government to go still further, and to deal with the court backlog which delays justice; to explore alternatives to custody allowing non-dangerous offenders to serve their sentences in the community with access to employment and housing; and to further invest in the prison workforce and to deploy digital technology across the prison estate.

Governance & Policy

The Biden Executive Order and Market Power – Cato Institute (US)

This brief assesses the Biden administration’s executive order of 9 July 2021 to strengthen competition and discourage monopolies in the US economy, finding that the executive order poorly defines competition and fails to address crucial barriers to competition, such as tariffs, zoning laws and regulation. The Cato Institute concludes that while the executive order proposes some good government interventions to increase competition, such as restricting drug patents, a more effective way to promote competition would be to remove government-imposed barriers to entry.

Northern mayors: 100 days of a new termInstitute for Public Policy Research (UK)

This briefing paper assesses the first 100 days of the second term of the six metro mayors of the north of England, who collectively govern 9.7 million people and a combined economy worth £227 billion. The paper concludes that the mayors are testing the limits of their devolution deals and that, as they wield ‘soft power’ and other forms of influence to serve their constituents, metro mayors are more powerful than many people think.


Expanding Federal Transit Operations Funding Could Help Achieve Equitable Access to Public TransportationUrban Institute (US)

This blog post finds that public transit in the US is largely dependent on funding from state and local government, resulting in inequities, as Democrat-controlled progressive states and wealthier localities are more willing and able to fund public transit. The Urban Institute calls upon the federal government to expand funding availability for transport; ensure funding is allocated based on need; build in provisions so that federal money cannot simply replace existing, self-generated transport allocations; and create federal support for local agencies expanding transport options.

Environment & Climate Change

Back of the pack: An assessment of Australia’s energy transitionThe Australia Institute

Ahead of the COP26 conference in Glasgow, the Australian Government claims Australia is a world leader in combatting climate change, cutting greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning to renewable energy. This report evaluates these claims and Australia’s performance in climate change mitigation, finding that overall energy consumption per capita has increased and that Australia was, as of 2019, a climate laggard and one of the most carbon-intensive economies in the OECD.

Fording the Rapids: Charting a course to fresher waterThe New Zealand Initiative

This report makes recommendations to ensure the long-term durability of freshwater management systems and the water supply to future generations. While regulation may improve outcomes for now, the report makes the case for sustained improvements to freshwater management, in the form of cap-and-trade schemes which target pollutants. This would respect environmental limits while allowing farms and councils to share in a just transition by enjoying tradeable rights.

Toward a National Adaptation StrategyPublic Policy Forum (Canada)

This report is the summary of a June 2021 roundtable discussion held by the Public Policy Forum to discuss the need for a national adaptation strategy in Canada to deal with natural disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation. Participants discussed: the urgent need for such a strategy; the need for a framework designed to protect Canadians from the natural disasters Canada encounters (heat, flooding, wildfire); and the need for an infrastructure which reflects the future climate and protects communities.

Climate and Power System Reliability in the Aftermath of the Texas BlackoutsKing Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center (KSA)

This commentary concerns the need for reliable power systems in the wake of the February 2021 blackouts which saw much of Texas lose power. The paper provides an overview of how reliability has been addressed in power systems, discusses future challenges, and calls for a comprehensive assessment of vulnerability in power systems and infrastructure to increasingly frequent extreme weather events.

Defence & Security

Energizing data-driven operations at the tactical edgeAmerican Enterprise Institute

This report identifies the challenges of meeting the future energy needs of military operations at the ‘tactical edge’, or the outer limits of force projections, as the field of defence moves into an era characterised by information technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics.

Sea Power Conference Report 2021Royal United Services Institute (UK)

This report discusses the findings of the annual Sea Power Conference, concerning key trends emerging in 21st-century maritime power. The report’s themes include: the challenges faced by Western naval powers in continuing to project their overseas power; the need for naval power to be integrated across government; and the trade-offs naval forces will need to make between structuring themselves to compete or to fight at high intensity.

Precision Strike in 21st-Century Multidomain Operations Conference Report – Royal United Services Institute (UK)

This report concerns the topics discussed at the Royal United Service Institute’s inaugural precision strike conference in May 2021. Themes included: peer competitors’ reliance on long-range precision strikes in their efforts to disturb the preferred Western mode of operations; the importance of deep effects to create the necessary windows of opportunity to conduct operations in contested areas; and the accompanying importance of offence-defence integration to create these effects and deny them to adversaries.

How will Women, Peace, and Security Fit into NATO’s Next Strategic Concept? – Centre for International and Defence Policy (Canada)

This piece examines how NATO’s women, peace and security (WPS) agenda, which seeks to prevent violence against women in conflict zones and promotes women’s equal participation in security decision-making processes, has developed since 2007 and will continue to develop. It argues that NATO’s focus on WPS in the global south has led it to neglect WPS issues domestically; that NATO fails to acknowledge women as important agents in peacebuilding and conflict resolution; and that the organisation should integrate the WPS agenda, gender mainstreaming, and women’s perspectives into all areas of policymaking.

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