The thoughts that count - the best of global thought leadership (November 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.

Government & policymaking  

The Humble Policy Maker Demos (UK)

This first paper in Demos’ Making Democracy Work explores why the basic way we make decisions is undermining our ability to navigate this age. The author challenges the “two dominant mindsets in policy making – partisan thinking and technocracy – and makes the case that they cannot solve our problems, and explains how and why she changed her mind to get to this point.”

Living in the Exponential Age Demos (UK)

Part of the Making Democracy Work series of papers by the think tank, this second report examines “the vast scope of the change we are living through, and the way in which that change shifts the landscape for the kind of state the country needs. The author argues that to thrive through an era of exponential change we need a new ‘gravitational state’.”

Pay reform for the senior civil service – Institute for Government (UK)

This report, commissioned by the Office of Manpower Economics, reviews current levels of UK senior civil service pay and assesses the government’s plans to introduce a “capability-based pay” system where senior civil servants are rated and paid as “developing”, “competent” or “expert”.

Five steps to higher standards in public life – Institute for Government (UK)

Following a series of high-profile issues and U-turns, this paper examines and lays out recommendations of how to reform ethical standards in UK public life. Recommendations in the report include calls for a tougher regulator, greater transparency and changes to the ‘Ministerial Code’.

The State of the State 2021–2022 – Reform (UK)

This report by Deloitte and Reform, using survey data by Ipsos Mori, marks a decade since the first instalment of the yearly review of public attitudes towards the state. This year’s State of the State finds government and public services dealing with both the pandemic and its wider repercussions as a ‘new normal’ emerges.

Open, Meritocratic and Transparent – Policy Exchange (UK)

This report calls for an urgent overhaul of UK Civil Service appointments in light of recent revelations that have caused concerns about the current system.


Tax and Expenditure Limitations for Canada’s Federal Government: A Primer – Fraser Institute (Canada)

The author posits that the debate over federal government finances in the wake of the pandemic must focus on fiscal balance. In this context, the paper makes the case for ‘Tax and Expenditure Limitations’ (TELs); that is, an institutional redesign of the policy process that places limits on either spending or taxation. According to the author, the key perceived benefit of TELs, is that serve as a restraint on politicians and civil servants who have little incentive to contain spending in response to pressures.

Build Back Better Legislation Would Cut Poverty, Boost Opportunity Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (US)

The child poverty rate in the US is far higher than countries such as the UK, Germany and France when accounting for government assistance. This disproportionately affects children of colour, with one in five black and Latino children living below the poverty line in 2019. The CBPP welcomes the Build Back Better Act as taking key steps to redress this and improve quality of life for low- and middle-income Americans, through extending the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit; expanding affordable housing; closing the Medicaid coverage gap; extending postpartum people’s post-pregnancy healthcare coverage; and expanding childcare and preschool.

Inflation: A Brief Look Back, and a Path Forward Cato Institute (US)

This blog post urges restraint in monetary policy, despite surging inflation, due to the underlying reason for said inflation being the unprecedented economic disruption, and the enormous, rapid swings in demand and ability to supply goods and services, brought about by Covid-19.


A healthier future: How to make general practice work better for everyone Social Market Foundation (UK)

This collection of essays about general practice in England and its future. offer analysis and prescriptions based on expertise developed working in fields including medicine, NHS management, economics and the Civil Service.

Fit for the future: What can the NHS learn about digital health care from other European countries?  Nuffield Trust (UK)

The rapid increase in the use of technology during the Covid-19 pandemic shows that digital health technology will be a fundamental part of health system recovery and for preparing for the future, the Nuffield Trust argues. In this report, they examine the approach that five European countries have taken to implementing digital technology and draw out learnings for the NHS.

Attracting, supporting and retaining a diverse NHS workforce  Nuffield Trust (UK)

In this major new report commissioned by NHS Employers, the Nuffield Trust examine the representation of under-served groups and provide a set of recommendations for change as the NHS strives to become an exemplar of equality, diversity and inclusion.

New Spending from Filling the Medicaid Coverage Gap Outweighs Cuts in Disproportionate Share Payments  Urban Institute (US)

This paper examines how increases in federal subsidies set out by the Build Back Better Act would flow to people living under the federal poverty line in states which have not expanded Medicaid (the ‘Medicaid gap’). Overall, the Urban Institute estimates that new federal health subsidies for people in the Medicaid gap in non-expansion states would amount to over $19 billion. 

Towards true universal care: Reforming the NHS charging system  Institute for Public Policy Research (UK)

This paper argues that the system of charging migrants for healthcare in England has become increasingly stringent in recent years and reportedly outlines the adverse impacts of these changes.

New House Build Back Better Legislation Would Make Long-Lasting Medicaid Improvements Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (US)

This analysis finds that the Build Back Better legislation would create a pathway to health coverage for two million Americans in the Medicaid coverage gap, strengthen Medicaid and children’s health insurance coverage for parents and children, improve health insurance for disabled people and former inmates, and narrow racial and ethnic health disparities.

Funding Rare Disease Therapies in Australia The McKell Institute (Australia)

For the 2 million Australians living with rare diseases, access to medicines can be inadequate. This report reassesses 2014 research by the McKell Institute, assessing the state of rare disease therapies in Australia.


Compulsory COVID-19 contact-tracing apps: More evidence from New Zealand – American Enterprise Institute

As New Zealand prepares to move to a ‘traffic light’ system once all its health districts are reporting 90% full vaccination rates among over-16s, this blog post examines use of New Zealand’s contract-tracing app NZ Covid Tracer (NZCT), whose use has been mandatory for all businesses and individuals since September 7. Evidence suggests that, although 66% of the population has downloaded the app, the use mandate has not significantly increased QR code scans, with only 35% of apps recording scans on any given day following the mandate.

Social care

A radical new vision for social care – The Health Foundation (UK)

Acclaimed author and social innovator Hilary Cottam argues that the Covid-19 pandemic has been a cataclysm, ‘brutally exposing the crisis in the funding, culture and operation of our care systems’. She argues that “we can only honour this recent experience and the deeper legacies of injustice, by creating something new. And by daring to imagine what it really means to care.”

A ‘radically realistic’ vision for adult social care – The King’s Fund (UK)

This long-read article examines the systemic issues with the English social care system, the authors argue are a result of a “failure to deliver reform” for the last two decades. The issues identified include: an overly-stringent means test; catastrophic costs; unmet need; patchy care quality; poor workforce pay and conditions; a fragile provider market; disjointed care; and a ‘postcode lottery’ of access. 

New Build Back Better childcare entitlement will be costly for states – American Enterprise Institute

Following the passage of the ‘Build Back Better’ (BBB) plan through the House of Representatives, the American Enterprise Institute warns that the costs of its childcare provisions will be greater than many assume. By making a much larger number of American families eligible for government assistance in childcare and by increasing overall childcare costs through wage mandates and quality assurances, AEI suggests that the BBB Act’s childcare programme could wind up costing the federal government over $500 billion by 2031. Not only that, but requiring states to come up with 5% of the new childcare benefit costs and other expenses will mean states need to come up with an additional $3 billion annually.

Caring for older patients with complex needs – The Health Foundation (UK)

Comparing 11 OECD countries, the Health Foundation conducts comparable analysis examining how health care use, spending and outcomes differ between countries. The analysis finds that the NHS is a relatively low-cost healthcare system but identifies issues with mortality for older patients and issues with productivity.

Transport & infrastructure

HS2: lessons for future infrastructure projects – Institute for Government (UK)

This paper sets out how government can ensure future infrastructure spending is money well spent – and where ministers can learn from the mistakes of the UK rail project ‘HS2’. It assesses why HS2’s estimated cost rose from £48bn in 2011 to more than £125bn in 2020.

The Midwest Rail Plan: A Disaster Waiting to Happen Cato Institute (US)

The Cato Institute reviews the Midwest Regional Rail Plan by Illinois, Michigan and other Midwestern states to spend $116 to $162 billion on building high-speed rail lines and upgrading existing rail lines. Cato argues that the Midwestern states have, in the past 12 years, spent $3.5 billion on rail improvements and procurement and seen very little progress; that the rail plans are limited in scope to the Chicago area; that passenger rail tickets will not be able to compete with buses and airlines; and that the states overestimate both the attractiveness of rail to travellers in the Midwest and the greenhouse gas savings.

Urban planning trends and challenges in the pursuit of Saudi Vision 2030  King Salman Center for Local Governance (KSA)

This long-read article looks at the role of ‘the place’ and urban planning in the realisation of Saudi Arabia’s flagship economic and policy reform process known as Vision 2030.

On EV Tax Credits, What’s Proponents’ Real Objective? Cato Institute (US)

The newly passed Build Back Better package includes tax subsidies which encourage electric vehicle (EV) customers to buy vehicles assembled at American plants with unionised workers. However, Cato argues that this actually disregards ‘economic reality’ and would actually stifle domestic EV manufacturing and purchases.

Digital & technology

Platforms and the public square The RSA (UK)

This research considers the work done so far and offers a new way of thinking about how to respond to the growing amount of misinformation in the digital sphere. It argues that we should change our approach to think of misinformation not as one intractable, homogenous social problem, but by understanding who the spreaders and blockers of misinformation are, and how we best work with them to mitigate or enhance their activities.

Biometric technologies at work: a proposed use-based taxonomy Bruegel Institute (Europe)

The Bruegel Institute notes how biometric technologies have the potential to significantly improve worker productivity, security and safety. However, they are also the source of new risk, including exposure to potential personal data abuse or distress caused by permanent monitoring. The authors conclude that there is potential for technology to address workplace health hazards, but this will require improved EU regulation of Artificial Intelligence.

Offline, no one can hear you scream: Achieving digital equity in the 21st century The RSA (UK)

With a growing number of services moving online, The RSA in partnership with the Digital Poverty Alliance explore what a “digitally equal future could look like and make a range of recommendations on what needs to happen to get there.”

User-centricity: What it Means, How it Works, Why it’s Needed The Lisbon Council (Europe)

This new policy brief from the Lisbon Council looks critically at the need for putting citizens at the heart of digital government – and analyses six successful projects in key European cities: Bologna, Espp, Milan, Murcia, Rotterdam, and Tallinn. Addressing the key trends driving breakthroughs in digital-delivery – in the public and private sector – the authors propose a give-pint roadmap for greater Europe-national-local collaboration.

Defence & security

How to Unlock the National Security Strategy RUSI (UK)

Former GCHQ Director and UK Government Civil Servant Sir David Omand co-authors this long-read outlining five ways of reforming the UK’s ‘national security apparatus’: a coherent national structure; a skills and talent plan; clearly allocated responsibilities for delivery; a world class risk identification and alerting system; and relentless focus on what is important, not just what is urgent.

Why the fate of the Defense Authorization Bill matters – American Enterprise Institute

This blog post draws readers’ attention to two themes in the fiscal year 2022 Defence Authorisation bill due to be considered by the US Senate: barriers to defence modernisation and support for combatant commands. These areas, argues the blog author, illustrate how the Defence Authorisation bill remains a key congressional responsibility, albeit one which has fallen victim to polarised gridlock.

Arab Climate Futures: of Risk and Readiness – EU Institute for Security Studies

This paper shows that tackling climate change in MENA will decisions taken both in the region and outside. Assisting the Arab world in meeting the challenges posed by climate change will be a matter of strategic importance for Europe.

Britain and the Geopolitics of Space Technology – Policy Exchange (UK)

In this report, Dr John Sheldon argues that spacepower has become critical in shaping the 21st century strategic competition and that space is a strategic sector of national security interest.

Bridging the Channel: The UK’s Nuclear Deterrent and its Role in European Security – Centre for European Reform

In March 2021, the UK announced that after three decades of reducing its nuclear weapons stockpile, the number of nuclear warheads would begin to increase. The UK also reiterates its long-standing positions that all its nuclear weapons would be committed to NATO – that is, available for use at the request of NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe. In this context, the authors examine how the EU and UK can work together for the benefit of Europe as a whole. 

Resilient Aerial Refuelling: Safeguarding the US Military’s Global Reach – Hudson Institute (US)

This study by the Hudson Institute finds that the US Air Force would likely be unable to field an aerial refuelling force capable of supporting US defence strategy and operations against adversaries such as China. The report finds that enhancing the US’ aerial refuelling capabilities is of significant strategic benefit to the American military and the Pentagon should therefore enhance its aerial refuelling architecture as a matter of top priority.


The Value of University – Centre for Policy Studies (UK)

In a new report for the Centre for Policy Studies think tank, Conor Walsh argues that while the university sector has expanded hugely in recent decades, increasing student numbers has been prioritised at the expense of quality of courses and employment outcomes.

Justice & immigration

Now the CDC Controls Border Policy, Too? – Cato Institute (US)

Since March 2020, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has expelled hundreds of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers from the United States, on the grounds that these individuals represent a Covid spread risk. The DC federal district court recently ruled in favour of several expellees challenging the CDC’s actions, a ruling which the US government is now appealing and for which Cato submitted an amicus brief in support of the appellants. Cato argues that a government victory, authorising the CDC to ‘exclude or deport virtually any entrants into the United States’, would not be consistent with the constitutional prohibition on Congress delegating legislative powers to executive branch officials.

Funding Housing Solutions to Reduce Jail Incarceration – Urban Institute (US)

This report sets forth housing-related approaches to reduce imprisonment in the US, including: providing housing without or with limited conditions; supporting the whole person to achieve housing stability; funding multiple pathways to housing stability; and plan for release before release.

Immigration as an engine for reviving the middle class in midsized cities – Brookings Institution (US)

Commentators have noted that American workers’ rejection of frontline work, which has led to supply chain disruptions, shortages and rising inflation, could be resolved by putting would-be immigrants to work in frontline roles. The Brookings Institution further observes that immigration has facilitated the economic growth seen in medium-sized American cities and in fact reversed long-term population decline. Given this, the potential value of immigrants to midsized cities in the US should not be understated. Furthermore, immigrants working in frontline roles could not only ease labour shortages, but push American citizens up the ladder into higher-paying roles.

Future of work

Rethinking Redundancy for the Automation Age – The McKell Institute (Australia)

This report explores how over-due reforms to Australia’s redundancy framework can provide a smoother path to re-employment for Australians who lose work due to technological disruption.

Recruiting and Hiring a Diverse and Talented Public Sector Workforce – RAND Corporation (US)

This report examines the public sector workforce of Southern California to analyse how government agencies can seek to attract future generations of graduates and talented workers. It recommends, among other things, that: public sector employers emphasise their commitment to a diverse and talented workforce; the benefits of public sector careers and opportunities for jobs and internships in the public sector be communicated to graduates; connections between universities and government be institutionalised.

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