The Policy Year Ahead: Time for reflections, actions and elections?

2021 started with much hope. Vaccines revealed a road to a post-coronavirus world. COP-26 could pave a path to a greener, cleaner future. New political leaders promised to find a route around the divisions of the past.

There was, however, a genuine sense of déjà vu as 2021 drew to a close. Mutations of the coronavirus kept many countries under tight restrictions, global cooperation continued to falter, and, in many respects, old divisions only felt more entrenched.

What might 2022 hold in store? There is undoubtedly a sense of trepidation as we head into the new year. But bubbling beneath is a cautious optimism that the defining issue of the last two years – the pandemic – is lurching into its final days. With the assistance of vaccines, the omicron variant looks significantly less of an existential threat to our society. The present public services policy paradigm has been almost entirely defined by the pandemic. So what might fill this space in a post-pandemic world?

Three key themes in 2022 will be:

  1. Reflection – the pandemic has been a period of reaction. Frenetic efforts to respond to unpredictable changes. Most countries have promised reviews of how they did. 2022 is the year when many of these will start. From the ability of public services to cope with changing demands, to the economic consequences and the lockdown policies, the biggest question in 2022 will be ‘how did we do?’

  2. Action – the promises of many governments to ‘build back better’ have been heavily hampered by the variants and yo-yoing restrictions required to deal with the ever-evolving pandemic. 2022 is likely to be the best opportunity yet for administrations to realise their policy promises of revitalised and, in some cases, revolutionised public services. They will also need to take action to manage the ever-expanding backlog across public services. From immigration and justice to health and housing, the pandemic has created a logjam across many already stressed services that will need creative solutions if they are to be unclogged.

  3. Elections – US mid-terms, French Presidential and UK local elections, to name just a few, all take place in 2022. All will inevitably be coloured by the countries pandemic policies, but will they act as referendums on how national governments dealt with Covid? Regardless, we will see big promises on public services, new policy approaches and spending commitments.

Where will this leave us come twelve-months’ time, we don’t know. However, even if we are truly within reach of a ‘post-pandemic’ world, the ripple effect of Covid-19 on all aspects of society will still be felt.  As we emerge from the period of crisis, the increasingly challenging economic and social landscape reveals itself, meaning more and more is being asked of public services with fewer and fewer resources.

It is a time when policy innovation will not just be nice, it will be necessary if we are going to overcome the challenges ahead.

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