Comment Blog 16 May, 2024

Scores on the doors – how the UK ranks in good governance

Joe Hill
Policy Director

Policymakers are always hungry for international comparisons to help their work. Much of government schools policy since 2010 has been driven by case studies from East Asia and the USA. Any discussion of NHS funding quickly leads to comparisons with private models from the USA, and social insurance from continental European countries.

But in the top trumps of nations, is there an overall winner? Yesterday the Chandler Institute of Governance published their annual Good Government Index — ranking 113 countries by the quality of their governance.

Britain comes 11th when assessed across all indicators. For comparison, last year it ranked 9th — though the authors are keen that comparisons aren’t drawn too closely, given the methodology has changed, and some countries have been added to the index (for example, Luxembourg, a new entrant, ranked 7th). Three key takeaways from the analysis:

  • Strengths. The UK comes second internationally in the category of Global Influence and Reputation, beaten to first place by France. The three new trade deals signed since leaving the EU (Australia, New Zealand and CPTPP) look to be supporting British success here, along with our large diplomatic presence internationally — with 225 diplomatic posts, the 7th largest international presence in the world. It’s interesting that military capabilities aren’t considered in the category of Global Influence as the world becomes increasingly unstable — the UK consistently spends over 2 per cent of GDP to meet it’s NATO target, the 6th largest total in the world in 2022.
  • Weaknesses. The UK is an extreme outlier in the category of Financial Stewardship, ranking 27th. Other countries which ranked highly overall tended to perform very well in this indicator, and including comparable-sized countries (Germany). Looking at the key indicators, we can put much of our poor performance down to stagnant productivity growth since the 2010s. The phenomenon isn’t unique to the UK, but there are clearly unique contributors — our most productive region, London, is now the most expensive city in the world to build infrastructure in — overtaking Geneva.
  • Easy to miss. Strong institutions (where we rank 7th) are pulling the UK score up — measures such as the strength of our national statistical office, the extent of IT transformation. These more ‘back-office’ strengths are easy to overlook, but they are foundational to delivering many of the productivity improvements which could improve government productivity — particularly scaling the deployment of AI in public services.

Comparison may be the thief of joy, but the world is a laboratory of different governance experiments. We should learn from the successes (and failures) of other nations when planning our own path!