Trust in public services soars in New Zealand due to handling of COVID-19

By on 23/02/2021
COVID-19 response: Prime minister Jacinda Ardern secured a second term in October 2020 thanks in part to her handling of the pandemic, which has also led to a surge in trust for the public service. Credit: Governor-General of New Zealand/ CC BY 4.0/Wikimedia Commons

Trust in New Zealand’s public sector surged between December 2019 and December 2020 following the government’s successful response to COVID-19, according to results from an online survey.

More than two-thirds (69%) of New Zealanders say they trust the public sector, an 18-point rise from 51% in the previous year. This is the highest result since the country began its regular survey in 2007, according to its publishers Te Kawa Mataaho Public Service Commission.

By comparison, trust in the private sector overall stood at 48%, a lift of six percentage points compared with the previous year.

The Kiwis Count survey asks citizens for their views and experiences on the public services they have received, and their trust in the public and private sectors. Government agencies use the feedback to see where services are working well, and where to focus improvement efforts. 

The survey usually happens quarterly but was interrupted in 2020 due to the pandemic. This recent instalment was conducted from October to December 2020, with a sample of 1,000 people answering questions online.

The spike in trust and confidence was likely due to the government’s pandemic response, according to New Zealand’s public service commissioner, Peter Hughes. “The public don’t always get to see the work public servants do behind the scenes. COVID-19 has given New Zealanders a glimpse behind the curtain of the great work that public servants do every day,” he said.

The challenge is now to maintain the service’s reputation, he added.

International rankings

New Zealand’s government has also scored highly in several recent international rankings. The country was ranked first in the recent Bloomberg Covid Resilience Ranking. This is a monthly report that shows where the pandemic is being handled with the least social and economic disruption: New Zealand came top with a resilience score of 76.8 for the November 2020 to January 2021 timeframe.

Transparency International, a non-profit that fights global corruption, also ranked New Zealand joint first, alongside Denmark, in its 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index. Meanwhile, the International Civil Service Effectiveness Index 2019 ranked New Zealand the second highest out of the 38 countries studied, and ranked highest in the world for integrity, capabilities, and procurement. ​

In October, New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern won the right to govern for a second term. The landslide result saw Labour securing 49% of the vote and a 64-seat parliamentary majority. The opposition centre-right National Party won 27% in the poll, enough for just 35 seats in the 120-seat assembly.

About Catherine Early

Catherine is a journalist and editor specialising in government policy and regulation. She writes predominantly about environmental issues and has held permanent roles at the Environmentalist (now known as Transform), the ENDS Report, Planning magazine and Windpower Monthly, and has also written for the Guardian, the Ecologist and China Dialogue. She was a finalist in the Guardian’s International Development Journalism competition 2009, and was part of the team that won PPA Business Magazine of the Year 2011 for Windpower Monthly. She also won an outstanding content award at Haymarket Media Group’s employee awards for data-led stories in Planning magazine. She holds a 2:1 honours degree in English language and literature from Birmingham University.

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