Sometimes the values that we pursue in public relations can put wider social and economic issues into context. Trust is one of those values.
Britain's economy shrank in the last quarter of 2011 by slightly more than expected as manufacturing slowed down an already very slow economic recovery. The CBI say shoppers reined in spending at the start of January after the pre-Christmas sales. Our businesses and high streets are heading back to the gloomy figures that marked the 2009 recession.
Whether it is true as some economists are suggesting, that the UK is already back in recession, clearly businesses and households are not optimistic about the future. Among his many challenges, George Osborne has to build the confidence that will encourage spending and investment and confidence, is based, at least in part, on trust.
Trust is a complex investment we make in people and institutions based on our experiences, our values and on their reputation, particularly if they are asking us to act in a way that we might not otherwise act. In this case, a major business investment or substantial personal purchase would possibly be against our better judgment based on what we see happening in the economy globally and locally.
According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, less than a third of the British public are confident that the UK government is making the right decisions. There is a serious gap between expectation and performance. 71% of those surveyed believe that the government needs to effectively manage the country's financial affairs, but only 12% think that this is actually happening. Trust may be one indicator we can use to understand the trajectory of the economy if it truly does underpin our actions.
How does the government gain our trust in order to engender the confidence which they need as an element in the recovery? If we can be convinced that everything is ok, will confidence return and will we all get back to the high street with our wallets at the ready? Communicating a message designed to rebuild confidence will only succeed if it is one we can trust and more crucially if it is backed by action. Even the smallest evidence that change is either possible or already starting to happen is important in building confidence. It is no co-incidence that the BRICS countries have the highest levels of trust in their governments with 88% of Brazilian respondents saying that they 'trust government to do what is right'. In good times and in growth, trust and confidence are typically high.
And there may be some lessons for governments from the results that relate to corporate sentiment where high quality products and services score top highest with transparent and honest business practices as the key issues influencing reputation. Governments, like corporates have to be delivering tangible benefits or great services (however small) as well as being seen to be doing things in the right way in order to increase trust and in turn build confidence.
Another lesson from industry can perhaps be taken from the high percentage of respondents (88%) who ranked technology companies as those 'most trusted to do what is right'. Beyond the obvious examples such as the Google mantra to do no evil, technology companies by design are forward thinking and solution driven organisations. In comparison, as more western countries go into financial free-fall or at least appear to teeter on the brink, our governments are not delivering solutions that are satisfying voters.
As government works towards securing a stronger financial future, it needs to find better ways to convince us that there is a real change or potential for change to the current situation through a combination of action, communication and evidence. One way to do this could be by engaging through a genuine dialogue with the public as individual decision makers who have bearing on the economic situation. Real trust must be actively earned.