Recovery must be driven by public investment in local public services

Speaking on the issue of “Public Service Delivery” at the UN-Habitat Experts Group Meeting (EGM) The Future of Urban Governance last 27 April, PSI General Secretary Rosa Pavanelli told the UN and urban policy leaders that local public services must be urgently strengthened through adequate public funding and staffing to beat the pandemic and drive a sustainable, inclusive recovery.

Drawing on the first-hand worldwide experience of PSI’s public service workers constituency, Pavanelli pointed at the overall unpreparedness of national and local governments at the onset of the outbreak, as they were unable to provide adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to frontline staff and life-saving ventilators and medication to patients.

Decades of globalised, delocalised industrial production and long supply chains have created dependency over life-saving medical equipment and goods and are responsible for the unpreparedness of many governments.

“We must fix this. We need to shorten supply chains and governments at all levels need to rethink their industrial production policies to respond to needs of their territories and their local communities” Pavanelli said.

The pandemic has exposed the immense needs for investment in all public services, not just health. It has shown the importance of critical services such as education, transport, public and social housing, water and sanitation, demonstrating how they have kept our communities safe and cohesive. Policy decisions for sustainable economic development must prioritise the wellbeing of our communities, not just serve corporate profits and elites.

“Those who have been responsible for the crisis we are going through, cannot be part of the solution: PPPs, blended and innovative finance are not the response. They are part of the problem”, she added.

New Zealand, which invested extensively in its public health system - including in appropriate staffing levels - fared much better than countries that have systematically cut funding, staff and privatised their health services. For instance, the far-reaching privatisation of the Madrid health services made it much harder for the Spanish capital to effectively respond to the pandemic, including compared to other cities in Spain.


The main objective of the EGM is to re-align and strengthen @UNHABITAT work on Governance to support the Flagship Programmes and the domains of change of the UN-Habitat Strategic Plan 2020-2023. This will contribute towards the implementation of the New Urban Agenda and UN-Habitat Strategic Plan 2020-2023 and can act as a catalyst for a better quality of life for all in an urbanizing world. #UN-Habitat #UrbanGovernance #SDG11 #NewUrbanAgenda #Leavenoonebehind

UN HABITAT - Expert Group Meeting on Urban Governance (Day 1), April 27, 2021

Publicly funding public services is possible as long as the taxation system is fixed and made equitable. Even the new US Administration is now planning to impose a global tax on corporations. The trade union movement is asking for a minimum of 25%, but even the 21% proposed by US President Biden would be enough to provide funds to address social protection deficit globally and pool resources for a different form of development.

Also, remunicipalisation – the return of priorly privatised public services under public ownership and control – is a viable option for local governments and has shown to be cost effective and deliver quality local public services in many communities. According to Public Futures, the global de-privatisation database, there have been 1451 verified cases of remunicipalisation across 56 countries on every continent between 2000-2021.

“Now is the time to address the issue of financing local development and build inclusive societies through the introduction of a tax on wealth and global corporations” the PSI General Secretary said.

Frictions between central and local governments - often driven by different partisan political orientations - has contributed to undermine countries’ and communities’ capacity to respond to the emergency effectively. A centralised, national-level framework for a common response is key for some issues, such as public health. However, the concrete responses are necessarily local, and there cannot be devolution of responsibilities to local government without adequate resources following. Ultimately, it is local governments that must cater to the immediate needs of people and be answerable to them.

“Governments at all levels must take more - not less - responsibility”, said Pavanelli.

Too often governments end up captured by corporate vested interest and powers penetrating the economy and the political systems at all levels.

Disagreeing with the form of ‘multistakeholderism’, currently in fashion within the UN and the global system, she emphasised that – while social partners, trade unions, workers and business must be part of the solution -

“the responsibility for public service delivery must ultimately rest in the hands of the democratic institutions we elect and make effective through our democratic participation” Pavanelli concluded.

UN-Habitat’s EGMs are intended to contribute towards the implementation of the New Urban Agenda and UN-Habitat Strategic Plan 2020-2023 and can act as a catalyst for UN-Habitat’s mandate to achieve a better quality of life for all in an urbanizing world.