Global Local: Think Tank Review May 2023

LGIU’s Global Local Think Tank Review brings you the latest findings from leading research institutions and think tanks around the world. Focusing on new ideas and innovation for local government.



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Global Local: global challenges, local solutions

The monthly Global Local Think Tank review highlights relevant research and policy publications from leading think tanks and research institutes around the world. This month’s edition focuses on active travel, office space conversion to homes,  the impact of major fiscal programmes, digital for public services, fraud and Covid recovery and whistleblowing. We pull out key lessons and findings for local government.


This roundup is normally only available to Global Local subscribers and LGIU members. Find out more about a Global Local subscription or explore our membership options.

Another C D Howe memo is concerned about EU climate policy and the impact on Canadian competitiveness. The author focuses on the EU’s carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM), which will equalise the price of carbon between domestic production and imports, and is intended to reduce ‘carbon leakage’ to countries outside the EU with less ambitious carbon reduction policies. This could pose a threat to Canadian exporters as the EU is Canada’s second largest trading partner after the US. The memo warns against the proposal from some commentators that Canada should eliminate its carbon tax. In that case, any revenues would be captured and used in the EU, not recycled in Canada as at present.

Meanwhile, two United Kingdom (UK) think tanks have published papers on the implications of Biden’s IRA for the UK. In a report entitled Winning the global green race: Lessons for the UK from the US’ Inflation Reduction Act, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) argues that the UK risks being squeezed by its two largest trading partners, the US and the EU. While the UK cannot just replicate the measures in the IRA, there are important lessons it can learn from it, if it is to reap the benefits of the green transition and accelerate its pathway to net zero. This is echoed by the Green Alliance in its essay collection What does the US Inflation Reduction Act mean for the UK’s green economy?  It argues that the UK has been a driving force behind the global growth of offshore wind and this early success led to rapid emissions reductions – but the UK has been slow to take advantage of the next wave of opportunities. The essays by experts from the Green Alliance and other organisations explore the challenges posed by the US Inflation Reduction Act for the UK and provide some suggested solutions.

Check out our cost of living crisis collection, packed with research and resources. 

The impact of major US and EU fiscal interventions

American President Joe Biden has introduced large infrastructure programmes, aimed at modernising and decarbonising US infrastructure. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) together are worth $1.25 trillion across the transportation, energy, water resources and broadband sectors for the next five to 10 years. The European Union (EU) has responded with its own green deal industrial plan: a combination of targets, carbon prices, taxes, subsidies and regulations.

Think tanks and research institutes have been considering the implications for the global economy – and their own countries – of these substantial interventions. The C D Howe Institute warns that battles loom over green subsidies. It claims that many national measures to aid the transition to net-zero emissions may fall foul of trade rules that prohibit both the subsidisation of goods that enter international markets and local content requirements that discriminate against imports. Existing World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreements and region trade agreements do not contain any exemptions for environmental subsidies or net zero policies. Talks are underway to try to get an international ‘stand still’ agreement for carbon reduction measures, in order to support the achievement of international carbon reduction commitments. However, there is a further problem as trade agreements are designed to allow domestic producers rights to challenge subsidised imports, and any moves to curtail these rights would be controversial.

A new framework for economic development: prioritising people, place, and planet

There is a growing interest in development that grows the economy but is also inclusive, supports community wealth and wellbeing, and protects the natural environment. The ability to translate these into action at the local level is a critical challenge for many economic development practitioners. Read this member only briefing from Australia.

Why loving local is key to tackling climate emergency and cost of living crisis

Scotland Loves Local started as a campaign born out of the Covid-19 pandemic and has now evolved into a community-wide mission to drive long-term sustainable change and create a stronger future for both the residents and visitors of the area. Read the article.

Delivering for communities in a cost of living crisis: LGIU/IS Global Local Executive Panel summary

Highlights from our first 2023 Global Local Executive Panel. With the Improvement Services, Chief Executives from around Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Australia came together to discuss their firsthand experience of delivering for communities during a cost of living crisis. Read here: available to LGIU members and Global Local subscribers.

Two recent reports have focused on equalities aspects of active travel. The Chicago Council on Global Affairs draws attention to the ways in which structural racism can impact on Black Americans’ travel choices. The report Arrested Mobility: Barriers to Walking, Biking, and E-Scooter Use in Black Communities in the United States describes how policy, planning, design and infrastructure and law enforcement – primarily designed by white men – can limit mobility, opportunity and access for Black people and people of colour. The study examines state, county and local laws governing walking, cycling and e-scooter use. While many of these laws are intended to serve a legitimate safety purpose, too often their policy design makes fair enforcement difficult and creates opportunities for police to apply the law inequitably.

The Public Policy Institute at the University of Auckland in New Zealand Aotearoa has examined how different population groups can face unique barriers to cycling. While socioeconomic status is an important factor, it is largely ignored in cycling equity planning. The study looks into the factors influencing people’s perceptions of cycling infrastructure, including demographic characteristics and access to bicycle lanes in Auckland. The research finds that bicycle user type, ethnicity, and education level influence bicycle users’ and non-users’ perceptions of cycling infrastructure and the value placed on it. Interesting, objective factors such as the availability of bicycle lanes do not appear significantly to influence views on cycling infrastructure.

Active travel

Transportation is a major contributor to global carbon emissions. While electric vehicles are part of the solution, a ‘modal shift’ away from private car use to public transport, walking and cycling can make a big difference. Research from Green Alliance and Cardiff University have developed a ‘modal shift model’ which shows the effects of various combinations of measures to reduce car miles driven by 25%, such as improving public transport or changing speed limits. The model, developed in the UK context, shows the impact on emissions, costs to government and users, and the revenue raised. The modal shift model is available to download from the website.

The Pembina Institute in Canada has highlighted a report containing four papers on the important role that Canadian municipalities currently play in transportation, and how other tiers of government can support that role. The papers propose policies to strengthen the municipal role in transportation in order to alleviate congestion, move goods more efficiently, and promote active transportation and sustainability.


An active outdoor life: how do the Nordic nations maintain their outdoor lifestyle all year?

This short briefing takes a ‘street level’ view and provides practical examples of ways cities have been designed for various aspects of everyday mobility to help society retain a year-round outdoor culture. Read it here. Open to everyone, thanks to our members.

Weatherproof active travel

How can local governments encourage active travel all year round? We learn from cities across the globe in our roundup of approaches and interventions to support mobility whatever the weather. Read the bulletin.  Available to LGIU members and Global Local paid subscribers.

Active travel in Galway City Council: Ireland’s first city centre school street

Galway City Council tells us how Active Travel in the West of Ireland and how they became the first Irish Council to implement a city centre “school street”. Read the article. 

A study from the RAND Corporation focused on the lessons learnt introducing artificial intelligence-based technology into English social care. Digital technology and AI are expected to improve care and address significant service pressures within the health and care sector. The report shows how one example of home-based sensors with artificial intelligence capabilities was implemented in two local authorities and one independent care provider in England. ‘IndependencePlus’ uses sensors to identify changes in behaviour that could indicate the onset of potentially more serious issues. The study identified a number of implementation issues – including a lack of compliance with equipment amongst individual clients, most of whom had dementia, and a lack of robust connectivity in many homes of vulnerable members of the community. This limited the usefulness of the technology in the client group.

Digital and public services

The Young Foundation in the UK has published a discussion paper on Digital solutions: tech-powered responses to 21st century crises. It points to recent examples of tech platforms playing a role in community responses. Examples include WhatsApp neighbourhood groups being used to organise community support during Covid-19 or flooding incidents, and the use of Facebook to match UK homes with refugees from Ukraine. Often these grassroots responses were faster than official channels and although hyperlocal and haphazard in nature, had national impact. The tech-enabled initiatives have different needs for ensuring trust, safety and accountability, but they have proven effective at matching resources, skills and capacity to where it is most needed and provide learning for those planning and managing official responses that seek to match resources to needs.

Gig work and app-based ways of finding it have become core features of advanced industrialised economies. While gig work has a bad press for being insecure and exploitative, some workers value the flexibility it provides. A report from the Brookings Institution describes how local governments are building their own gig work platforms that facilitate community services while giving vulnerable workers an alternative to private gig platforms. This is a two-sided government innovation: the modernisation of public work-finding platforms is coupled with the modernisation of public service delivery. Pacific Gateway in Long Beach, California was the first to develop its gig work app. It now uses the platform to recruit flexible school support staff, events workers, community health teams, responsive at-home childcare, and parks and recreation seasonal positions; and it offers better protections for workers than other gig work. The initiative has achieved critical mass and is benefiting the wider local economy and labour market.


Going digital to save lives

Pauline Waddell, Team Manager, Mobile Emergency Care Service (MECS) explains how Falkirk Council safeguarded a lifesaving service and became the first local authority in Scotland to enable end-to-end digital telecare. Read the article.

Global Local: Technology and social care

We look at how social care is harnessing technology and digital services to support better outcomes for older adults and vulnerable individuals. Read the bulletin. Open to LGIU members and Global Local paid subscribers.

Collection: Artificial intelligence in education

We’ve curated briefings and think pieces to explore the role AI currently plays in the delivery of  public services, with a particular focus on education, along with exploring the future implications of this fast-advancing technology. Explore the collection.

Striking a more optimistic note, the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy discusses the possibilities and challenges of converting downtown office space into apartments, using examples from Denver, Philadelphia and Boston in the USA and Calgary in Canada. The article points out that adaptive reuse of old buildings is not new, and it can be a cheaper and less carbon intensive than demolition and rebuild. However, the type of 1960s, 70s and 80s office blocks that are lying empty will require imaginative architectural design to turn them into high quality homes. The article shows how some cities have offered municipal funding (Calgary) and tax breaks (Washington DC) to kick start and de-risk conversion projects.

Office to residential conversions

In the wake of Covid-19, many city centres are facing a crisis. Remote working has led to plummeting demand for city centre real estate, especially office space. At the same time, a shortage of homes in many large cities makes housing unaffordable to many residents. In this context, the conversion of vacant office space into housing seems like a ‘no-brainer’ – but two research institutions have published papers explaining why it may not be the neat answer that it seems.

The Brookings Institution has produced a report on Myths about converting offices into housing—and what can really revitalize downtowns, addressing policy makers who regard office-residential conversion as a key strategy for addressing the housing crisis and revitalising downtowns – some of whom argue for public intervention and subsidy for the conversions. The authors argue that office-to-residential conversions can be the right solution in some circumstances but there must a clear public interest in subsidy. It concludes that such schemes are not a panacea, but rather one tool in a much broader toolkit for downtown revitalisation.


Lessons from Mayo County Council on tackling vacancy and dereliction

Across Europe, local government is at the forefront of addressing the scourge of vacancy and dereliction across town centres and communities. In Ireland, Mayo County Council is tackling the issue head-on and we chatted with Thomas Gilligan, Director of Services at the council to find out just how. Read the article.

Target-based planning: implications for local planning and urban design

This briefing explores target-based planning, particularly focusing on New South Wales, and the opportunities and challenges it can bring to placemaking and public administration. Read it here.  Open to LGIU members.

Up to standard? The condition of social housing in the UK

Damp and mould problems have made headlines in recent months but are most UK social housing really in such bad conditions? This briefing looks at how many homes are up to standard, including fire safety and energy efficiency, and what can be done to those requiring improvement. Read it here – open to LGIU members.

This comment piece from the Century Foundation discusses the experience of the US unemployment insurance (UI) system during the pandemic and lessons learnt. The UI system is delivered by states, and they entered the pandemic with an under- funded system. As well as dealing with a huge rise in UI claims during the pandemic, states also had to administer three new pandemic support schemes to cover those ineligible for UI. Fraudsters took advantage of the chaos and an initial lack of cooperation between states to submit fake claims. The authors conclude that fraud is complicated, sophisticated and ever-evolving so there is no single solution: there must be a whole-of-government partnership with private industry to solve it – the good news is that this is now happening.

However, the Baker Institute for Public Policy has recently published an issue brief highlighting how another pandemic employee retention scheme is attracting widespread fraud, just as many Covid-related US government support programs are winding down. The number of fraudulent claims associated with employee retention assistance is increasing. While the Department of Justice has brought cases against thousands of individuals and companies for fraud involving billions of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) dollars, a lesser-known programme, the Employee Retention Credit (ERC), a tax credit scheme, may be the next big scam. The issue brief reviews the background of these relief programs, the abuse of the ERC, and federal responses to fraudulent tax claims.

Covid 19 related fraud and corruption

As the pandemic recedes, those with a role in – or interest in – accountability and value for money are taking stock of the public funds lost to fraud and corruption around the world. The U4 Anti-corruption Resource Centre has published a study on Corruption during Covid-19: Trends, drivers, and lessons learned for reducing corruption in health emergencies. Between January 2020 and October 2022, corruption infiltrated Covid responses across the world and hampered the efforts. Worldwide trends included petty corruption at the point of service delivery, procurement corruption, embezzlement and mismanagement of funds, state capture, the growth of black markets, the selling of substandard and fake medicines, data manipulation and misuse, and corruption in health workforce governance, recruitment, and management. The report concludes that lessons learned during the pandemic should inform policy responses to ongoing and future health emergencies. Better transparency in decision-making, integrating a gender perspective, strengthening public financial management, investing in data governance, and supporting health workers should be at the heart of all future strategies.


Performance Tracker 2022: public services after two years of Covid-19

After two years of Covid-19 and ten years of austerity, UK public services are in bad shape, according to the latest Performance Tracker from the Institute for Government and CIPFA. This briefing explores the listed ‘common’ problems including Covid backlogs, staff shortages and a legacy of under-investment. Read the briefing here.

Understanding the key priorities for council leaders in a post-Covid environment

This briefing covers the top national priorities of council leaders in a post-Covid-19 environment, as outlined in the recently-published Australian Local Government CEO Index 2022. Read it here. 

Covid-19: how the UK government was caught unprepared

The UK Government, like other governments across the world, was under-prepared for a pandemic such as Covid-19. How can we learn the lessons. Read the briefing.

The second brief on Responses to common challenges encountered when establishing internal whistleblowing mechanisms is especially relevant to local governments. Common challenges include a lack of understanding, ineffective management, and inadequate channels for raising concerns. Potential whistle-blowers may also fear retaliation or breaches of their confidentiality. Solutions such as training courses, digital software, effective case management, and ‘speak up’ awards can result in a more effective and accountable workplace culture where staff are more willing to blow the whistle.

Whistle blowing

Effective whistleblowing mechanisms increase accountability and trust, and help uncover misconduct and fraud in both the private and public sector. The U4 Anti-corruption Resource Centre has recently published two relevant briefs. The first, Obligations to report corruption: examples of national statutory and non-statutory provisions, discusses the range of global approaches to whistleblowing. Some countries make it a legal obligation, whether on all citizens or only on public officials, whereas others use non-legal methods like codes of conduct in public services. In many cases, legislation requires individuals to report on any type of wrongdoing witnessed, including corruption. The brief contends that the existence of a duty to report cannot replace a proper whistleblowing policy and protective measures. There is a contradiction in the countries that impose a legal obligation but do not provide the necessary protections for whistle-blowers.