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Public Bodies Reform

Volume 516: debated on Thursday 14 October 2010

The coalition Government are committed to review public bodies, with the aim of increasing accountability for actions carried out on behalf of the state. Today I am placing in the Library of the House my proposals for the reform of public bodies, which summarises previous announcements and adds further proposals. Copies will also be available in the Vote Office. In addition, I will make an oral statement to the House today.

The landscape for public bodies needs radical reform to increase transparency and accountability, to cut out duplication of activity, and to discontinue activities which are simply no longer needed.

This public expect Ministers to take responsibility for what the Government do, and not leave this to people or bodies that are unelected. In the past, too many public bodies have been established without proper thought, and allowed to remain when their mission has long been accomplished. This has meant that elected politicians have been able to avoid making difficult and tough decisions. This is a direct challenge to accountability and is contrary to openness and transparency in public services that this Government seek to achieve.

So the Government’s presumption is that state activity, if needed at all, should be undertaken by bodies that are democratically accountable at either national or local level. A body should only exist as a quango if it meets one of three tests, to which my review has subjected all existing public bodies. These tests are:

Does it perform a technical function?

Do its activities require political impartiality?

Does it need to act independently to establish facts?

This is a work in progress. A number of changes have already been announced. A number of bodies remain under consideration, with reviews still under way. All remaining public bodies will be subject to a rigorous triennial review to ensure that the previous pattern of public bodies often outliving the purpose for which they were established is not repeated.

All the changes proposed here will be delivered within Departments’ spending review settlements. Those bodies whose status is being retained may be subject to further reforms following the spending review, in the same way as all other parts of the public sector.

My review process has covered 679 HM Government’s non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs), as well as 222 other statutory bodies such as some non-ministerial Departments and some public corporations. Substantial reforms are proposed for over half of these bodies 481. The Government propose that 192 will cease to be public bodies. Where it is clear that a public body has accomplished its mission and no longer needs to exist, it will be abolished. This will be through moving it within a Government Department, where a Minister will be accountable for its activities, into local government, or into the charity or private sectors, or ceasing their work altogether. Some 118 would be merged down into 57 bodies, removing wasteful and complicating duplication of effort. Some 171 are proposed for substantial reform while retaining their current status.

Many public bodies will be retained and will remain at arm’s length from Government. They will be expected to become more open, accountable and efficient. Non-departmental bodies which are being retained will be subject to a new framework and triennial review process, on which I will bring forward proposals in the new year.

I want to acknowledge the dedication and hard work of those who work in public bodies. We are committed to working with chairs and chief executives of these bodies to ensure that change is conducted as fairly and smoothly as possible.

To enable these proposed changes, the Government will shortly introduce a Public Bodies Bill, which will give Ministers power to make changes to named statutory bodies. Other forthcoming legislation, such as the Education Bill and the Localism Bill will also be used to make changes directly.

I believe that these reforms will increase accountability in public life, while making savings and driving out inefficiency and waste.