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Public Bodies

Volume 577: debated on Wednesday 12 March 2014

The Government have reduced the number of public bodies by more than 250. By 2015, there will be a third fewer public bodies than in 2010, ensuring increased accountability and efficiency, with continuing efficiency savings of £900 million a year.

Many quangos are unaccountable, unelected and have great power over people’s everyday lives. They are incredibly expensive to run, with questionable outcomes. Will the Minister please consider another round of the bonfire of the quangos to continue our march towards a leaner and more efficient Government?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s encouragement. Our quest for a leaner and more efficient Government has already yielded savings of more than £10 billion in the last financial year. Labour did nothing on that whatever, which is part of the reason why we inherited the biggest budget deficit in the developed world. We have more to do, and for the first time we have instituted a round of triennial reviews so that every three years we look at the status of every public body to decide whether it still needs to exist or whether it can be trimmed back. We find that there is scope for much more progress yet.

Will the Minister confirm that the abolition of the UK Film Council and its amalgamation with the British Film Institute will ensure that we continue to make the most of British talent, in that wonderful creative industry?

I am confident that that will be the case. My colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport examined this question very carefully before making the decisions they did. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the importance of the film industry in this country: it is a very bright star indeed, and we should certainly ensure that we do nothing that jeopardises that.

13. Sadly, one of Tony Blair’s lasting legacies was the creation of a huge number of unelected, unaccountable, highly paid quangos, which has ruined this place and taken power from it. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me by telling me what efforts he is making to return power and accountability to the House of Commons? (902992)

A major part of the programme of public bodies reform has been bringing policy functions back to the Government in a way that provides direct accountability to Parliament through Ministers. That is a big part of increasing accountability, but the secondary purpose of the reform of public bodies has been to save money, and I am glad to say that it looks as though the savings will, if anything, exceed our expectations.

The Minister has told us about the reduction in the number of quangos. Will he now tell us what progress is being made in increasing the cost-effectiveness of those that remain?

That is a continuing process. There is much more to be done to increase efficiency. As I have said, we saved more than £10 billion across central Government last year, and we expect the saving to exceed £13 billion in the current financial year, which will end this month. There is much more to be done on quango reform, but as I have said, we expect to save £900 million a year, and have already saved about £1.6 billion.

In the course of his ongoing work on public body and quango reform, will the Minister consider adjusting the responsibilities of the Major Projects Authority? Among its options, the authority has the responsibility to

“require publication of project information consistent with the Coalition’s transparency agenda”.

That is not happening. The Government have suppressed the MPA’s detailed report on HS2, hiding behind a summary. Is it not about time that we were given an accurate description of public bodies, or that the Government published the report?

As my right hon. Friend knows, we are publishing much more detail about the Government’s major projects than has ever been published before. The role of the Major Projects Authority has ensured that, for the first time, consistent oversight and assurance are being applied to the Government’s major projects portfolio, and as a result, having inherited a position in which only about a third of major Government projects were delivered on time and on budget, we now find that the proportion is more like 70%. We are making a great deal of progress, but I hear what my right hon. Friend says.

Speaking about public body reform in 2012, the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee said that

“the Cabinet Office must get to grips with the programme’s overall costs, benefits and key risks”.

However, a recent National Audit Office report showed that those failings were still in place. When will the Minister get a grip?

It is a bit surprising that the hon. Gentleman should raise that point, given that the last Government did absolutely nothing on this front. We inherited a position in which the Government did not even know how many public bodies there were, but by the time of the next election, we will have reduced the number by a third and cut the costs significantly: we will have cut the cost of quangos by £2.6 billion. I hope that, at some stage, the hon. Gentleman will reflect on the poor record of his own Government. We would be willing, at that stage, to accept his congratulations on what we have done.