ACE - Association of Chief Executives
The Impact of the Code of Good Practice: Building partnerships between government departments and public bodies
There are over 300 public bodies that spend more than £200 billion per year and employ over a quarter of a million people. These range in purpose, size and the distance required from Whitehall to deliver their services and functions effectively. Getting the right balance between proportionate central government oversight, the sharing of skills and expertise, and appropriate levels of autonomy for each public body, can be a challenge, but the rewards are unquestionable: better alignment between policy making and the delivery of services, more effective risk management, and the avoidance of duplication and unnecessary costs.
In 2016, the National Audit Office (NAO) and Public Accounts Committee (PAC) found a lack of consistency in the capability of government departments to oversee public bodies, and a need for greater clarity on roles and responsibilities on both sides of the public body–department relationship. In response, in February 2017 the Cabinet Office (CO) published a Code of Good Practice for partnerships between government departments and arm’s-length bodies (described in this report as ‘public bodies’). While acknowledging the diversity of public bodies, the Code sought to encourage consistency in oversight through four common principles: purpose, assurance, value and engagement.
The Code states that “the purpose of the arm’s-length body should be clear and well understood; there should be a proportionate approach to assurance; departments and arm’s-length bodies should share skills and experience; and most importantly, partnerships should be based on open, honest and constructive working relationships”. In 2017, the Institute for Government, the Public Chairs’ Forum (PCF) and the Association of Chief Executives (ACE) sent a survey to chairs and chief executives of public bodies to assess the relationships between them and government departments and encourage an understanding of the Code. The survey asked a variety of questions based on the four principles of the Code. This set a benchmark for current relationships.
The results were anonymised and published in July 2017. To assess changes over time and the extent of the Code’s impact, the survey was re-sent to public bodies in March 2018. This report summarises the key findings of the second survey.