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Quango reforms herald new age of accountability in Government
As part of the Government’s commitment to radically increase the transparency and accountability of all public services, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, today summarised plans to substantially reform a large number of public bodies and also announced further proposals.
The Government intends to introduce a Public Bodies Bill that will enable many of these plans to be implemented.
The reform process, which covered all of HM Government’s Non-Departmental Public Bodies (NDPBs), as well as other bodies, such as some non-ministerial departments and some public corporations, will help to reinvigorate the public’s trust in democracy and also ensure that the Government operates in a more efficient and business-like way.
The Government proposes to reform 481 bodies. Of these 192 will cease to be public bodies and their functions will either be brought back into Government, devolved to local government, moved out of Government or abolished altogether. Examples include:
Devolving responsibility for the work of Development Corporations to local government
Bringing organisations under more direct Ministerial control, such as the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission, Renewable Fuels Agency and, as previously announced, the Appointments Commission
Enabling organisations, such as the Design Council and the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA), to become charities.
In addition, as part of the planned reforms, if it is clear that a public body has accomplished its mission and no longer needs to exist, it will be abolished.
Speaking about the changes, Francis Maude said that this process represented the restoration of political accountability for decisions which affect people’s lives and the way taxpayers’ money is spent:
“We know that for a long time there has been a huge hunger for change. People have been fed up with the old way of doing business, where the Ministers they voted for could often avoid taking responsibility for difficult and tough decisions by creating or hiding behind one of these quangos.
“Today’s announcement means that many important and essential functions will be brought back into departments meaning the line of accountability will run right up to the very top where it always should have been.”
As part of the reforms the Government is also announcing proposals to merge 118 bodies down to 57, and to substantially reform a further 171. Examples include:
Strengthening the competition regime by forming a single competition and market authority
Substantially reforming organisations such as the Environment Agency and the Homes and Communities Agency working with them to streamline their work.
Speaking about these bodies, Francis Maude said:
"In many cases, today’s proposals will ensure we preserve the quality of vital services, while allowing them to become more efficient and, where appropriate, giving more power to the front line professionals who know those services best."
A proportion of public bodies will be retained and will remain at arm’s length from Government, although work will continue to ensure that they become more open, accountable and efficient. All of the retained bodies will have met one of the three tests:
Performing a technical function
Requiring political impartiality
Needing to act independently to establish facts.
Francis Maude said:
“There are of course organisations that will remain, although it is unlikely that any will be completely unchanged. This is because we recognize that some of these bodies do hugely important and essential work that has to be done at arm’s length from Government, especially when political impartiality, independence or technical expertise is required.
“But those that remain will not be allowed to go back to the old way of working. As part of the reforms, we will also be introducing new transparency requirements, a new governance framework and a new review process to ensure that there is a robust and regular challenge of the continuing need for all the public bodies that remain.”
"While today’s changes will help us move quickly to a new era of accountability in government, we recognise that there will be significant changes for many staff, who have done an enormous amount of excellent work for their organisations. We also want to recognise the public service given by members of boards and committees. We will continue to do all we can to work with their Chief Executives, Chairs and management teams to ensure any change is conducted as fairly and as smoothly as possible."
The Government now plans to introduce a Public Bodies Bill into Parliament. This will help enable proposals to be rapidly implemented where statutory changes are required. Other legislation, which will be introduced this session, such as the forthcoming Education Bill and Localism Bill, will also enable some specific changes. All final decisions and implementation will be subject to the Spending Review, necessary legislation and other measures where appropriate.
Further proposals to increase the accountability of those bodies which remain, such as through new tri-ennial reviews, will be set out in the new year.
Notes to Editors
The full list of reforms to the Government’s Public Bodies can be found on the Cabinet Office website:
The following table summarises the number of bodies which are proposed for reform:
No longer an NDPB Merge Retain and substantially reform Retain Under consideration Total 192 118 (down to 57) 171 380 40 901
Public Bodies remainng after reforms: 648
Where proposed changes have implications for the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the Government will continue to work closely with them to develop and implement changes.
Non-Departmental Public Bodies (NDPBs) or quangos (Quasi-autonomous non-government organisation) are defined as bodies which have a role in the processes of national government but are not government departments or part of one and which accordingly operate to a greater or lesser extent at arm’s length from Ministers. This includes:
Executive NDPBs, e.g. grant or service delivery, regulatory or training providers
Advisory NDPBs, e.g. scientific committees or pay review bodies
In addition, for this reform process other bodies, such as some non-ministerial departments and some public corporations are being included in the scope.
It is being considered by a wider formal review of that policy area which has yet to be completed
A final decision on whether and/or how to reform has not been made. This may be because, for example, it is linked to the Spending Review or wider service reforms. Where options are still being considered, it may be the particular way in which an organisation operates, rather than the overall status, which is being assessed.
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