The Public Bodies Bill, which will ensure the necessary legal framework is in place for the government to carry out its public bodies reforms, has been published in Parliament today.
Earlier this month, Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude summarised plans to substantially reform hundreds of public bodies as part of the Government’s commitment to radically increase the transparency and accountability of all public services and enable the Government to operate in a more efficient way.
The Bill will enable the reforms to public bodies to be implemented where legislation is needed. Some bodies that are due to be reformed were set up in legislation, so new powers are needed to abolish or merge them, transfer or devolve their functions, or reform the way they operate.
The Bill also lists a number of public bodies which were part of the review process and which would need legislation to make any reforms to them in the future, including bodies which there are no plans to reform. The government said this will ensure that the necessary legal framework will already be in place if ministers wish to make changes to these bodies in the future.
The Public Bodies Bill is an enabling bill which means it will not itself make any changes to public bodies. It will:
- create a legal framework that will enable government departments to implement the majority of public bodies reforms that require legislation and that are not already covered in other departmental bills
- create legislative powers which give ministers the ability to abolish or merge bodies; modify a body’s constitutional or funding arrangements; or transfer its functions elsewhere
- give Secretaries of State the necessary powers to take forward changes to their bodies in secondary legislation when they are ready to do so.
Mr Maude said:
We promised we would restore political accountability for the decisions that affect people’s lives and bring in a new age of transparency in government. The quango reforms I set out earlier this month show just how serious we are about doing just that. Today’s Bill shows we are ready to make these changes quickly. We believe the responsibility for difficult and important decisions should lie with ministers, not unelected quango officials, and we plan to implement the changes as rapidly as possible.
On 14 October the government announced proposals to reform 481 bodies. Of that total, 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. Another 118 public bodies will be merged down to 57 and a further 171 will be substantially reformed.
The government will continue to work to ensure that public bodies that remain at arm’s length from the government, become more open, accountable and efficient. All of the retained bodies had to meet one of the three tests: performing a technical function, requiring political impartiality, or needing to act independently to establish facts.