The Public Bodies Act has received Royal Assent: this is expected to increase the transparency and accountability of public bodies.
15 December 2011
The government’s plans to radically increase the transparency and accountability of public bodies took a leap forward when the Public Bodies Act received Royal Assent.
This significant milestone in the reform programme will enable the government to push on with its plans to simplify the quango landscape. Reforms using the powers in the new Public Bodies Act will begin immediately.
The Act will build on reforms that are already removing duplication and waste in public bodies and, along with simultaneous reductions in spending, will save £2.6 billion in administrative costs alone by 2014/15.
The government committed to reviewing all public bodies in October 2010 and has already made swift progress including abolishing the Teachers TV Board of Governors and the Government Strategic Marketing Advisory Board. But, where public bodies were established by Acts of Parliament new legislation was needed to reform them. This is now in place.
The Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude said:
We will deliver the largest overhaul of quangos in a generation. We said we would increase transparency and accountability, cut out waste and duplication, and we have.
This does not end here, we are today announcing the first tranche of new regular reviews for the remaining public bodies so the quango state will never again be allowed to spiral out of control.
In October 2010 the government announced the results of its review of more than 900 public bodies. The reforms will lead to the total number of public bodies reducing by more than 250. This includes 199 ceasing to be public bodies. Where their functions are needed they will either be brought back into government, devolved to local government, or moved out of government. Where they are not needed, they will be abolished altogether. Additionally 120 bodies will be merged into 56 and a further 176 bodies will be substantially reformed.
The reforms in the new Public Bodies Act will begin immediately and include:
- abolishing the Regional Development Agencies, and delivering a new approach to growth and regeneration including Local Enterprise Partnerships which will shift power to local businesses and communities;
- transferring British Waterways functions to a new charitable body. This will give waterways’ users and the communities that live alongside them, greater involvement in how they’re managed and contribute to their sustainability in the long-term;
- abolishing The Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission as a non-departmental public body and transferring functions back to the Department for Work and Pensions ensuring that accountability and decision making responsibility for child maintenance sits with Ministers;
- legally abolishing Food from Britain as the body has been defunct since 2009 but was never formally abolished. There are other bodies which provide export promotion services and are well placed to serve UK exporters; and
- abolishing the Aircraft Industries Arbitration Tribunal and transferring responsibility to HM Court and Tribunals Service. The tribunal was created in the 1980s and has not met for at least the past 25 years so transferring the functions will reduce duplication and waste.
Those reforms which did not require legislation have already progressed swiftly and include:
- Horserace Totalisator Board (The Tote), which has been sold to the private betting firm Betfred. It was a public body with functions that are better suited to the private sector.
- The Design Council, which is now a charity. It was a public body that didn’t need to be controlled by the Government. It has also increased efficiency by taking on some existing functions of the Commission for Architecture in the Built Environment.
- The Hearing Aid Council, which closed in 2010. The important job of regulating hearing aid dispensers transferred to the Health Professions Council who are already experienced in delivering high quality regulation as the regulator for 14 other healthcare professions.
The reforms don’t stop here. All quangos will be reviewed on a regular basis. Starting with 31 Non Department Public Bodies (NDPBS) being reviewed in 2011/12 and all NDPBs being reviewed every three years. This will not only make sure that quangos whose functions are no longer needed don’t remain, but the reviews will also encourage bodies to explore new models of delivery and to drive through even more efficient ways of delivering public services.
Notes to Editors
- The list of the 31 Non-Departmental Public Bodies that departments have identified for reviews in the first year of the three year review cycle are listed in the Written Ministerial Statement on Public Bodies Reform published today.
- Further information about the Public Bodies Reform programme including the Public Bodies Act and an updated list of Public Bodies being reformed can be found here.
- The Public Bodies Act provided the legal framework in order for the Government to carry out its public bodies reforms. The Act enables the reforms to public bodies to be implemented where legislation is needed. Some bodies that are to be reformed were set up in legislation so new powers were needed to be able to abolish or merge them, transfer or devolve their functions, or reform the way they operate.
- The Public Bodies Act is an enabling act 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; and
• give Secretaries of State the necessary powers to take forward changes to their bodies in secondary legislation when they are ready to do so.
These powers can only be used in conjunction with important safeguards around prior consultation, Parliamentary scrutiny and judicial independence.