The cross-government review of non-departmental public bodies, responding to this House in October 2010, decided that the public bodies landscape needed radical reform to increase accountability, cut out duplication of activity, increase transparency and discontinue activities that were no longer needed. Amongst the recommendations was that DPTAC be abolished.
The Public Bodies Bill is currently before Parliament. The bill as drafted, would allow the government to make an order abolishing DPTAC. If the bill is passed with this provision in it, I am minded to make such an order. But before coming to a definite decision to do so, I intend to consult on the order and will make no final decision until I have taken into account the responses to that consultation.
In advance of this formal consultation I am inviting views from all those with an interest on what successor arrangements should be put in place if DPTAC is abolished. I am seeking to ensure that any successor arrangement will continue to provide my department with consensual, pan-disability advice in a flexible way, and that any arrangement represents value for money.
I propose to invite comments on the options listed below:
Rely on existing expertise in the Department for Transport policy divisions and agencies. Where ad-hoc specific advice is needed, it could be sought by individual policy divisions from third party stakeholder groups, the transport industry, and experts. This would have minimal cost (although commissioned, consultancy advice could be expensive) but perhaps risks disability issues being overlooked.
Establish a stakeholder forum, which could be convened and provide advice as and when issues arose. Again this would have minimal cost, but could again result in an increased consultancy bill. It might also be difficult to decide who to appoint to the forum. There are over 50 disability groups, and their interests sometimes conflict (eg the interests of the visually impaired, and those using mobility scooters). Achieving consensus could therefore be difficult.
Rely on a cross-government body to provide transport advice – for example the existing (non statutory) Equality 2025, run by the Department of Work and Pensions. This option should ensure that disability issues do not get overlooked. Equality 2025 is likely to be able to offer general advice – for example on transport access to the Olympics by disabled people – but would not be in a position to offer more specialist advice, for example the type of mobility scooter models suitable to be carried on public transport.
Establish a non-statutory specialist body which would be flexible and accountable to ministers. This may cost more than the options above, but should be less expensive than the current arrangements. However, a smaller body because of its size, may not cover all disability areas, and therefore could reduce the opportunities to provide pan-disability advice.
A wide ranging panel of experts from which members could be drawn, on an ad hoc basis, when specific advice is needed. A once a year meeting of all specified stakeholders could be held so that they all have the opportunity of voicing wider concerns.
My initial thinking is that option 5 would be the most appropriate path to take, but I would welcome views to inform my decision making in this area.