Public bodies transformation programme

This page explains the steps being taken to reform public bodies and gives guidance for departments.

Public bodies reform programme 2010 to 2015

The 2010 to 2015 public bodies reform programme successfully produced fewer, more accountable, more efficient public bodies.

To find out more about the achievements of the 2010 to 2015 programme and for the data on public bodies, read the written ministerial statement laid on 17 December 2015.

For a body-by-body update, download the Annex: updated list of public bodies (PDF, 2.07MB, 81 pages) .

Public Bodies 2015 provides comprehensive information on the public body estate and introduces the next phase of reform.

Public bodies transformation programme 2015 to 2020

Regular assurance and challenge about the continuing need, efficiency and good governance of public bodies remains central to the government’s public bodies transformation programme.

Matt Hancock, Minister for the Cabinet Office (introduction to Tailored reviews of public bodies guidance, February 2016).

To achieve the government’s objectives, we have developed a new approach to the scrutiny of public bodies, based on functional and tailored reviews. This develops the strategy of drawing together public bodies on a cross-departmental basis to identify opportunities for reform.

Functional reviews

Functional reviews look across departments and examine holistically the functions of several public bodies in similar or related areas of government. This approach will identify opportunities for reform that cannot be revealed by reviewing bodies one by one. The first review covers bodies with regulatory functions. We will work in partnership with public bodies and departments during this and subsequent reviews.

Tailored reviews

Tailored reviews build on the success of the triennial review programme and extend the scope of reviews to include executive agencies and non-ministerial departments. They challenge and give assurance on the continuing need for individual organisations in terms of both function and form. Whilst each body will be subject to a tailored review, the scope of that review can be set in the context of departmental or functional reviews which have been, or are due to be carried out.

We have designed the new review framework to allow sponsoring departments the flexibility to adapt reviews to their needs and to co-ordinate tailored with functional or their own review programmes. Providing that bodies are subjected to proportionate yet rigorous scrutiny, the findings of functional reviews can feed into tailored reviews, reducing the work required for the latter and avoiding duplication.


An existing public body has to meet 1 of the following 3 tests in order to remain at arm’s length from government:

  • it performs a technical function
  • its activities require political impartiality
  • it needs to act independently to establish facts

A body is assessed against these during the review process.

The government will review all non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs), executive agencies and non-ministerial departments at least once in the lifetime of each Parliament.

It is government policy that new bodies should be set up only as a last resort. Departments must consider all possible delivery models when exploring options for the provision of new services or functions. We have published guidance on the approval process for the creation of NDPBs and executive agencies.


The Public Bodies Act 2011 enables the government to implement its plans to simplify the public bodies landscape.

You can see how the Public Bodies Bill became an Act of Parliament on the UK Parliament website.

Other pieces of legislation that contribute to public bodies reform include:

  • the Health and Social Care Act includes plans to cut the number of health bodies to help meet the government’s commitment to cut NHS administration costs by a third, including abolishing Primary Care Trusts and Strategic Health Authorities
  • the Education Act 2011 takes forward plans to abolish: the General Teaching Council for England, the Training and Development Agency for Schools, the School Support Staff Negotiating Body, the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency and the Young Person’s Learning Agency
  • the Localism Act 2011 takes forward plans to abolish public bodies such as the London Development Agency, the Tenant Services Authority and provide for a transfer of functions to the Homes and Communities Agency

The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has also produced a guidance note on Orders under sections 1-5 of the Public Bodies Act 2011.

NDPBs, executive agencies and non-ministerial departments

Most of these public bodies have their own websites with information on their governance, functions and activities.

What is an NDPB?

A non-departmental public body (NDPB) is a “body which has a role in the processes of national government, but is not a government department or part of one, and which accordingly operates to a greater or lesser extent at arm’s length from ministers”.

NDPBs have different roles, including those that advise ministers and others which carry out executive or regulatory functions, and they work within a strategic framework set by ministers.

What is an executive agency?

Part of a government department, an executive agency is a well-defined business unit which carries out executive functions within government. It has a clear focus on delivering specific outputs within a framework of accountability to ministers.

What is a non-ministerial department?

A non-ministerial department is a government department in its own right but does not have its own minister. It is, however, accountable to Parliament through its sponsoring ministers. A non-ministerial department is staffed by civil servants and usually has its own estimate and accounts. Some non-ministerial departments operate along executive agency lines.

Public bodies reports

Public bodies 2015 provides a directory of data on NDPBs, executive agencies and non-ministerial departments, as well as information on the size and expenditure of these bodies and information on public appointments. We have published this report annually since 1980, and copies dating back to 1997 are available online.

Code of conduct for board members of public bodies

We expect board members of public bodies to work to the highest personal and professional standards. The Cabinet Office’s code of conduct sets out, clearly and openly, the principles and standards by which all non-executive board members of UK public bodies are expected to abide.

Rules on lobbying for non-departmental public bodies

There is a long-standing principle that public bodies must be politically impartial and must at all times ensure the proper use of public money. All NDPBs must comply with these rules on lobbying.


Departmental sponsors manage the relationship between a department and its public bodies. Sponsors within departments are specialists, and they are part of a cross-government network.

Sponsors bring together policy and delivery skills with expertise in sponsorship processes. Sponsors support their bodies to ensure they are accountable, high-performing organisations, giving value for money services outlined in their business plan and in their contribution to departmental objectives.

We have put in place tailored training and guidance to help sponsors develop the skills and knowledge they need to be effective:

Civil Service Learning offers a course Sponsorship of arm’s-length bodies to help sponsors develop the skills and knowledge they need to effectively support their organisation(s). Note that you need to log into the Civil Service Learning website for this link to work. Select ‘Professions’ and then, under ‘Specialisms’, choose ‘Sponsorship’.


While public bodies have undergone significant reform, the landscape remains complex and is a barrier to reform. A simpler landscape would promote transparency and accountability and lay the foundation for further transformation.

An effective system for classification is an essential part of this. It should:

  • provide a clear map of the landscape
  • aid understanding of relationships between public bodies and ministers
  • promote good and timely decision-making when bodies are set up, merged, changed or abolished
  • facilitate wider transformation of the public bodies landscape by increasing efficiency and effectiveness and improving transparency and accountability

Classification review

In recognition of this the coalition government commissioned a review of the classification system.

We have recently completed this review and a summary of the findings and recommendations are contained in the report on the outcome of the classification review.

We are taking forward the implementation of the report’s recommendations and have made changes to the classification framework which are set out in the new classification of public bodies: guidance for departments.

In reaching the findings and recommendations, we actively sought the views of departmental sponsorship and policy teams, chairs and chief executives of public bodies, academics and think tanks. We received written responses to a discussion paper and also captured views and ideas at a series of workshops.

Additional information

To view supporting information on the 2010 to 2015 public bodies reform programme, follow these links:

Published 19 February 2013
Last updated 27 April 2016 + show all updates
  1. Added information on the classification review.
  2. Updated guidance page
  3. Added information on Public Bodies 2015
  4. Added update on progress as at November 2014 and link to Public Bodies 2014.
  5. Added information on the Classification Review.
  6. Added link to Public Bodies Reform Strategy and guidance on triennial reviews.
  7. Sponsorship section added.
  8. Added links to updated guidance under 'Implementation' section
  9. First published.