Guidance

Public bodies reform

Steps being taken to reform public bodies, guidance for departments and where to find reports on public bodies and executive agencies.

The landscape for public bodies needs radical reform to increase transparency and accountability, to cut out duplication of activity, and to discontinue activities which are simply no longer needed.

Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, Written Ministerial Statement, 14 October 2010.

Policy

The government’s presumption is that if a public function is needed then it should be undertaken by a body that is democratically accountable at either national or local level. A body should only exist at arm’s length from government if it meets one of 3 tests:

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

Over 900 bodies were subject to a cross-government review undertaken by all departments in spring/summer 2010. This included all non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs), along with a number of non-ministerial departments and public corporations.

The Minister for the Cabinet Office announced the outcome of that review on 14 October 2010. Updated proposals published on 15 December 2011 confirm that approximately 500 public bodies will be reformed to some degree - with over 200 abolished and more than 170 merged into fewer than 80. Once all reforms have been implemented, the total number of public bodies will have reduced by approximately 300.

Read Progress on public bodies reform: December 2013 to find out what has been achieved so far.

Legislation

The Public Bodies Act enables the government to push on with its plans to simplify the public bodies landscape. Reforms using the powers in the new Public Bodies Act are under way.

The Act builds on reforms that are already removing duplication and waste in public bodies and, along with simultaneous reductions in spending, will reduce the administrative costs of public bodies by at least £2.6 billion by March 2015.

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, legislation was needed to reform them. The Public Bodies Act has not enacted the changes per se, but as enabling legislation it contains the necessary order-making powers to allow ministers to make specific changes through a ministerial order, a type of secondary legislation. These orders will amend the primary legislation in which the relevant public body was established.

The Public Bodies Act sets out the Parliamentary procedure for an order to be made. A minister is required to lay a draft order, along with an explanatory document, in relation to one or more bodies listed in the Act’s schedules. The draft order is then subject to Parliamentary scrutiny which can include the application of an ‘enhanced affirmative procedure’ which lengthens the scrutiny period and allows for a select committee to examine and make recommendations on a draft order. The draft order must be approved by both Houses of Parliament before it comes into effect, and gives legal authority for a reform to be completed.

The advantage of this procedure is that it allows the government to make a very broad range of reforms without unnecessary delay, while also allowing Parliament to scrutinise individual reforms in detail, and ensure that the strict safeguards in the Act have been applied. Guidance for officials can be downloaded below.

The progress of how the Public Bodies Bill became an Act of Parliament can be viewed on the UK Parliament website. There are also some other pieces of legislation that will contribute to public bodies reform:

  • 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 following bodies: 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 the London Development Agency, the Infrastructure Planning Commission, and to abolish the Tenant Services Authority and provide for a transfer of functions to the Homes and Communities Agency.

Implementation

Our proposals set out plans to abolish more than 200 bodies, merge more than 170 into fewer than 80 and substantially reform a further 120. Reforms to individual bodies are the responsibility of sponsoring departments, in partnership with the public bodies themselves.

We have produced a suite of documents to provide departments with high level pointers on issues they may need to address in implementing the reforms, and where appropriate to seek further advice and contacts:

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

The Cabinet Office business plan includes a commitment to publish a quarterly status check of relevant public bodies until all are confirmed as fully decommissioned, beginning in January 2011.

NDPBs and executive agencies

What is an NDPB?

A NDPB is defined as 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”.

What is an executive agency?

An executive agency is a part of a government department which enables executive functions within government to be carried out by a well-defined business unit with a clear focus on delivering specified outputs within a framework of accountability to ministers.

Public bodies reports

Public bodies 2013 provides a directory of data on non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs), executive agencies and non-ministerial departments (NMDs), as well as summary information on the size and expenditure of these bodies and information on public appointments.

This report has been published annually since 1980, and copies dating back to 1998 are available online.

Information on individual NDPBs

The Cabinet Office report Public bodies provides lists of all NDPBs and headline information on the NDPB sector. Most NDPBs have their own website providing a wide range of information on their governance, functions and activities. NDPBs’ websites can be accessed via the list of departments, agencies and public bodies on GOV.UK.

Governance of NDPBs and executive agencies

Non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) are organisations that sit at ‘arm’s-length’ from ministers and have varying degrees of operational autonomy and independence from ministers. They have differing 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. As part of the reform programme, all NDPBs have been examined to ensure that they perform a necessary role.

Executive agencies are part of a government department which enables executive functions within government to be carried out by a well-defined business unit with a clear focus on delivering specified outputs within a framework of accountability to ministers.

The Cabinet Office publishes guidance on the creation, governance and closure of NDPBs and executive agencies. Cabinet Office also produces guidance on reviewing bodies to examine the key functions of a NDPB, how these contribute to the work of the NDPB and the sponsor department and whether these functions are still needed.

Public bodies: information and guidance

Reviewing NDPBs

The Cabinet Office has published guidance on the principles and processes by which departments should review their non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs). This includes the processes to examine the key functions of a NDPB, how these contribute to the work of the NDPB and the sponsor department, and whether these functions are still needed. If it is decided that the functions are still needed then the review should examine whether a NDPB is the most appropriate delivery model.

The second stage of the review is to examine whether the body’s control and governance arrangements are in accordance with the recognised principles of good corporate governance.

This guidance, along with a new code of practice for board members of public bodies, was published by the Cabinet Office in June 2011. The list of bodies to be reviewed in 2011 to 2012 was confirmed by the Minister for the Cabinet Office in a Written Ministerial Statement on 15 December 2011 (pdf, 97kb). The list of bodies to be reviewed in 2012 to 2013 was confirmed in Public Bodies 2012.

Code of conduct for board members of public bodies

Board members of public bodies are expected to work to the highest personal and professional standards. This code (pdf, 102kb) sets out, clearly and openly, the principles and standards by which all non-executive board members of UK public bodies are expected to abide.

The code replaces earlier guidance on codes of practice for board members of public bodies issued by the Cabinet Office in 2004.

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 restrictions (pdf, 76kb).

Appointments to the boards of public bodies

Governance is crucial to the success of public bodies and attracting the best people to public appointments is therefore vital. We provide advice and guidance to all those involved in making public appointments, to help them get the appointments process right, which includes examples of good practice.

Sponsorship

The relationship between a department and its arm’s-length bodies (ALBs) is managed by departmental sponsors. 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. These specialist skills and expertise allow sponsors to support their bodies in being accountable, high-performing organisations, delivering value for money services as outlined in their business plan and supporting the parent department in achieving its objectives.

From 2014 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 in order to effectively support their organisation(s). Note that you need to log into the Civil Service Learning website for this link to work. Alternatively you can log in, select ‘Professions’ and then ‘Sponsorship’.

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