The local appointed state
44. Our visit to Bristol demonstrated that these
issues are not important simply at the national level. As we stated
above, the Committee identified some 5,300 local quangos in the
UK as part of its 2001 'mapping exercise'. These include Boards
of Visitors to prisons and other penal establishments (now called
Independent Monitoring Boards), which have an important local
role in ensuring standards in the criminal justice system. Of
these local bodies, 847 were NHS bodies and trusts that are OCPA
regulated. But the great majority of such bodies, many classified
by the Nolan Committee as 'local public spending bodies,' fall
outside the OCPA remit.
45. Most local quangos are wholly or largely self-appointing;
and very few appointments are subject to ministerial or departmental
oversight. Most of what is known about the processes of appointment
derives from a study, published in 1996, which found that that
they were 'a word-of-mouth affair, with a consequent lack of transparency'.
There is no reason to believe that
this judgement is seriously out of date.
46. There are no official statistics on local partnerships,
despite their growing significance in local and sub-regional governance.
These bodiesNew Deal for the Community, regeneration, crime
reduction, anti-drug and other schemes, action zones, etc.bring
together representatives of local authorities and public agencies,
local voluntary bodies and private enterprises. In 2001, we identified
some 2,300 local partnerships. In their paper for this Committee,
Professor Chris Skelcher, University of Birmingham, and Dr Helen
Sullivan, University of the West of England, calculate that twice
as manysome 5,500 partnershipsexist; and even this
figure, they say, is a significant under-estimate.
For example, it does not include partnerships funded through EU
47. When we visited Bristol we found a complex range
of inter-agency partnerships, partnership programmes funded by
various government departments and the EU, and partnerships and
other co-operative arrangements initiated by the local authority.
John Savage, Chief Executive of Bristol Chamber of Commerce and
High Sheriff, says that his involvement in the 'network of connectivity'
in Bristolthat is, in at least six partnerships with the
City Council and other bodiesis a full-time job. Business
in Bristol "paid for us to have a unit that could do the
interface" and the "structures of connectivity"
had bridged the gap between the public and private sectors.
48. Bristol City Council has identified all the partnerships
with which it has a relationship and has published a short and
long list. The long list runs to 76 Bristol-wide partnerships,
forums and strategy groups, etc; 46 neighbourhood partnerships
and groups; 36 regional partnerships and groups, including the
South West RDA and regional assembly; and ten national and international
networks. There is no monitoring of the memberships of key partnership
and analogous boards, let alone the potential for unseen or undesirable
influences being brought to bear by concentrated or overlapping
memberships of key partnerships.
49. Clearly there is a need for greater accountability
and transparency here. The activities of, and appointments to,
all local public spending bodies and partnerships carrying out
public functions on behalf of government, the EU or local authority
should be properly monitored. The importance of these bodies (and
the complexity of their 'connectivity') leads us to conclude that
while these local bodies need not be subject to full OCPA oversight,
they need some form of credible regulation.
50. We recommend
that the Government should consult with local authorities to determine
the most effective and proportionate means of achieving public
oversight of the boards of local public bodies and partnerships.