136. It is inevitable that a new government has
difficulties translating ambitious pre-election rhetoric into
deliverable policy, but the confusion over the four tests, the
place of value for money in the review and the controversial aspects
of the Public Bodies Reform Bill make the Government's public
body reform programme more contentious and less effective than
it should have been. Nevertheless, valuable lessons can be learned
for future reviews.
137. The current approach is not going to deliver
significant cost savings or result in greater accountability.
Public bodies are established to perform a variety of public functions;
while it is possible to deliver these functions in a more efficient
way the majority of their funding is passed on to other organisations
and groups. If the Government wishes to make meaningful savings
in public body expenditure it needs to examine not just how public
bodies operate, but what they exist to do. It will have to decide
whether all the functions currently performed by public bodies
are still necessary. Unless it does so, there will be a limit
to the savings it can deliver.
138. Similarly, we are unconvinced that the Government's
solution, bringing functions back in to central departments, will
create a more accountable system. We sympathise with ministers'
desire to be able to influence decisions they will ultimately
be held responsible for; but its answer fails to recognise ways
the organisations are held to account beyond ministerial accountability
139. Stakeholders and civil society play an important
role in providing challenge and criticism to public bodies on
a day to day basis; indeed this seems central to the Government's
vision for a Big Society. It is easiest for them to perform this
role when they have a clearly identified body to engage with,
not a homogenous central department. There is a way to meet both
demands, set these bodies up as executive agencies - this provides
a clearly identifiable organisation for stakeholders to engage
with, while leaving ultimate responsibility with the Minister.