Smaller Government: Shrinking the Quango State - Public Administration Committee Contents

9  Conclusion

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 to Parliament.

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.

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