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Progress on public bodies reform

The Government’s Public Bodies Reform Programme, designed to reduce the number and cost of public bodies and to make them more accountable to elected representatives, is making good progress. There have also been substantial reductions in the administrative spending of non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs). However, according to a report today from the National Audit Office, there has not been enough emphasis on managing the benefits of the Reform Programme and the ongoing programme for reviewing the remaining public bodies needs to be strengthened.

The reduction by the Cabinet Office and departments in the number of public bodies represents a major simplification of the public bodies landscape. Under the Reform Programme, Cabinet Office intends to reduce the number of bodies by 306, through abolition and merger.  By 31 December 2013, 93 per cent of the planned abolitions and mergers had been completed, reducing the number of public bodies in the Programme by 283 to 621.

However, even after all planned reforms have been completed, the public bodies landscape will still be complex. More needs to be done to increase the transparency of remaining public bodies. Furthermore, the Cabinet Office and departments have, so far, been unable to collect quantifiable evidence to measure the wider value of reforms for public services, citizen trust and participation. The Cabinet Office is aware of these issues and recognizes that it needs to address them for value for money to be achieved in the longer term.

The Cabinet Office currently estimates that, over four years, the public bodies in the Programme will have reduced administrative spending by at least the original estimate of £2.6 billion. The NAO’s analysis of departments’ audited accounts confirms that annual administrative spending reductions achieved by public bodies have been substantial, with an estimated £723 million saved in 2012-13 compared with 2010-11.

Four of the first 30 triennial reviews, covering 38 out of 77 bodies reviewed, have led to major structural reform. Reviews can also add value by examining governance, efficiency and effectiveness issues, but they have tended not to make explicit recommendations on achieving savings or improving performance. And departments have made slow progress in completing the first round of reviews.

 

“The Public Bodies Reform Programme is making good progress in simplifying the public bodies landscape. A large number of public bodies have been abolished or merged and cuts in administrative spending have been substantial. It will be important to maintain the momentum of reform, and doing this will require the triennial review programme to be much more effective than it has been so far.”

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office

Notes for Editors

  1. In the NAO’s previous report on central government reorganizations, it acknowledged the scale of the Public Bodies Reform Programme, which aims to simplify the public bodies landscape to improve accountability and to achieve financial savings. However, the NAO concluded that the Cabinet Office and departments had not done enough by that (early) stage to secure value for money.
  2. This report examines the progress made since the NAO’s previous report: www.nao.org.uk/report/reorganising-central-government-bodies/. It focuses on the simplification of the public bodies landscape, the achievement of benefits, and the introduction of triennial reviews of non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) that remain after the reforms.
  3. Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website, which is at www.nao.org.uk. Hard copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474.
  4. The National Audit Office scrutinises public spending for Parliament and is independent of government. The Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), Amyas Morse, is an Officer of the House of Commons and leads the NAO, which employs some 860 staff. The C&AG certifies the accounts of all government departments and many other public sector bodies. He has statutory authority to examine and report to Parliament on whether departments and the bodies they fund have used their resources efficiently, effectively, and with economy. Our studies evaluate the value for money of public spending, nationally and locally. Our recommendations and reports on good practice help government improve public services, and our work led to audited savings of almost £1.2 billion in 2012.

PN: 10/14