The political brief
The Public Bodies (Reform) Bill
The Public Bodies (Reform) Bill aims to ensure that there is a greater degree of transparency and accountability for all public bodies and applies to all parts of the UK.
The Coalition Government plans to both cut the overall number of public bodies and make year-on-year savings of £1 billion by reducing the cost of bureaucracy. This is in line with the Coalition’s aims to reduce the deficit by making spending cuts, rather than through tax rises.
Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats were committed to cuts in their initial agreement, but the plan to "significantly accelerate" the reduction in the structural deficit marks a concession from the Liberal Democrats, who had initially preferred a less challenging timetable.
Criticism of the Bill during its passage through the House of Lords focused chiefly on the extensive powers it gives ministers, not just to reorganise the quangos listed for reform now, but to add additional ones to the list later.
Baroness Royall, Labour Leader in the House of Lords, described the Bill as "ad Bill. It is badly thought out, badly structured, badly executed, bad for the constitution, bad for public bodies and bad for government.”
Scotland’s most senior judge, Lord Hamilton, has criticised the Bill, saying that it is “incompatible with the constitutional position” of the Scottish Court Service and causes him “concern”, while Dr Jim Dyer, the former Scottish Parliament’s standards watchdog, has also accused the Coalition Government of “political machismo” on the issue.
Fears have also been raised that the Bill would give powers to ministers to abolish S4C, the Welsh language TV channel.
The NASUWT believes that in many cases the Government is abolishing bodies that cost little but provide invaluable advice and services. In other cases the costs of closure are greater than their running costs.
Many announcements were made with little or no consultation with users or employees who may now lose their jobs and the NASUWT believes there is a clear need for full and proper scrutiny of any proposal to abolish these organisations. The Bill enables ministers to make such changes with little or no real consultation.
Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT said: “This quango cull is not about efficiency or even saving money. The Bill is about reducing democratic accountability and getting rid of bodies that stand up for ordinary people against government or unscrupulous employers.”
Main points of the Bill:
• reduce the number and cost of public bodies (quangos) in order to ensure greater accountability, transparency and efficiency in government;
• give ministers the powers to abolish, merge or transfer quangos back into Government departments;
• provide for a review of the functions of all public bodies every three years, as opposed to the current practice of every five years. The review will comprise a series of tests to measure whether their function is technical, whether the organisations need to be politically impartial and whether any recommendations they make need to be determined transparently.
Under the provisions of the Bill, any of the education-related organisations listed below may be abolished, merged or changed as a minister sees fit:
• Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS)
• Charity Commission for England and Wales
• Children’s Commissioner
• Commission for Equality and Human Rights
• General Teaching Council for England (GTCE)
• Health and Safety Executive (HSE)
• Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills
• Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (OFSTED)
• Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation
• Pensions Regulator
• School Support Staff Negotiating Body (SSSNB)
• School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB)
• Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA)
• Young People’s Learning Agency for England
These represent a small proportion of the 192 organisations covered by the Bill.