Brexit uncertainty set to delay arm’s-length body reviews
Public Bodies 2017 report suggests some “tailored reviews” will be rescheduled until post-EU landscape becomes clearer
Chris Skidmore addresses a meeting Credit: Cabinet Office
A new report on progress with the reform of the UK’s non-ministerial departments, non-departmental public bodies, and executive agencies has conceded that the timescale for some reviews of fitness for purpose is likely to slip because of Brexit.
The just-published Public Bodies 2017 document points to successful outcomes of tailored reviews with bodies including Public Health England, Arts Council England and the Homes and Communities Agency over the past year.
But it said that for other departments the timing of the reviews – which are aimed at driving efficiency and improving outcomes – were expected to slip.
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“Although many more reviews are now in flight, we appreciate that the consequences of the decision to leave the European Union may affect the timing of reviews for some departments,” it said.
“It is probable that some reviews will be rescheduled so that they can take place with a fuller understanding of the impact of changing requirements.”
However the report predicted that the “change” of leaving the EU would bring the UK’s public bodies an “opportunity to improve” and adopt “coherent, consistent approaches to change”.
The report said the number of arm’s-length bodies had reduced from 463 in 2016, to 305 this year – most significantly because of the reclassification of 132 Ministry of Justice independent monitoring boards and the grouping together of 12 Ministry of Defence veterans advisory and pensions committees. Those changes arose as a result of tailored reviews.
Constitution minister Chris Skidmore said the government’s approach to reforming public bodies in the years to 2020 was designed to build on a coalition-era programme, which cut the number of ALBs by one-third and saved around £3bn in administration costs.
“Public bodies will continue to play a vital role in the delivery of public services for all our citizens, covering wide-ranging functions such as regulation, operational delivery and advice to government,” he said.
“Working together with departments and public bodies we will build on our success to ensure that this government continues to provide public services that deliver for everyone.”
Future tasks for the Public Bodies Reform Team in the years to 2020 include commissioning work to explore the potential to implement changes to regulatory reform identified in January this year across ALBs. Those reforms involved the introduction of an “earned recognition” for businesses subject to regulation, and the adoption of full-cost-recovery models.
Other work areas include encouraging departments to “cluster” groups of similar ALBs to improve efficiency and drive savings, such as through shared-services, and collaboration between the Government Property Unit and departments to “assess the scale of opportunities” for relocating public bodies outside of London and the South East.
The report also said the review team would publish guidance on the creation of new ALBs, and their design and governance, over the coming weeks.
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