Opinion: How to maintain healthy public bodies
From weather forecasting to healthcare inspection, public bodies play a crucial role in maintaining public services. Lesley Ann Nash, the director for public bodies reform at the Cabinet Office, explains what government is doing to keep them fit for purpose
Public bodies play a vital role in delivering a wide range of public services across the UK.
From safeguarding our children by regulating the education they receive, to ensuring that vehicles and drivers are safe to be on our roads, and making sure our health and social care meets the highest quality and safety levels, public bodies have a huge impact on our everyday lives.
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By their very nature, government and public bodies must be able to adapt to challenges created by changing domestic and global landscapes. These challenges, however, also present us with new opportunities to find innovative ways to tackle shared problems and strengthen our public bodies.
Many public bodies are undergoing significant transformation programmes to meet these challenges, such as upgrading their digital capability and exploring options to relocate to new areas in the UK. It is critical that our public bodies keep pace with the demands of a modern world and that we continue to strive to make access to public services more efficient, easier and fairer.
Of course, we must pay particular attention to the issue of Brexit and the significant impact that this will have on the public bodies’ landscape. There are many broad cross-cutting themes that pose challenges for departments, however, there are also narrower policy issues which will directly affect our public bodies. These bodies, therefore, will play an important part in delivering a successful exit from the EU.
It is the role of the Public Bodies Reform Team, in the Cabinet Office, to encourage public bodies to take a proactive approach, scenario planning to cover different eventualities, and to work with their departments to set out detailed proposals on their own priorities.
With this backdrop of challenge and opportunity, I am delighted that we are hosting interactive panel events this week in Birmingham and London as part of Public Bodies Week. These events will bring together leaders from public bodies and government departments to explore common issues and provide a base for collaboration across departmental boundaries.
We have also published our annual directory, Public Bodies 2017, which plays an important part in increasing transparency, accessibility and accountability of public bodies to the public, and sets out strategic cross-government objectives. The events during Public Bodies Week are a chance to give life to this shared strategy and to shine a spotlight on exemplars of arm’s-length delivery across the UK.
The Public Bodies Reform Team will continue to manage the public bodies’ landscape – ensuring that there are good governance structures in place, that public bodies are reviewed and the necessary reforms are made, and that central teams within the Cabinet Office have strong connections with individual departments.
There is, rightly, a continuing need to ensure that public bodies are held accountable when delivering public services, and we will use the events and feedback from Public Bodies Week to guide our future priorities.
Working together with departments and public bodies, we will build on previous successes to ensure that public bodies – whether forecasting the weather or protecting our forests and woodland – provide public services that deliver for everyone.
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