Select Committee on Public Administration Fifth Report


FIFTH REPORT

The Public Administration Committee has agreed to the following Report:—

MAPPING THE QUANGO STATE

Introduction

1. Quangos play a large and diverse role in government. Indeed, their role is so diverse that there is no agreement even on what the word means. In the Committee's Sixth Report of the Session 1998-1999, Quangos, we reported on our major inquiry into quangos and their role and made a series of proposals to which the Government replied. 1[1] Those proposals sought to contribute to two of the Government's expressed aims - of modernising the ways in which government works, as expressed in the Modernising Government White Paper; and of making quangos more open and accessible to the public, as set out in the Cabinet Office paper, Quangos: Opening the Doors.[2] Our Quangos report also contained the first parliamentary survey of the official measures of accountability that then applied to these bodies.

2. The present Report does not seek to be a full review of the Government's policy on quangos since our Report in November 1999, nor even of progress on the series of proposals that we made therein. In this report we return to one of the central proposals that we made in the Quangos Report - the need for a comprehensive "map" of government and the organisations which carry out functions on its behalf.[3] We argued that such a map would contribute to modernising government by bringing some clarity and consistency to the confusion of quangos and other bodies which play a crucial role in its policies and functions. This Report demonstrates again the need for such clarity and consistency. Clarity and consistency also facilitate the Government's aim of making quangos and other public bodies more open and accessible; and enable some measure of its progress in applying measures of accountability that would bring about this desirable aim.

3. In this Report, we make our own contribution to the kind of mapping exercise that we would like to see. The Report is divided into two parts. In Part 1, we list those bodies of all types and at all levels that are generally regarded as quangos. In Part 2, we analyse how far the Government has introduced accountability and openness into the way in which these bodies operate. We do so using a scale of 15 criteria, or "measures", for executive quangos at national, regional and local level; and 11 criteria for advisory quangos, with a further two criteria relating to their role in making government policy. The analysis is based on data provided to the Committee by Government Departments, regulators, the devolved administrations and the NHS. The criteria are a development of the set of measures that the Committee introduced in its Quangos report, based upon the Government's publicly-declared aims, and the criteria developed by the Democratic Audit, University of Essex, to measure progress under the previous Government. We are thus able to examine progress by comparing the state of play on accountability and openness under the current Government (as of April 2000) and the position as it stood in the last year of the previous Government (as of March 1997). We are also able to review the Government's record in the light of its own cautious proposals for reform in Quangos: Opening the Doors. We are grateful to Democratic Audit, and its director Professor Stuart Weir, for undertaking this mapping exercise on our behalf; and to Jennifer Smookler and Pauline Ngan, who did the detailed research. We are also most grateful to Helena Bayler who helped prepare the tables for publication. The Committee hopes to continue this collaboration in the future.

Part 1: Quangos and Task Forces: A Numerical Mapping

4. As we point out, there is no agreement over the use of the word "quango". It is a notoriously elastic term and its elasticity compounds the confusion around government's use of public bodies of whatever kind. The traditional government position is that only the official Non-Departmental Public Bodies (NDPBs), listed annually in Public Bodies, are genuine quangos. We use the word in a wider sense in this Report, though the core analysis is concerned with NDPBs, both executive and advisory.

5. For our purposes, we have defined as quangos all bodies responsible for developing, managing or delivering public services or policies, or for performing public functions, under governing bodies with a plural membership of wholly or largely appointed or self-appointing persons. In some cases, quango boards may contain members who are elected from partial electorates of user groups.

6. This definition excludes, for example, all executive agencies, public corporations, and non-ministerial government departments. But it includes Task Forces which, as we shall show, are not necessarily the transient bodies they are officially supposed to be. It also includes those local bodies which the Committee on Standards in Public Life, under Lord Nolan, classified as "Local Public Spending Bodies" (LPSBs), as well as other bodies that operate at local level and meet our criteria. It is on this basis that the "quango state" is surveyed in this Report. This survey is more comprehensive than that which we undertook in 1999 (for example, we examine the NDPBs that serve the regulators). But the data on accountability do not extend to those quangos which are now the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Assembly, though both the Scottish Executive and Welsh Assembly (through the good offices of the late Donald Dewar and of Rhodri Morgan) kindly supplied us with relevant information, which we hope the devolved administrations will find helpful, at least for comparative purposes. The totals for NDPBs, regional and local quangos surveyed in this Part cannot be aggregated into a single grand total, as there are overlaps between the categories and there would therefore be some double-counting.

Non-Departmental Public Bodies

7. Non-Departmental Public Bodies (NDPBs) may be executive or advisory bodies that come in all shapes and sizes. Their remits may be UK-wide, for Great Britain, for England and Wales, for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or an English region only, or for a single museum or research council. Table 1 sets out the total number of executive NDPBs for April 1997 and April 2000, with their expenditure in 1999-2000, by department; Table 2 sets out the total number of advisory NDPBs in 1997 and 2000. In both cases, we use the total figures set out in Public Bodies, April 1997 and April 2000. The figures for 1997 differ from the base figures used for the sake of comparison in Part 2 of this Report, which are based on replies to Parliamentary Questions in March 1997.

8. As will be seen, when the present Government came into office (May 1997), Public Bodies recorded 305 executive NDPBs and 610 advisory NDPBs, making 915 of these NDPBs in all. As of April 2000, NDPBs totalled 833, of which 297 were executive bodies and 536 were advisory. Thus, since April 1997 there has been a 2.6 per cent fall in the number of executive NDPBs (a difference of 8 bodies), and of 12.1 per cent (74 bodies) in advisory NDPBs. But these figures conceal considerable flux, with existing bodies being abolished and replaced, re-born in different form, divided in response to devolution, or merged; and new bodies being constantly created.

Table 1: Executive NDPBs: Number and Expenditure, 1997-2000

Government Body Number in April 1997 Number in April 2000 Expenditure
1999-2000 (£m)
Funded by Government 1999-2000 (£m)
Central Government Departments
Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
36
37
170
39
Cabinet Office
-
-
-
-
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster's Office
-
-
-
-
Culture, Media and Sport
37
41
3080
1070
Defence
7
7
22
10
Education and Employment
15
12
8280
8020
Environment, Transport and the Regions
35
32
3880
2540
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
7
6
430
150
Health
7
8
210
200
Home Office
11
13
390
270
International Development
2
2
1
1
Lord Chancellor's Department
2
2
1660
1240
Social Security
3
2
10
9.9
Trade and Industry
27
24
1910
1630
HM Treasury
-
1
27
-
Total for Central Government Departments
189
187
20,070
15,179.9
Devolved Administrations and Territorial Departments
National Assembly for Wales
-
20
820
730
Welsh Office/Wales Office
24
-
-
-
Northern Ireland Assembly
-
27
150
130
Northern Ireland Office
35
6
690
690
Scottish Courts Administration
-
-
-
-
Scottish Executive
-
38
2180
1910
Scottish Office/Scotland Office
37
-
-
-
Total (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland)
96
91
3840
3460
Non-Ministerial Departments and Regulators
19
19
4.1
4.1
Minister without Portfolio (for the Millennium Dome)
1
-
-
-
Total (Central and Devolved Government)
305
297
23,914.1
18,644

Source: Public Bodies 1997; Public Bodies 2000

Table 2: Number of Advisory NDPBs, 1997-2000
Government Body Number in April 1997 Number in April 2000
Central Government Departments
Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
37
28
Cabinet Office
8
9
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster's Office
17
17
Culture, Media and Sport
8
14
Defence
16
10
Education and Employment
4
7
Environment, Transport and the Regions
20
24
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
4
3
Health
38
38
Home Office
11
12
International Development
4
4
Lord Chancellor's Department
197
195
Social Security
34
33
Trade and Industry
25
20
HM Treasury
6
-
Total for Central Government Departments
429
414
Devolved Administrations and Territorial Departments
National Assembly for Wales
-
22
Welsh Office/Wales Office
25
-
Northern Ireland Assembly
-
18
Northern Ireland Office
35
1
Scottish Courts Administration
1
-
Scottish Executive
-
54
Scottish Office/Scotland Office
94
1
Total (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland)
155
96
Non-Ministerial Departments and Regulators
26
26
Total (Central and Devolved Government)
610
536

Source: Public Bodies 1997; Public Bodies 2000

9. The Government committed itself in 1997 to "reducing the number of NDPBs" and creating new NDPBs only if they were an appropriate and cost-effective means of carrying out a given function. It is, however, apparent that the Committee's Quangos Report in 1999 forecast correctly that the commitment would result only in a small net reduction in the number of NDPBs. We gave two reasons. The first was that NDPBs were too useful to individual departments for a cull, directed by the Cabinet Office, to be very successful. The second was that the Government, though committed in principle to reducing their numbers, had already created a range of new and powerful NDPBs and had announced plans to create more.

10. There is a continuing and dynamic process at work here, especially at the level of central government. As Table 1 shows, the total figure for executive NDPBs serving government departments - the most important and powerful category of quangos - has fallen by only two, from 189 to 187, since 1997. And the current edition of Public Bodies (the official count from which we derived the figures for Table 1), does not list some major executive bodies - like the Electoral Commission and the Learning and Skills Council - which are now up and running. (By the same token, they do not appear in the figures in this Report.) As Table 2 shows, it appears easier to cull advisory NDPBs sponsored by central government; their number has fallen from 610 to 536.

Task Forces

11. Task Forces are temporary advice-giving bodies. The Government described them to us at the time of our last inquiry as "short-term groups of experts . . . brought together to look at a particular problem"; and said that they would only be classified by Government as advisory NDPBs where they took on "a longer remit".[4] As a result, Task Forces and similar short-term advisory bodies of external advisers are not subject to "Nolan rules" on appointments and procedure, do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, and do not appear in the official statistics for NDPBs. However, they can arguably be described as quangos, since they draw in external members to advise on public policy formulation, often at a critical formative stage. In the absence of an agreed definition of Task Forces, we have adopted that recommended in Reinforcing Standards,[5] in January 2000, for the task of carrying out our census of Task Forces in existence in April 2000. The defining characteristics of Task Forces identified by the Neill Committee were that they were advisory bodies with a significant and plural outside membership and a limited life-span.

12. In the first 18 months of this Government, Ministers established some 295 Task Forces under a variety of titles.[6] But as the rate of creation of Task Forces seemed then to be slowing, it was largely assumed by the end of 1999 that the first unprecedented eruption of such bodies was the consequence of a new Government coming into power and requiring policy steers over a wide range of issues through Task Forces and internal policy reviews. However, as Table 3 shows, our analysis of information lodged by departments in the House of Commons Library and returns from government departments and the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales found that in April 2000 there were 303 Task Forces in Great Britain (unfortunately, we do not have a figure for the UK as a whole as the Northern Ireland Assembly did not disclose information on its use of Task Forces).

13. This total figure is significantly swelled by the Scottish Executive's tally of 102. There are indications that the Executive has adopted a more inclusive definition of Task Forces than central government departments. The fundamental review of all public bodies in Scotland, announced by First Minister Henry McLeish in January 2001, is expected to show a lower figure for Task Forces, as compared with April 2000. The Scottish use of these temporary bodies may well be the effect of a new executive confronted by a range of policy issues, as was the case when the new UK Government came into power in 1997. On the other hand, the former Scottish Office was a prolific creator of Task Forces; and the use of Task Forces in Scotland may also reflect the more consensual approach to policy formulation necessary under coalition government. The National Assembly of Wales had 28 Task Forces and OFTEL one. This still leaves 170 Task Forces under central government - more than half of which belonged to a few government departments: the DfEE had 47 Task Forces, the DETR 31 and the Department of Health 24 . It seems, therefore, that Task Forces are likely to be a continuing element in governance in the UK and that more consideration should be given to their "un-Nolanised" status.

Table 3: Task Forces by Department and Devolved Administration, at April 2000
Sponsor Number of Task Forces
Central Government Departments
Agriculture, Fisheries and Food 4
Cabinet Office 5
Culture, Media and Sport 6
Education and Employment 47
Environment, Transport and the Regions 31
Foreign and Commonwealth Office 1
Health 24
Home Office 13
Inland Revenue 1
International Development 1
Lord Chancellor's Department 14
Social Security 9
Trade and Industry 13
Treasury 1
Devolved Administrations and Territorial Departments
National Assembly for Wales 28
Northern Ireland Assembly No information
Northern Ireland Office 2
Scottish Executive 102
Regulators
OFTEL 1
Total 303

Source: Departmental returns to this Committee

14. Table 3 summarises the disposition of Task Forces, by government department and devolved administration. Annex 4 sets out the full list of Task Forces for each department and devolved administration, with the remit of each, their starting date and projected disbandment, their chair person and a brief analysis of their composition.

15. Task Forces remain outside the Nolan rules on the understanding that they are temporary bodies only. The Neill Committee suggested in Reinforcing Standards that their time-span should not exceed two years; and that after this time the Cabinet Office and commissioning department should decide whether the body should be disbanded or re-classified as an advisory NDPB. Though the Government has not explicitly recognised the Committee's working definition of Task Forces, nor its proposed limit on their life, we understand that the Cabinet Office has implicitly accepted both. But it is clear that departments and devolved administrations have not yet taken on board the two-year period as a benchmark for assessing the life span of Task Forces. We were surprised to find 52 Task Forces that had been in existence for more than two years, of which 9 were more than three years old. Even the Cabinet Office itself had one - the Interchange Steering Council - that was more than two years old.

We recommend that if a Task Force wants to continue beyond two years that it gives an account to the commissioning Department justifying its extension and that a record is kept in the House of Commons Library.

16. Table 4 sets out the number of Task Forces that had been in existence in April 2000 for more than two and three years by department; a full list of these "long-life" Task Forces is set out in Annex 3. In addition to the Task Forces that were past their "sell by" date at April 2000, we identified an additional 30 Task Forces that are likely to exceed the two-year time limit. A complete list of these Task Forces is also contained in Annex 3.

Table 4: Task Forces Older than Two and Three Years by Department and Devolved Administration, at April 2000

Department or Devolved Administration Task Forces Over Two Years Old Task Forces Over Three Years Old
Central Government Departments
Agriculture and Fisheries 1  -
Cabinet Office 1  -
Culture, Media and Sport 2  -
Education and Employment 7 -
Environment, Transport and the Regions 7 -
Health 2 -
Home Office 1 -
Lord Chancellor's Department 1 -
Social Security 2 -
Trade and Industry
4 -
Regulators
OFTEL 1 1
Devolved Administrations
National Assembly for Wales 1  -
Northern Ireland Office 2  -
Scottish Executive 20 8
Total
52 9

Source: Departmental returns to this Committee

17. The inclusive approach that the Scottish Executive has taken towards Task Forces means that they have now classed as Task Forces some ad hoc advisory bodies which pre-date the advent of the Labour Government in 1997, the most long-lived of which is the Criminal Justice Social Work Services Main Consultation Group (established in September 1989). These bodies are now subject to the fundamental review taking place in Scotland. However, we suspect that a similarly inclusive approach by central government departments would reveal yet other ad hoc advisory bodies, pre-dating 1997, that are not listed either as NDPBs or Task Forces, or which have been re-named.

18. The need for a "map" and informed surveillance of Task Forces and other public bodies is made clear by these findings. We recommend that central government accept the Neill Committee's working definition of Task Forces; and institute an immediate review of the position of all Task Forces. We make no recommendation, of course, on the position of Task Forces under devolved administrations.

Missing the Map: The Northern Ireland Office's "Other Bodies"

19. Two major public bodies, the Parades Commission and the Office of the Sentence Review Commissioners, have a somewhat anomalous position. They are not classified, as we think they should be, as NDPBs, and consequently do not appear in Public Bodies. The Parades Commission was created on 27 March 1997 and spent eleven months as a "non-statutory body". It assumed statutory form on 16 February 1998 under the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998. The Commission's own website describes it as a "quasi-judicial body". The Sentence Review Commissioners were first appointed on 30 July 1998, under the provisions of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998. Officials at the Northern Ireland Office explained to our research staff that the Parades Commission and the Sentence Review Commissioners were "Other Bodies". We can understand that there are special considerations in relation to these bodies, but we do not see why such considerations cannot be met by classifying them as executive NDPBs and bringing them more openly into the public domain. Our inquiries merely stumbled upon their odd status, and it is clearly possible that other public bodies are classified as "other" or "quasi-judicial" bodies and so do not appear on the public map of the quango state.

The Regulators' NDPBs

20. In the Committee's previous survey of NDPBs, published in November 1999, we omitted the handful of bodies that served the regulators. This survey includes these 41 bodies, all of which function at regional level. The Office of the Rail Regulator has nine executive NDPBs; OFGEM has 15 advisory NDPBs; OFTEL has six advisory NDPBs; and OFWAT ten executive and one advisory NDPB.

Regional and "Devolved" Quangos

21. Devolution has brought about sets of NDPBs and other bodies serving the Scottish Executive, the National Assembly for Wales (where they are known as "Assembly Sponsored Public Bodies", or ASPBs) and the Northern Ireland Assembly. These bodies include NDPBs which have been transferred from central government departments; previously existing NDPBs that have been split on, or in anticipation of devolution; and newly created NDPBs. The Northern Ireland Office has retained control of six executive NDPBs (as well as the Parades Commission and the Office of the Sentence Review Commissioners) and one advisory body. At the same time, there has been a growth in the role of quangos in the English regions, in part as a result of devolution and the Government's decision not to go ahead with an elected tier of regional government for the time being. The main innovation has been the creation of eight major regional NDPBs - the regional development agencies - with associated regional chambers (which are not NDPBs, but which are voluntary bodies that perform an advisory public role). The DCMS has also regionalised activity in England. The new Greater London Authority, a regional body in terms of geography if not formal status, is also responsible for five quangos.

22. There is no formal "map" of the disposition of NDPBs, ASPBs and quangos at sub-national and regional level throughout the UK. Table 5 summarises the position so far as we are able to ascertain it. The advent of devolved institutions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland increases the probability of democratic oversight of quangos in these areas, but the position in England is less satisfactory. Regional development agencies are increasingly taking on a wider range of responsibilities in liaison with regional government offices. In their regions these appointed bodies are subject to check only by the indirectly elected regional chambers, which are too large, unwieldy and under-resourced to fulfil an oversight role. The Housing Corporation devolves much of its activity to regional offices, but they too are unchecked at regional level. Other major regional policy matters, such as public transport, have no representative regional input; others, such as land-use planning, involve weak and divided consortia of local authorities. These considerations strengthen the case for reassessing the need for elected regional bodies in the English regions, as counterparts to the devolved assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and to provide a unifying representative role.

Table 5: Appointed Governance under Devolved Administrations,

Territorial Departments and in the English Regions
England

Executive

Regional development agencies (DETR) 8
Regional chambers (DETR) 8
Regional Legal Services Committees (LCD) 12
Greater London Cultural Strategy Group (GLA) 1
London Development Agency (GLA) 1
London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (GLA) 1
Metropolitan Police Authority (GLA) 1
Transport for London (GLA) 1
Docklands Light Railway (DETR) 1
Regional arts boards (DCMS) 10
Regional cultural consortia (DCMS) 8
OFWAT customer services committees (OFWAT) 10
Rail users' consultative committees (ORR) 6
Regional flood defence committees (MAFF)* 8

Advisory

Regional industrial development boards (DTI) 7
Agricultural dwelling house advisory committees (MAFF) 15
Electricity consumer committees (OFGEM) 12
Industrial Development Advisory Board (DTI) 1
Total for England 111
Northern Ireland

Executive

NDPBs (NIO) 6
NDPBs (NIA) 27
Parades Commission (NIO) 1
Office of the Sentence Review Commissioners (NIO) 1
Post Office Users' Council for NI (DTI) 1

Advisory

NDPBs (NIO) 1
NDPBs (NIA) 18
Total for Northern Ireland 55
Scotland

Executive

NDPBs (SE) 38
Post Office Users' Council for Scotland (DTI) 1
Northern Lighthouse Board (DETR) 1

Advisory

NDPBs (SE) 54
Total for Scotland 94
Wales

Executive

ASPBs (NAW) 20
Sianel Pedwar Cymru (Fourth Channel Authority) (DCMS) 1
Post Office Users' Council for Wales (DTI) 1
Flood defence committee (MAFF)* 1
Rail users' consultative committee (ORR) 1

Advisory

ASPBs (NAW) 22
Welsh advisory committee on telecommunications (OFTEL) 1
Total for Wales 47

* Also part of the Environment Agency

Abbreviations: DCMS, Department for Culture, Media and Sport; DETR, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions; DTI, Department of Trade and Industry; GLA, Greater London Authority; LCD, Lord Chancellor's Department; MAFF, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; NAW, National Assembly for Wales; NIA, Northern Ireland Assembly; NIO, Northern Ireland Office; OFGEM, Office of Gas and Electricity Markets; OFTEL, Office of Telecommunications; OFWAT, Office of Water Services; ORR, Office of the Rail Regulator; SE, Scottish Executive.

Source: Research undertaken on behalf of the Committee

_____________________________________________________________________

Local Quangos

23. A major concern of the early 1990s was the unexpected and very large growth in the number of local public bodies. A report by the Democratic Audit in 1994 identified at least 4,732 local bodies, only a few of which were recognised as quangos by central government.[7] In 1996, the Second Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life defined six categories of such bodies as "local public spending bodies" (LPSBs),[8] and since then central government has officially recognised their role and they have been routinely listed in Public Bodies. Those listed in the current edition are: higher education institutions (all "old" and "new" universities); further education colleges; training and enterprise councils (TECs) and local enterprise companies (LECs); registered social landlords (England and Wales) and registered housing associations (Scotland). The 1996 report also defined as local public spending bodies the then grant-maintained schools that have since been abolished. Public Bodies 2000 listed 3,232 local public spending bodies.

24. The Committee has decided that local public spending bodies ought to form part of its remit and for the first time this report also includes analysis of a number of such bodies operating at local and sub-regional level. The inclusion of higher education bodies is somewhat anomalous, given the national catchment area of some of them, but we include them for the sake of completeness. To ensure that we have the full census of local decision-making bodies necessary for an assessment of the role of the local appointed state in local governance, we also include bodies other than the recognised LPSBs. First among these are NHS bodies - health authorities, NHS trusts and several special local NHS bodies. Under the NHS, a network of primary care groups has been established in England and Wales. These groups are semi-autonomous, though formally subordinate to health authorities, and are being encouraged to cast aside their subordination to health authorities and become fully-fledged primary care trusts (PCTs). From April 2001, the 40 or so PCTs in England and Wales are scheduled to increase to 163. Scotland has health boards (15), special health boards (8), primary care trusts (13), acute NHS trusts (14) and one integrated health trust. In Northern Ireland, there are health and social services trusts (19), health and social services councils (4) and health and personal social services boards (4).

25. On abolishing grant-maintained schools, the government created a new category of schools with foundation status. These include former GM schools and voluntary-aided schools. There is an argument that state schools should be regarded as local quangos, since they now operate under a high level of self-management, receive some funds directly from the DfEE rather than through local education authorities, and elected parent governors form only a minority on their governing bodies. However, we take the view that the overall role still performed by LEAs in relation to state schools means that they belong in the realm of local government. But schools with foundation status can (and usually do) have on their governing bodies a majority of appointees from the private or voluntary organisation, or church, to which they are attached; and consequently they qualify as local quangos. City technology colleges also qualify as quangos under our definition.

26. Public Bodies 2000 lists training and enterprise boards (TECs) as LPSBs, even though they are in the process of being replaced by new sub-regional bodies, the 47 Learning and Skills Councils. Since this report is largely a "snapshot" of the position in April 2000, we count TECs rather than LSCs in our census and, alongside them, the LECs and career service companies in Scotland. There are also the police authorities of England and Wales and joint police boards/unitary police authorities in Scotland. Finally, a handful of executive NDPBs perform local service functions.

27. Table 6 sets out the complex position, as best we understand it, at local level in England, Scotland, Wales and (to a lesser degree) Northern Ireland. Our survey identifies some 5,338 local public bodies; and even if universities are excluded, the total of local public bodies of all sorts comes to 5,172. This figure ought not to be directly compared to the 4,732 local bodies identified by Democratic Audit in the mid-1990s. Yet even so, we suspect that the size of this figure may surprise even Ministers.

Table 6: The local quango state
Higher education institutions 166
Further education institutions 511
Foundation schools 877
City technology colleges 15
Training and enterprise councils (England) 72
Local enterprise councils (Scotland) 22
Career service companies (Scotland) 17
Registered social landlords (England) 2,074
Registered social landlords (Wales) 92
Registered housing associations (Scotland) 255
Registered housing associations (Northern Ireland) 40
Housing action trusts 4
Police authorities (England and Wales) 41
Joint police boards/unitary police authorities (Scotland) 8
Health authorities (England and Wales) 99
NHS trusts (England and Wales) 373
Primary care groups (England and Wales) 434
Primary care trusts (England and Wales) 40
Health boards (Scotland) 15
Special health boards (Scotland) 8
Acute NHS trusts (Scotland) 14
Primary care trusts (Scotland) 13
Integrated acute and primary care trust (Scotland) 1
Health and social services trusts (Northern Ireland) 19
Health and social services councils (Northern Ireland) 4
Health and personal social services boards (Northern Ireland) 4
Advisory committees on JPs* (UK) 119
Dartmoor Steering Group (Ministry of Defence) 1
Total 5338

* These advisory bodies are sponsored by the Lord Chancellor's Department for all of England and Wales (94), apart from the additional 17 committees in Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside run by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster's Office. There are eight advisory committees for Northern Ireland.

Source: Returns from government departments; Public Bodies 2000; inquiries by the Committee's temporary research staff

Partnerships, Zone Boards and Other Local Cross-Sectoral Bodies

28. There is now a bewildering array of partnerships, zones and similar arrangements at local authority level. The Committee have not had time to consider their role in detail, but we hope to return to it in the near future. Some observers argue that these bodies ought also to be considered as quangos; others respond that the involvement of local authorities in the direction of partnerships gives them a representative base. It is certainly the case that their role requires careful study, but for the time being we have come to no firm conclusions. Table 7 sets out a skeleton map of these arrangements, in part based on Parliamentary Questions tabled by the Chairman of this Committee.


Table 7: Partnerships, Boards of Zones and Cross-Sectoral Bodies
Department Partnerships
Number
Funding Streams
Department for Culture, Media and Sport Regional Cultural Consortiums (1) 8 Funded from DCMS's programme budget.
Creative Partnerships (from 2002) 12 Funded by £40 million grant-in-aid to the Arts Council of England, which will administer the scheme.
Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions Local Agenda 21 285
New Commitment to Regeneration Partnerships 22
New Deal for Communities Partnerships 17
Single Regeneration Budget (SRB) Partnerships 900
Department for Education and Employment Connexions 47
Department for Education and Employment Early Years Development and Childcare Partnerships 150
Learning Partnerships 100
Sure Start 139
Department of Health Health Action Zones 26
Home Office Crime and Disorder Partnerships in England and Wales 376 (includes all bodies listed below) Able to bid for funding for particular crime reduction projects from the Crime Reduction Programme.
Youth Offending Teams Resourced through contributions from agencies involved (police, probation officers, social workers, health and education staff).
Youth Justice Board for England and Wales Receives funding from Home Office through monthly grant-in-aid payments.
Vehicle Crime Reduction Action Team VCRAT itself does not have access to funds, but funding is available from the Crime Reduction Programme to support its work.
Drug Action Teams Each of the local agencies in the DAT are funded individually. Additionally DATs receive funding through the Drugs Prevention Advisory Service.
Black and Minority Ethnic Twinning Voluntary Partnerships The Home Office Community Support Grant has provided £800,000 to fund the initiative over the period 1999-2002.
Prison Healthcare Delivery Located within the Department of Health.
Lord Chancellor's Department Community Legal Service Partnerships 153 The Legal Services Commission is a key member on each of the CLSPs and it takes account of the CLSP strategic plan when determining its local expenditure from the CLS Fund. The CLSPs provide the forum for the LSC to co-ordinate its local expenditure with other funders of local legal services, such as local authorities, the National Lottery Charities Board and charitable trusts.
Regional Legal Service Committees 12
Family Court Business Committees 48 These are not funded centrally but the Court Service pays for the administration.
Total 2295

(1) Included as part of the figures for executive NDPBs.

Source: Parliamentary Questions tabled by the Committee Chairman, December 2000

PART 2: ACCOUNTABILITY AND OPENNESS

29. In this section, we analyse how far the Government has introduced accountability and openness into the way in which NDPBs, both executive and advisory, perform their functions. We set out two key tables showing the accountability and openness of NDPBs, by department. Table 8 sets out and compares aggregate figures for executive NDPBs for April 1997 and April 2000, by central government departments and devolved administration, and gives details of their accountability and openness, by department and administration, in aggregate and percentage terms. Table 9 performs the same function for advisory NDPBs.[9] These tables also take in NDPBs serving the regulators. As noted above, the base figures for 1997 differ from those used for the comparisons of total figures in Part 1 of this Report.

30. Table 10 sets out information on the accountability of the new regional development agencies, regional chambers and regional arts boards. Table 11 performs the same function for a number of local quangos. In this Table, we have examined the arrangements for the new sub-regional Learning and Skills Councils rather than the TECs which they now replace. As described above (paragraph 3), we examine the accountability and openness of these bodies, using a scale of 15 criteria or "measures" for executive quangos and 11 criteria for advisory quangos with a further two criteria relating to their role in making government policy.

31. Annex A lists by title all the executive NDPBs that we covered in our survey (with analysis of their accountability, openness and public access), and Annex B all the advisory NDPBs (with similar data on their accountability, openness and links with government).

The Accountability and Openness of NDPBs

32. The criteria by which we measured the accountability and openness of executive and of advisory NDPBs are set out in the adjoining boxes.

Criteria for executive NDPBs

1.  Are they required to publish annual reports?

2.  Are they required to publish annual accounts?

3.  Are they subject to a full audit by the National Audit Office?

4.  Are they under the jurisdiction of the Parliamentary Ombudsman or other Ombudsman?

5.  Do they have their own complaints procedures?

6.  Are they required to observe the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information?

7.  Do they possess a register of members' interests?

8.  Are they required to allow the public to inspect a register of members' interests?

9.  Are they subject to a public right to attend board or committee meetings?

10.  Are they required to release public reports of meetings?

11.  Are they subject to a public right to inspect agendas of meetings?

12.  Are they subject to a public right to see minutes of meetings?

13.  Are they required to hold public meetings?

14.  Do they maintain an Internet website?

15.  Have they recently been subject to a quinquennial review?

Criteria for advisory NDPBs

1.  Are they required to publish annual reports?

2.  Are they required to lay their annual reports before Parliament?

3.  Are they required to allow the public to inspect a register of members' interests?

4.  Are they subject to a public right to inspect agendas of meetings?

5.  Are they subject to a public right to see minutes of meetings?

6.  Are they required to hold public meetings?

7.  Are they required to observe the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information?

8.  Are they required to consult outside interests?

9.  Are they required to consult the general public?

10.  Are they required to publish their advice to government?

11.  Are they under the jurisdiction of the Parliamentary Ombudsman or other Ombudsmen?

12.  Is the Government required to consult the NDPB before legislating in its area of interest?

13.  Is the Government required to respond publicly to the NDPB's advice?



33. We found that, by comparison with 1997, the proportion of executive NDPBs required to comply with these accountability measures had increased. Overall, though, they still complied with only just over half of the accountability measures (52 per cent). The large increase in the proportion of executive NDPBs now subject to the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman - from 49 to 76 per cent - and fast progress on instituting complaints procedures (now present for 74 per cent of all executive NDPBs) are both gratifying, continuing a process begun under the previous Government. Over three quarters of these bodies now maintain a website, but we see no reason why they cannot all do so.

34. Compliance actually fell between 1997 and 2000 on one criterion, full audit by the NAO, which is down by 17 per cent from 81 to 64 per cent. We are disappointed that more progress has not been made towards making the NAO the auditor for all executive NDPBs, since we agree with the Comptroller and Auditor General that this would improve their overall accountability. We still take the view that such an arrangement seems to us "a useful contribution to the aim of drawing together and simplifying the systems of accountability for public bodies as a whole".[10] We are also disappointed at the low priority attached to public access to executive NDPBs. There are more black holes than examples of open governance. Even on the Government's own expressed wish that these bodies should hold more open annual meetings and other public meetings, also recommended by this Committee in Quangos,[11] there has been very slow progress since 1997 - an increase of 12 per cent to 17 per cent overall in 2000.

35. The Committee believe that more attention should be given to the important role that advisory NDPBs play within Government. We do not doubt the value of the disinterested and professional service that members of such committees give to the public, usually free, and we trust that such service will continue to be given. Nevertheless, public confidence in the advice these bodies give on sensitive issues is very low. A recent ICM poll for the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust asked respondents whether they trusted Government Ministers and their advisory committees to tell the truth about the safety of nuclear installations, medicines, GM foods and crops, British beef and food in general. In every case, more people replied "No" than "Yes". Positive responses ranged from a low of 18 per cent in the case of nuclear installations to 37 per cent on medicines.[12] The representation, crucial though it is, of industrial interests and the inclusion of expert members with close links with such interests on these advisory bodies, prompts damaging suspicions which are exacerbated by the closed nature of many of these bodies.












36. In the view of the Committee, the Government should seek to dispel popular suspicions by creating a very open regime for such bodies, allowing peer review and public access so far as possible, and making registers of members' interests a statutory requirement rather than (as now) a largely voluntary arrangement. In principle, we believe that public bodies should be at least as open as is required of local authorities under the Local Government Act 2000. The proportion of advisory NDPBs required to comply with our criteria for accountability, consultation and openness has not risen significantly since 1997. The average rate of compliance across all the criteria for advisory NDPBs is only 11 per cent.

37. There has been substantial progress on public access to registers of interests. Some 212 (42 per cent) of advisory NDPBs now give the public access to registers, whereas in 1997 only 21 bodies (3 per cent) gave such access, but it is not clear from departmental responses whether this is now a statutory requirement rather than an extension of voluntary arrangements. A higher proportion of advisory NDPBs now publish annual reports - up from 6 per cent in 1997 to 29 per cent - but it remains unsatisfactory that about three quarters of advisory bodies are still not required to publish annual reports or to observe the open government code. In both cases, this ought to be standard practice.

38. The position on other indicators of openness and access to the public is even more unsatisfactory. Here we list the proportions of advisory NDPBs required to observe certain requirements:

  • ·  required to allow public to see the agendas of meetings - 2 per cent
  • ·  required to hold public meetings - 1 per cent
  • ·  required to consult the general public - 3 per cent.

Some advisory NDPBs "top up" statutory requirements through voluntary practice. For example, 11 per cent voluntarily consult the general public; another 5 per cent hold public meetings. But there is a clear need to restore public confidence in the advisory committees that serve government, and therefore a need for systematic review of what can be done to open up these bodies to public and peer group scrutiny. In the USA, often an exemplar for the Government's modernisers, members of the public have access to the meetings of similar bodies and their documentation, and in certain circumstances can address meetings.

Regional and Local Quangos

39. Tables 10 and 11 set out the measures of accountability and openness as they apply to three sets of bodies at regional level and to local quangos. (The figures for 2000 are based on replies to Parliamentary Questions tabled by the Committee Chairman. This makes for one material difference in the criteria; the question on access to government information now concerns compliance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000 rather than the Code of Practice.) In our Quangos Report, we drew attention to the need to establish links between quangos at all levels and local government. This need is even greater because of the statutory community leadership role that the Government is placing on local authorities and the difficulties of coordination for local authorities, dealing as they must with a disparate host of local quangos providing public services and performing public functions. It is often supposed that it is only these local bodies that affect the operations of local authorities, supported by formal requirements where necessary. However, a recent report for the Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) estimated that 64 executive NDPBs and 79 advisory NDPBs had roles and functions that bore upon local government.[13] Regional development agencies (RDAs) and Regional Arts Boards (RABs) clearly also impact upon local government.






40. Local government is poorly represented on both executive and advisory NDPBs and Task Forces (the Democratic Audit/Politico's study found that representatives of local government accounted for only 8.1 per cent of the total external Task Force membership). However, local authorities do have a high profile on RDAs as well as being leading partners on regional chambers. We note also that the new Learning and Skills Council and its sub-regional satellites must consult local authorities on their plans. The DfEE has introduced a requirement that from August 1999 all governing bodies of further education institutions must have at least three members nominated by local authorities. Health authorities, NHS trusts and primary care groups may soon be obliged to consult local authorities on major changes in policy and their managers may be obliged to attend local authority scrutiny committees, if asked, twice a year. We welcome this new trend and recommend again that a systematic drive is made to improve the links between all quangos at all levels and local authorities supported by formal requirements if necessary. In encouraging this development, we do not depart from our previously-expressed view that local authorities are not well equipped to act as an effective system of accountability for NDPBs and other local public bodies.

41. The poor quality of existing links between quangos and local government is compounded, as Table 11 demonstrates, by the low levels of accountability of local executive quangos and (with the exception of NHS bodies) by the general refusal to open them up to the public in their areas. There is an evident need for a "joined-up" review of the accountability of all local bodies, driven by a commitment to opening their doors to local publics.

Is the Quango State on the Advance?

42. he recent LGIU study of quangos and local government was entitled "The Advance of the Quango State". A significant part of the argument made in that study is that government Ministers have since 1997 created new quangos and regulatory bodies to lead and police major national policy initiatives in almost every policy area. At regional level, the study signals "a significant growth in the number and responsibilities" of English regional quangos and suggests that the Performance and Innovation Unit/Cabinet Office report, Reaching Out, presages a further strengthening of appointed regional bodies. At local level, the LGIU study finds that Ministers are adding a "wide range of indeterminate appointed and self-appointing bodies" to existing local public spending bodies - by which we assume they refer to partnerships, zone boards and similar initiatives.

43. But is the quango state "advancing"? In Quangos: Opening the Doors the Government said that it was "committed to reducing the number of NDPBs and will ensure that a new NDPB will only be set up where it can be demonstrated that this is the most cost-effective and appropriate means of carrying out the given function".[14] The LGIU study, however, takes the view that the policies towards quangos of central government departments, each pursuing their own objectives and initiatives, are unco-ordinated and cumulatively damaging to local democracy insofar as they undermine the powers and functions of local government. This is an issue which troubled the Committee at the time of its last Report and we remain concerned that, despite welcome moves by government to create links between new local bodies and local authorities, there are dangerous gaps in accountability at the level of local governance. We return to our earlier recommendation of "a regional structure of accountability" to provide monitoring and oversight of many quangos at regional and local level.[15] The regional dimension of the quango state is expanding fast and new responsibilities are already being piled on the new regional development agencies. But these developments are not bedded down in democratic arrangements. We therefore welcome the renewed interest within government to introducing legislation to allow the people in the English regions to decide whether they want directly-elected regional government. Elected regional authorities in England would give the asymmetric devolution settlement that has emerged from the Government's devolution legislation a better overall balance. They could provide a new structure of accountability not only for regional and local quangos, but for the quango state as a whole. The government's regional offices in England could also be given a democratic underpinning. Scotland and Wales now have the opportunity for democratic oversight of quangos in their countries; nothing less is required for the English regions where the great majority of citizens of the United Kingdom live.

Conclusion

44. But that is for the future. We are persuaded by our mapping exercise that the quango state is a permanent and dynamic aspect of modern government in the United Kingdom. It has "just growed" and is still "just growing". We believe that it is time for an urgent government review of the principles and practice of appointed governance in the United Kingdom. There are major governance and accountability issues involved. The Scottish Executive, as we report above, has itself begun a review of public bodies in Scotland. There should now be a similar, but wider-ranging, review for the whole of the United Kingdom. The quango state may be here to stay, but this makes it even more important to decide how it is to be properly accommodated.



1   Sixth Report of the Select Committee on Public Administration, Quangos, HC 209, 1998-99; and First Special Report of the Select Committee on Public Administration, Responses to the Sixth Report from the Select Committee on Public Administration (Session 1998-99) on Quangos, HC 317, 1999-2000. Back

2   Cabinet Office (Office of Public Service), Quangos: Opening the Doors, July 1998; Cabinet Office, Modernising Government, Cm 4310, March 1999. Back

3   Quangos, HC 209, 1998-99, paragraph 21. Back

4   Quangos, HC 209-II, 1998-99, Memorandum 2 (Cabinet Office), Annex B, paragraph 4. Back

5   Sixth Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Reinforcing Standards, Cm 4557, January 2000. Back

6   According to a census carried out for Democratic Audit by Anthony Barker; see Anthony Barker with Iain Byrne and Anjuli Veall, Ruling by Task Force: The Politico's Guide to Labour's New Elite, Politico's, London, 1999. Back

7   Stuart Weir and Wendy Hall (eds.), EGO TRIP: Extra-governmental Organisations in the United Kingdom and their Accountability, Democratic Audit paper no. 2, Human Rights Centre, University of Essex, 1994. Back

8   Second Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Local Public Spending Bodies, Cm 3270, May 1996. Back

9   The figures in this part of the Report are based on returns from government departments, regulators and the NHS, not on the statistics contained in Public Bodies 2000. There is a small discrepancy between the overall totals, reflecting the differing points in time at which departments made their returns to the Cabinet Office and to the Committee's staff. This discrepancy does not affect the overall picture on which we report. Back

10   Quangos, HC 209, 1998-99, paragraph 39. Back

11   Quangos, HC 209, 1998-99, paragraph 54. Back

12   See ICM "State of the Nation" report to the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, October 2000. Back

13   Chris Skelcher, Stuart Weir and Lynne Wilson, Advance of the Quango State, Local Government Information Unit, London, November 2000. Back

14   Quangos: Opening the Doors, p. 16 Back

15   Quangos, HC 209, 1998-99, paragraph 71. Back


 
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