Written evidence from the Public and Commercial
Services Union (PCS)
1. The Public and Commercial Services Union
(PCS) is the largest trade union in the Civil Service (with over
300,000 members). We are submitting our views to the select committee
because of our key position as the largest trade union representing
staff working for Non-Departmental Public Bodies (NDPBs).
2. We would be happy to supplement this
written submission with oral evidence or further written evidence.
3. Our members and representatives in NDPBs
have a wealth of information and understanding about the organisations,
what they do, why their functions are important to the economy
and to society, why it is important that those functions continue,
and what the impact would be if they didn't. We have illustrated
our points with examples from these organisations, and would be
very happy to follow up with further detailed evidence.
4. A major concern we have about the process
of deciding to abolish NDPBs is that there has not been sufficient
consultation of those that provide and use their services, which
we suggest is a further reason the select committee would want
to hear more detail.
PCS disagrees with the Government's policy
of abolition of NDPBs as part of public sector cuts to tackle
the deficit, and instead proposes an alternative strategy.
We are concerned about the process of
abolition, in particular the failure to assess and evaluate the
impact or to allow Parliamentary or public scrutiny of the decisions.
We challenge the assertion that cutting
NDPBs will increase public accountability: we believe this will
We explain that far from reducing costs,
there will be serious economic, regional and social impacts from
5. The Government plans to cut the number
of NDPBs as part of its plans to reduce the deficit by reducing
the level of public expenditure.
6. PCS disagrees with the Government's assertion
that it must reduce the level of public expenditure in order to
tackle the deficit.
7. We propose an alternative strategy: we
should collect the tax that is uncollected, avoided or evaded;
we should create jobs rather than worsen the economic situation
by cutting them; and we should use the nationalised bank assets
for public good. If this strategy was followed public services
would not need to be cut.
8. We don't accept that it is necessary
to abolish NDPBs as part of public sector cuts. (Q1)
9. The Government has already begun the
process of abolishing NDPBs before publishing the draft legislation
to enable abolition, and before there has been proper assessment
or consultation. Ministers have made announcements disparaging
organisations while announcing their abolition, without having
carried out proper and transparent evaluation.
10. In preparing this submission we have
concentrated on organisations where abolition has been announced
to illustrate our concerns about the process and the impact. However,
we don't know which other organisations are also to be abolished
using this same flawed and hasty process: all we have to go on
is a leaked list of organisations under consideration.
11. The Government has failed to do an equality
impact assessment of the proposal to cut NDPBs, despite this being
a legal duty.
12. The Government has failed to do economic
or regional impact assessments, although there will be economic
and regional impacts of the abolitions.
13. In the decisions made so far on which
NDPBs to abolish, the Government has failed to consult users and
providers, leading to flawed decisions which have not taken account
of the full functions carried out by the organisations.
14. The process for deciding which NDPBs
should be abolished has not been sufficiently transparent because
of the failure to properly assess, evaluate and to consult (Q4).
15. The Government proposes to introduce
legislation to abolish public bodies without Parliamentary scrutiny.
Many of the organisations whose abolition has been announced were
set up by primary legislation, but no opportunity has been allowed
for Parliamentary scrutiny of proposals to abolish or merge them.
16. Because the process of decision-making
has not been transparent, it is difficult to know how decisions
to abolish NDPBs have been reached. However, it appears that many
of these decisions are open to challenge using the Government's
own criteria: technical operations; politically impartial decision-making;
determining facts transparently.
17. Clearly a number of NDPBs perform important
functions which should be politically impartial. Several independently
scrutinise government progress, for example the Sustainable Development
Commission told the Government in 2009 that though they had made
significant steps they were not on course for meeting their carbon
emissions target. It is important that the Government receives
advice, even when that advice might be unwelcome or unpopular.
18. One reason the Government has given
for its decision to reduce the number of NDPBs is to increase
public accountability. We challenge this proposition (Q7), (Q8).
19. NDPBs are already accountable to ministers
of their parent or sponsoring departments, and they are also accountable
to Parliament through the National Audit Office, Public Administration
Select Committee, and the Comptroller and Auditor General who
ensure that they spend public money for that purpose it is granted
20. Some NDPBs have further specific channels
of accountability. For example RDAs, as well as being accountable
to the Business, Innovation and Skills Department, are accountable
to Parliamentary subcommittees for each region.
21. Accountability would not be increased
by abolishing NDPBs. The statutory duties and functions and other
important roles they carry out will be transferred or taken up
elsewhere. In some cases these functions will be transferred into
central government. In others they will be transferred to the
private sector, the third sector, or elsewhere.
22. Many of these changes will severely
decrease accountability. Instead of a clear line of accountability
from the NDPBs to the minister, the involvement of non-government
or non-public sector organisations will create a loss of clarity
about who provides what and who is accountable to whom.
23. Accountability in local government would
certainly not be improved by the abolition of Standards for England.
This body oversees the way local authorities deal with complaints
about their councillors and investigates the 20% of complaints
that local authorities cannot do themselves. If this function
disappears, and if the Government goes further and abolishes the
code of conduct for councillors and the system under which local
authorities investigate complaints, then the public will have
no way to hold councillors accountable for any misdeeds.
24. The abolition of the Audit Commission
will mean that auditing will be done by private sector auditors.
It will no longer be done by an accountable public body. The Audit
Commission looks at local services working together to provide
high quality and cost effective services and enables the public
to compare value for money from area to area. If abolished the
public will lose this route for holding local government accountable.
25. There is no evidence that accountability
is being considered in the decisions the Government is making
about the abolition of NDPBs.
26. Departments are currently deciding who
will take up the functions of organisations that are to be abolished,
but it is not clear that they are evaluating and considering issues
of accountability: they are certainly not doing so transparently.
27. The Government gives cost as one of
its primary reasons for the abolition of NDPBs. The inquiry asks
about the implications of abolition and changes in terms of disruption
and costs (Q6).
28. We challenge the assertion that there
will be cost savings. Even if there were some savings in the short
term (which itself is doubtful), there will not be long-term savings
once account is taken of the full impact of abolition (Q6).
Abolition process costs, impact and disruption
29. The cost of the process of abolishing
NDPBs includes the costs of redundancies, relocation, excess fares,
retraining and recruitment.
30. Estate management costs will be significant,
as decisions to close offices or move result in being left with
premises which are hard to shift in an unfavourable property market,
or being left with leases with large penalties for cancelling.
For example the outstanding lease on Becta's premises, refurbished
in 2010-11 at a cost to the Department for Education of £3
million, will cost the department £4 million between 2011
31. The latest estimate of windup costs
for Standards for England is £15 million, set against an
annual budget of £6.4 million.
32. There are numerous staffing impacts
from these abolitions, merger or other changes, including loss
of expertise, impact on staff morale, uncertainty and stress,
impact on terms and conditions.
33. Management, unions and staff will be
dealing with complex negotiations. Harmonisation of terms and
conditions is made more complex by having terms and conditions
that vary considerably between NDPBs and departments and across
the Civil Service. There are legal obligations to carry out collective
and individual consultation and complex transfer rights under
legislation and agreements. There will be full or part transfer
of functions, necessitating examining the percentage of an individual's
work in a particular role before deciding where to allocate them,
and this is just one example of much detailed work to be done.
34. In addition to the impact on staff,
there will be disruption to the provision of public services in
all organisations facing abolition or change, from organisations
that are very new, for example the Young People's Learning Agency
has only been in existence for five months since it was created
in a reorganisation, and now faces further disruption, to other
organisations which have well-established contacts and have built
up a wealth of expertise and experience in their field, for example
the Independent Living Fund established in 1988 which advises
on and champions ways to enable severely disabled people to live
independently and now face the loss of these assets.
The impact costs
35. There is an impact on the economy, regionally
and nationally, and on the ability of this country to deal with
36. The level of skills in the workforce
is crucial in economic recovery. However, the abolition of education
and qualifications bodies will have an impact. Employers need
consistent qualifications and confidence in the standards of these
37. If the Qualifications and Curriculum
Development Agency (QCDA) is abolished the loss of a coordinated
approach to qualifications could lead to anarchy in the field,
making it difficult for educational institutions or employers
to be certain of the value of qualifications that learners or
potential employees present to them.
38. QCDA developed the Qualifications and
Credit Framework. Designed to help to present qualifications in
a way that is easy to understand, and which facilitates and rationalises
the recognition and measurement of achievement, it has a big part
to play in meeting the requirements of the Leitch Report to ensure
that the country has sufficient numbers of people with the right
skills to meet the challenge of the coming years. In the current
economic climate, its benefit to employers and employees and the
economy is of particular importance. It is essential this work
is continued and built upon, however it is not clear how that
will happen if QCDA is abolished.
39. A key example of national and regional
impact is what would be lost if the Regional Development Agencies
(RDAs) are abolished.
40. RDAs play an important role in bringing
economic prosperity to all English regions, using economic expertise
to encourage growth in the important regional industry sectors.
An independent report by Pricewaterhousecoopers in March 2009
found for every £1 spent by the RDAs £4.50 was put into
the local economy by other sectors.
41. RDAs lead development, provide help
with new business start-ups, and support enterprise and new businesses.
RDAs focus on skills development to meet the needs of regional
42. Business leaders, local authorities
and regional economists have all expressed concerns about the
abolition of RDAs. There will be a considerable impact on inward
investment, regional marketing, and research and development if
these changes go ahead. In addition the Government has halted
several large projects supported by RDAs which would have increased
long term economic prosperity in regions.
43. The Government has stated that regions
such as the north-east are over reliant on the public sector,
and it wants the private sector to flourish. The abolition of
RDAs will hinder the development of private sector industries
in these areas, where a strategic approach to economic regeneration
is required. As a result of the abolition of these organisations
regional economies will suffer.
44. The loss of RDAs and the positive role
they play will be exacerbated because there will be no Government
Office Network (also being abolished as a separate measure) to
fall back on.
45. Abolishing the RDAs could put at risk
European funding which aims to help England's most deprived areas,
costing hundreds of millions of pounds. It has not yet been decided
how to manage the programme after the abolition, and the European
Commission has made it clear that the change could mean targets
are not met and the funding could be lost in regions that will
be in even more need as a result of public expenditure cuts.
46. The abolitions will have an impact on
local areas and regions. One example is that abolition of the
three education bodies employing over 1000 people will have an
impact on the wider West Midlands economy as these high-quality
jobs are lost from the area, and will hit Coventry particularly
hard, with Becta and QCDA being among the largest local employers
with 750 staff between them.
47. The Government said in the June budget
that it would have regard to the impact of cuts on areas of the
country which most rely on the public sector employment. However,
many of those areas are likely to be affected by the loss of jobs
as a result of abolishing NDPBs (on top of other job cuts coming
out of the spending review).
48. The abolitions will have an impact on
the rural economy, hampering rural regeneration.
49. The Agricultural Wages Board plays an
important role in attracting and retaining skilled workers. If
it is scrapped there is likely to be a race to the bottom amongst
rural employers, which will exacerbate the skills and labour shortages,
threaten the viability of agriculture and have a major impact
on the rural economy.
50. Many of the organisations facing abolition
save the Government or the public sector money, including the
Sustainable Development Commission, National Policing Improvement
Agency (NPIA), education bodies and many others.
51. Costs for schools will increase if they
have to carry out the functions provided by Becta, General Teaching
Council and QCDA. For example, with its capability for creating
economies of scale in ICT provision, Becta plays a key role in
ensuring schools are able to get more for less.
52. There is a strong case for maintaining
a central source of ICT expertise on cost grounds. A Becta agreement
with Microsoft that greatly reduced the number of licenses schools
are required to buy will not be renewed in December 2010, and
there is no guarantee any other organisation(s) will be able to
replicate this agreement, resulting in significantly higher potential
costs of operating system and software licences for schools.
53. The abolition of the Agricultural Wages
Board will mean that farmers will have to negotiate pay and understand
employment law, meaning increased costs and bureaucracy for them,
and potentially costs from the harm done to industrial relations
in the industry.
54. There are costs to carrying on the work
done by NDPBs that will be abolished if their functions continue
55. However, there will be even greater
impacts and costs from not carrying out them out after abolition.
56. For example, there will be costs in
corruption and waste if organisations such as the Audit Commission
and Standards for England are abolished.
57. Standards for England was set up to
ensure standards in local government, and if it is abolished the
problems of corruption that led to its establishment are likely
to recur meaning long-term costs rather than savings. The problem
is exacerbated by the abolition of the Audit Commission, which
will no longer be in place to prevent local fraud, corruption
and financial irregularity.
58. In addition, if Standards for England
and the ethical standards regime for local government is abolished
the outcome could include variable and declining standards, declining
public confidence in elected officials, and in national and local
politicians, reduced access of the public to complaints mechanisms,
and a loss of advice or consistency for local authorities on standards
59. Abolishing the Commission for Rural
Communities will mean a loss of the important role it plays in
the economic regeneration of rural communities, changes to Natural
England and the Forestry Commission will endanger nature conservation
work and the protection of vulnerable species and habitat, and
abolition of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution will
put the environment at greater risk from pollution.
60. The Sustainable Development Commission
(SDC) plays a role in improving the efficiency and sustainability
in the way government is run and how it decides what it does,
and this will be lost, with resultant costs, if it is abolished.
61. In addition, the loss of the SDC will
mean a loss of its crucial work in scrutinising government progress
toward sustainability, helping towards progress in energy conservation
and a low carbon economy and encouraging public debate on a whole
range of climate and environmental issues.
62. If the General Teaching Council for
England (GTCE) is abolished, there is a question about who will
carry out the safeguarding functions of the GTCE independent of
government in England (GTCs in Scotland, Northern Ireland and
Wales are to continue). It will mean the loss of the independent
professional body whose remit is to contribute to improving the
standards of teaching and quality of learning and to maintain
and improve standards of professional conduct amongst teachers
in the interest of the public. This loss will impact upon standards
in schools in England.
63. The GTCE's Professional Standards Team
have investigated over 4,000 cases of unacceptable professional
conduct, serious professional incompetence or convictions for
relevant offences, including manslaughter, fraud, accessing of
inappropriate materials on school equipment, and grooming of minors.
64. The National Policing Improvement Agency
(NPIA) provides critical national services to support frontline
policing, helping the police to save money and operate more efficiently
(eg by achieving value for money in procurement) and to improve
the focus on serving the public and working towards a safer society.
There is a danger that these will be lost if the NPIA is abolished.
65. Particular groups will feel an impact.
From the abolition of education NDPBs young people and learners
face a less safe environment, lower provision and access to resources,
less help for teachers, less choice of schools and concerns about
quality of examinations, curriculum and qualifications.
66. There will be an impact on some of the most
vulnerable in society. The Independent Living Fund helps 21,000
people who are severely disabled to live independently. With administration
costs of only £9 million a year (out of a total grant of
£350 million) it plays a key role in saving the state money
that would otherwise be spent on institutional care. If abolished
many users and providers are very concerned that local councils
will be unable to provide any more than basic support, because
of financial pressures and the complexity of replacing a national
service to individuals. Disabled people could lose their ability
to live independently in their communities and take part in society
as full and equal citizens.
67. The inquiry asks about improving effectiveness
for remaining NDPBs after abolitions (Q8). We consider that the
effectiveness of the whole of government should be considered,
particularly as many of the functions from NDPBs that are abolished
are likely to be transferred into central government or other
parts of the public sectorareas that are subject to the
Government's cuts agenda. We are deeply concerned that the proposed
cuts will have a major impact on the effectiveness of all of the