Accountability of quangos and public bodies: Terms of reference

28 February 2014

The Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) is carrying out an inquiry into the accountability of public bodies; including quangos, arms-length bodies, non-ministerial departments and executive agencies.

Inquiry aims

  • examine how public bodies are held to account by ministers and Parliament;
  • explore how well the public bodies model of non-ministerial control works in a crisis; 
  • scrutinise whether public bodies deliver functions more effectively and efficiently than central government departments;
  • explore issues around the independence of public bodies; and
  • consider how Chairs of public bodies should be appointed. 

The inquiry will consider case studies of public bodies including the relationship between DEFRA and the Environment Agency and between the Department for Education and Ofsted. The inquiry will also consider the abolition of the UK Border Agency and the move to bring immigration and visa policy back into the Home Office.

PASC would like to hear views on:

  1. How well public bodies handle crises, compared to central government departments.
  2. The accountability of public bodies to ministers and Parliament. 
  3. The relationship between public bodies and central government departments.
  4.  The reasons for placing functions with public bodies, rather than within central government, and the strengths and weaknesses of the public bodies model.
  5. The extent to which public bodies provide value for money for taxpayers. 
  6. The complexity of the public bodies landscape: for example, the differing structures and powers of arms-length bodies, non-ministerial departments and executive agencies.
  7. The appointment of Chairs to public bodies.
  8. The progress and outcomes of the Coalition Government’s public bodies reform programme, including the triennial reviews of public bodies and options for future reforms of public bodies.

The Committee would also welcome views on any other matters that may be relevant to this inquiry. Please do not feel obliged to respond to all of the questions if you have a specific interest.

The Twitter hashtag for this inquiry will be #quangos


This inquiry will continue PASC’s scrutiny of the Government’s public bodies reform programme. In our January 2011 report Smaller Government: Shrinking the Quango State we concluded that the reforms, as then managed, were "not going to deliver significant cost savings or result in greater accountability". We also noted "the complex and confusing nature of the public bodies’ landscape" and recommended that the simplification of this "chaotic" landscape as "a necessary step to ensure the accountability and effectiveness of these organisations".

In response to our report, the Minister for the Cabinet Office told us in March 2011 that public bodies reforms aimed to increase accountability, "remove duplication and waste, save taxpayers’ money, and to streamline the public bodies landscape that has remained unreformed for far too long". He added:

For too long unelected officials have been taking decisions which affect the public and spending billions of public money. We believe there should be a clear presumption that functions carried out by the state should be accountable through democratically elected structures, unless there is a compelling reason for them being carried out by an independent body.

Recent developments

The management of flooding by the Environment Agency in early 2014 prompted a debate over the powers and accountability of public bodies. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, told the House of Commons on 6 February 2014 that the flooding had meant there were "lessons to be learnt from [...] the role of quangos and the need for their local accountability."

The National Audit Office (NAO) reported on the progress of the public bodies reform programme in February 2014 and concluded that "the Cabinet Office and departments have made good progress in reducing the number of public bodies, representing a major simplification of the public bodies landscape". The NAO also noted that some functions of public bodies had moved closer to ministers, but warned that the public bodies landscape remained "complex" and that more needed to be done to increase the transparency of the remaining public bodies.

How to respond

Please submit your response by no later than midday on Friday 11 April 2014.

It assists the Committee if those submitting written evidence adhere to the following guidelines. Each submission should:

  • be in Word or Rich Text format (not PDF) with as little use of colour or logos as possible;
  • be a maximum of 3,000 words in length / run to no more than eight sides of A4 paper;
  • as far as possible comprise a single document;
  • begin with a short summary in bullet point form; and
  • have numbered paragraphs.

Responses should be submitted by visiting the "Accountability of quangos and public bodies" inquiry page

If you do not have access to the internet, you may send a paper copy of your response to the Clerks of the Public Administration Select Committee, Committee Office, First Floor, 7 Millbank, London SW1P 3JA. Please state clearly who the submission is from, i.e. whether from yourself in a personal capacity or sent on behalf of an organisation.

If you need to discuss any aspect of your submission, please email [email protected] or phone 020 7219 6923.

Please note that:

  • Submissions should be original work, not previously published or circulated elsewhere, though previously published work can be referred to in a submission and submitted as supplementary material. Material already published elsewhere should not form the basis of a submission, but may be referred to within a proposed memorandum, in which case a hard copy of the published work should be included.
  • Once submitted, evidence is the property of the Committee. Memoranda submitted must be kept confidential until published by the Committee, unless publication by the person or organisation submitting it is specifically authorised.
  • The Committee normally, though not always, chooses to make public the written evidence it receives, by publishing it on the internet (where it will be searchable), by printing it or by making it available through the Parliamentary Archives. If there is any information you believe to be sensitive you should highlight it and explain what harm you believe would result from its disclosure. The Committee will take this into account in deciding whether to publish or further disclose the evidence.
  •  Submissions, which are accepted by the Committee as written evidence, can in some cases be published anonymously. If you would prefer your submission to be anonymous please discuss this with Committee staff.
  • Select Committees are unable to investigate individual cases.

The information you supply will be processed in accordance with the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 for the purposes of: a) obtaining written evidence for the inquiry b) to clarify any queries around the information contained in your evidence c) to contact you to provide updates as to the progress of your evidence. The Clerk of the House of Commons is the data controller for the purposes of the Act. We may ask you to give us some feedback on the process of submitting evidence so that we can look to make further improvements. If you have any queries or concerns about the collection and use of this information or do not wish for your details to be used for this purpose, please advise the Committee Team on the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) providing your full name, and contact details.

 Further information

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