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Policies can often be successfully implemented only through coordinated
action by several departments. The House of Commons Select Committee on
Public Administration has noted that, while departments are organised
vertically, ˜many of the most intractable problems of modern government
have a horizontal or inter-connected nature “ for example, social exclusion
encompasses a range of issues and multiple departmental responsibilities™
(Seventh Report, HC 94 of 2000“01, para 7). The institutional machinery for
achieving the necessary cooperation of departments is to be found in the
Cabinet, ministerial committees, the Cabinet O¬ce and the Treasury, but
these have not always been e¬ective to ensure coherent policy-making
and implementation. In 1999 the Government White Paper, Modernising
Government (Cm 4310) emphasised the need to challenge departmentalism
and engage, in a ˜holistic™ or ˜joined-up™ way, with issues that crossed depart-
mental boundaries. It is a principal objective of the Cabinet O¬ce to ˜achieve
coordination of policy and operations across government™: in this it ˜works
with the Treasury and other departments to provide strategic management
and direction on a wide range of issues, many of which have implications for
all government departments and the public sector as a whole™ (Cabinet Of¬ce
Annual Report 2003“04, HC 1190 of 2003“04, paras 1, 12). (The administra-
tive machinery for carrying out this work is described in the Cabinet O¬ce™s
Departmental Report 2005, Cm 6543.) Increased central control (under
prime-ministerial direction) may on the other hand weaken the capacity of
departments to develop their own policies. A further initiative has been
taken in the form of Public Service Agreements, in which departments agree
with the Treasury on sets of objectives and related performance targets
for three years ahead, in return for ¬nancial resources made available to
them. The Treasury monitors the performance of departments (as well as
some cross-departmental programmes) against their targets. (See Kavanagh
and Richards, ˜Departmentalism and joined-up government™ (2001) 54
Parliamentary Affairs 1; 2004 Spending Review: Public Service Agreements
2005“08, Cm 6238/2004.)

(i) ˜Next Steps™: executive agencies
In 1988 the Government launched a programme of organisational reform in the
departments which was based on the idea of ˜accountable management™,
responsibility for ˜blocks™ of work being delegated to civil service managers, who
would be given control of resources, with a large measure of operational inde-
pendence, and be held accountable for results. The scheme was introduced fol-
lowing a report by the Prime Minister™s E¬ciency Unit, Improving Management
in Government: The Next Steps (1988). Its main recommendation, accepted by
410 British Government and the Constitution


the Government, was explained by the Prime Minister in the House of
Commons (HC Deb vol 127, col 1149, 18 February 1988) as being that:

to the greatest extent practicable the executive functions of Government, as distinct from
policy advice, should be carried out by units clearly designated within Departments, referred
to in the report as ˜agencies™. Responsibility for the day-to-day operations of each agency
should be delegated to a chief executive. He would be responsible for management within
a framework of policy objectives and resources set by the responsible Minister, in consulta-
tion with the Treasury.

By 2004 there were ninety-six executive agencies and some 73 per cent of civil
servants were employed in them. The list of agencies includes the Central O¬ce
of Information, the Child Support Agency, HM Prison Service, the Highways
Agency, the UK Patent O¬ce and the Identity and Passport Service. A few
agencies are (non-ministerial) government departments in their own right:
these include HM Land Registry, Ordnance Survey and the Treasury Solicitor™s
Department. Most of the administrative work of central government is now
carried out by executive agencies. Similar agencies are attached to the devolved
administrations.
The policies, budgets and tasks of the executive agencies are settled by the
responsible minister. For each agency a ˜framework document™ is drawn up
(and published) which speci¬es, amongst other matters, the functions, aims
and objectives of the organisation, its Chief Executive™s ¬nancial freedoms
and responsibilities and its relationship with the minister and departmental
o¬cials. The setting of performance targets and monitoring of the extent to
which they have been met is a mechanism for improving the e¬ciency and
quality of service of the agencies. Each agency is reviewed, usually at ¬ve-yearly
intervals, its e¬ciency and e¬ectiveness “ and scope for improvement “ are
assessed and a decision is taken whether it should continue as an agency, or be
abolished, or privatised, or whether some of its functions should be contracted
out to the private sector.
The executive agencies are intended to have a large measure of autonomy in
operational matters, while policy remains the responsibility of the minister and
the ˜core™ department. This distinction has proved problematic. Policy and
operations impact on each other and are not easily separated. Moreover,
˜Ministers retain the right to look at, question and, if necessary, intervene in the
operation of their agencies if public or parliamentary concerns require this™
(Next Steps Report 1997, Cm 3889/1998, p v). If ministers withdraw from
engagement in agency matters, ˜a vacuum of governance will occur™ (Better
Government Services, below, para 25). In the early 1990s ministerial interven-
tions in the Prison Service executive agency were especially frequent, with
resulting confusion as to the respective roles of minister and chief executive (for
the accountability problems this generated, see A Tomkins, The Constitution
after Scott (1998), pp 45“9 and see further below, pp 587“8). It has been
411 Crown and government


suggested that executive agency status is not appropriate ˜where day-to-day
provision of the service is liable to give rise to issues of policy, or at least of
political controversy, such that the minister is bound to become engaged in
them, and . . . obliged to intervene in the day-to-day performance of the func-
tion™ (Memorandum by Lord Armstrong, Select Committee on the Public
Service, Special Report, HL 68 of 1996“97, p 1).
It is claimed that the Next Steps initiative ˜has brought a much clearer focus
on the executive functions of Government by setting clear aims, objectives, and
targets and giving Chief Executives the management authority they need in
order to deliver them™ (Government Response to the Public Service Committee,
Cm 4000/1998, para 41). The agency programme is generally considered to have
brought about greater e¬ciency in the delivery of public services. On the other
hand, it raises important issues of accountability to Parliament, considered in
chapter 9.
The introduction of executive agencies was e¬ected without enabling legisla-
tion. Why was this not needed?
(See further A Davies and J Willman, What Next? (1991); P Greer,
Transforming Central Government: the Next Steps Initiative (1994); B O™Toole
and G Jordan, Next Steps: Improving Management in Government? (1995);
M Freedland in M Sunkin and S Payne (eds), The Nature of the Crown (1999),
ch 5; Better Government Services: Executive Agencies in the 21st Century, Report
of the Agency Policy Review 2002.)


(f) Non-departmental public bodies
On the fringes of central government there is a large constellation of commis-
sions, boards, committees and other bodies which are involved in manifold
ways in the processes of government. Advisory committees are set up to provide
independent and expert advice to ministers and to enlist the cooperation of
outside interest groups in government policy-making, while executive bodies
perform various administrative, regulatory or commercial functions on behalf
of government. These non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) are some-
times termed ˜fringe bodies™, and the acronym QUANGO (quasi-autonomous
non-governmental organisation) has been coined for them, but they are in fact
closely linked with central government and their functions are often of a gov-
ernmental nature. (We are not dealing in this section with tribunals or National
Health Service bodies or with public corporations, such as the BBC.)
An o¬cial description of an NDPB runs as follows (Public Bodies: A Guide for
Departments (2006), para 2.1):

A body which has a role in the processes of national government, but is not a government
department, or part of one, and which accordingly operates to a greater or lesser extent at
arm™s length from ministers.
412 British Government and the Constitution


Such bodies have been set up to harness expertise only available outside the civil
service or to carry out functions which it is thought should be detached from
direct ministerial control and be free from the constraints of civil service organ-
isation. For some public functions NDPBs have the particular advantage that
they ˜can exercise their judgement independently of the political preferences of
the Government of the day™ (Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Sixth
Report, HC 506-I of 1998“99, para 6). Our main concern in this section is with
executive NDPBs, but the advisory bodies also have an important role in
support of government. (They include, for example, the Civil Justice Council,
the Council on Tribunals and the Law Commission.) The following are some of
the better-known executive NDPBs:
Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS)
British Council
Civil Aviation Authority
Competition Commission
Criminal Cases Review Commission
Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority
Environment Agency
Gaming Board for Great Britain
Health and Safety Commission
Housing Corporation
Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority
Legal Services Commission
Parole Board
Since NDPBs have very diverse functions and have not developed in a coher-
ent fashion, there is a lack of consistency in their legal status, organisation,
funding and degree of autonomy. Brian Hogwood ((1995) 48 Parliamentary
Affairs 207, 209) cautions that ˜any attempt to de¬ne quangos by listing distin-
guishing characteristics will break down, since some of these characteristics will
not apply to some quangos and some will be shared by other types of bodies™.
Hogwood™s caveat is borne in mind in o¬ering the following list of main
features of NDPBs.
1. NDPBs function at arm™s length from ministers with substantial operational
autonomy, but within limits set by any relevant statute and by government
policy.
2. Most executive NDPBs are set up by statute, but some are incorporated
under Royal Charter or under the Companies Act. (Advisory bodies may be
set up by administrative action.)
3. The members of the managing boards of NDPBs are usually appointed by
ministers.
4. NDPBs (unlike executive agencies) are not normally Crown bodies but there
are exceptions (eg, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service and
the Health and Safety Commission).
413 Crown and government


5. Some NDPBs are entirely ¬nanced by government, some are partially so
¬nanced, while some (especially advisory bodies) may receive no govern-
ment funding.
6. Executive NDPBs publish their accounts and an annual report.
7. NDPBs employ their own sta¬s, who are not normally civil servants.
Ministers are responsible for over 21,000 appointments to NDPBs and other
public bodies, many of them carrying salaries or other emoluments. In the
1980s and early 1990s there was public concern that political considerations
were in¬‚uencing appointments, and that NDPBs were coming to be occupied
by party (at that time Conservative) placemen. In consequence, the making of
appointments to executive NDPBs (and National Health Service bodies) was
one of the matters examined by the Nolan Committee in its Inquiry into
Standards in Public Life (see the Nolan Report (1995)).
The Nolan Committee recommended the appointment of a new, indepen-
dent Commissioner for Public Appointments who would monitor, regulate
and advise on ministerial appointments to executive NDPBs and National
Health Service bodies. The ¬rst Commissioner, who took o¬ce in 1995, issued
a Code of Practice for Ministerial Appointments to Public Bodies (revised edn
2005). The Code sets out a number of principles to be observed in making
appointments to public bodies, placing emphasis on selection on merit (the
˜overriding principle™), independent scrutiny of the appointments process,
openness and transparency in appointments and procedures. Government
departments are required to follow the Commissioner™s principles and the
Code of Practice in making public appointments. The House of Commons
oversees the work of the Commissioner through its Public Administration
Committee and the arrangements for public appointments are also reviewed
by the independent Committee on Standards in Public Life. (See the
Committee™s Tenth Report, Getting the Balance Right: Implementing Standards
of Conduct in Public Life, Cm 6407/2005.) The Government is committed to
improving diversity in public appointments: see the report Delivering
Diversity in Public Appointments 2004 (www.publicappointments.gov.uk).
Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own Commissioners for Public
Appointments.
In 2006 there were 198 executive and 448 advisory non-departmental bodies
sponsored by United Kingdom government departments (Cabinet O¬ce,
Public Bodies (2006)). The corresponding ¬gures in 1979 were 492 and 1,485.
In that year the Thatcher Government undertook a critical scrutiny of the
work of these bodies and many were abolished as ˜non-essential™ or reduced in
size and scope. But a considerable number of NDPBs survived this culling
and new ones continued to be created. The Blair Government, also, commit-
ted itself ˜to keeping the number of NDPBs to a minimum™ (HC Deb vol 310,
col 68 W, 6 April 1998) but its tally of NDPBs abolished and created has
resulted in a relatively modest net reduction, and it has acknowledged the
˜enormous contribution™ of public bodies ˜to providing and delivering public
414 British Government and the Constitution


services in the UK™ (˜Foreword™, The Governance of Public Bodies: a Progress
Report, Cm 3557/1997). No government can do without the expert services
that can be secured by this means, and the desirability of keeping some
executive functions separate from government departments is generally admit-
ted. The Public Administration Committee of the House of Commons was
persuaded that ˜the quango state is a permanent and dynamic aspect of modern
government in the United Kingdom™ (Fifth Report, HC 367 of 2000“01,
para 44). It is of the greatest importance, however, to ensure that these
unelected bodies are properly accountable.

(i) Control and accountability
The independence which is believed necessary to the proper functioning of
non-departmental bodies gives rise to problems of control and accountability.
Organisations to which governmental functions and public money are
entrusted cannot be left to operate as uncontrolled baronies. Powers of inter-
vention “ for example, to give binding directions or to call for information “ are
generally reserved to the minister, who also has the ultimate power of dismissal
(or non-renewal of appointments) of board members of NDPBs. Ministers are
accountable to Parliament for the exercise of these powers and, more generally,
for ˜the degree of independence which an NDPB enjoys; for its usefulness as an
instrument of government policy; and so ultimately for the overall e¬ectiveness
and e¬ciency with which it carries out its functions™ (Public Bodies: A Guide for
Departments (2006) para 6.1). Ministers are not, however, formally answerable
for the day-to-day activities of these bodies.
The accounts of almost all executive NDPBs are audited on behalf of
Parliament by the Comptroller and Auditor General, who may also conduct
˜value for money™ audits of the economy, e¬ciency and e¬ectiveness of
their operations and report the results to the House of Commons. (See the
National Audit Act 1983, sections 6, 7 and 9, Audit and Accountability of Central
Government, Cm 5456/2002, para 6 and HC Deb vol 379, col 322 W, 30 January
2002.) The select committees of the House of Commons which monitor the
work of the principal government departments are empowered to examine
the ˜associated public bodies™ of these departments, although the resources of
the committees do not allow of a regular and systematic scrutiny of all of them.
Executive NDPBs will normally be included in the list of public authorities in
Schedule 1 to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (as that list is amended
from time to time by orders made under section 4 of the Act), and the Act™s
provisions, giving rights of access to information, will accordingly apply to
these bodies. By such means most of these unelected public bodies have been
made subject to a measure of accountability. The Government has undertaken
a programme of making NDPBs ˜more e¬cient, transparent and accountable™

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