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MPs question the powers and roles of quangos

The Commons Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) is launching an inquiry into the accountability of public bodies.

They want to examine how quangos, arms-length bodies, non-ministerial departments and executive agencies are made accountable, how effective they are compared to government departments, how independent they are and how their chairs should be independent.

The inquiry will consider ‘case studies’ 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 has launched a call for evidence and wants people’s 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.

A spokesman added: “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

PASC’s January 2011 quango report said the government reforms were not achieving savings or improving accountability, but did recommend a simplification of the “chaotic” public bodies landscape.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude MP responded at the time: “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.”

PASC added: “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 deadline for responses is noon on Friday, 11 April 2014. Information on how to give evidence to the inquiry can be found here:

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