IFG - Why abolishing public bodies often goes wrong and how to get it right

From: Think Tanks
Published: Thu Mar 09 2023

The abolitions of public sector bodies are often misguided or delivered badly

A new Institute for Government paper says the abolitions of public sector bodies - such as Public Health England - are often misguided or delivered badly, and sets out how the government can make future abolitions succeed.

The bonfire of the quangos has seen the number of arms-length bodies fall by more than half since 2010. But despite conducting hundreds of abolitions over the past decade, the government currently provides little guidance on how ministers, public body staff and civil servants should approach such changes. How to abolish a public body: 10 lessons from previous restructures, published today, fills that gap.

The new IfG report analyses the abolition of a number of major public bodies, including Public Health England, the UK Border Agency and the Audit Commission, based on interviews with key figures involved.

It shows that public body abolitions can be genuinely transformative processes, saving public money and improving how services are delivered. For example, the abolition of JobCentre Plus helped the Department for Work and Pensions cut its workforce and office space by a third, while the abolition of the Hearing Aid Council saved regulated companies hundreds of pounds each year. But it warns that successful abolitions are difficult to achieve, and rely on ministers gaining a proper understanding of the body in advance of abolition, and communicating well with staff.

The government is currently conducting reviews of public bodies including Ofcom, the Pensions Regulator and Homes England, with the potential for further abolitions. Ahead of deciding to abolish a body, the report recommends that ministers and civil servants should:

  • set out clear goals for the abolition
  • understand what the body does, and why it is constituted as it is
  • examine any underpinning legislation
  • consider the wider ecosystem
  • assess the long- and short-term costs of abolition.

And if ministers and civil servants decide to abolish a body after going through these steps, they should:

  • announce the abolition sensitively
  • motivate leaders and staff to make abolition a success
  • set realistic timelines
  • ensure accountability is clear throughout the transition
  • recruit an experienced and skilled transition team.

Grant Dalton, co-author of the report, said:

Public body abolitions happen every year, but when done poorly they can be costly to government - wasting public time and money to achieve little change. Clear objectives, sensitive communication and realistic deadlines can ensure that ministers can make the most of future reorganisations.

How to abolish a public body

Company: Think Tanks

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