Conference Summary - 6th May 2014

Conference Summary - 6th May 2014
July 01 2014

The PCFs conference in 2014 was themed Public Bodies in the next Parliament and aimed to assist Chairs in their preparation for the 2015 General Election. The event took place in association with Hays and the Institute for Government on the 6th May 2014 at the Institutes offices in 2 Carlton Gardens, London. The following main points were highlighted during the days proceedings:

• The Government has clearly stated its commitment to public body reform. While progress has been made, substantial financial cuts are still to follow, ensuring tough years ahead for Chairs and public bodies alike. This requires excellent leadership by Chairs to ensure that the quality of public services remains unaffected.

• Changes in the next parliament are likely to include significant alterations in structure, the introduction of new organisational models and a change to the relationship between government and public bodies.

• Chairs are encouraged to report positive cases of reform, be proactive and create opportunities for improvement post-election by constantly measuring, managing and communicating their cost effectiveness to their sponsoring department. Within this, they should consider costs of change and develop their own potential ideal structure that can be used to engage with government and direct the reform process using definitive data. They should also invest in relationships with key stakeholders and not lose sight of the delivery of current policies in their preparation for the next parliament.

• Media coverage surrounding a small number of public appointments has sparked controversy, undermined the system and acted as a deterrent to potential candidates/applicants. However, the current process is functional and is improving. Items that still require substantial improvement include: clarity, transparency and communication, as well as the diversity of demographics and professional experience (private vs. public sector) of candidates.

• The relationship between Chairs and Chief Executives should be honest, adaptable and engaging. Professional and personal respect should be maintained at all times, expectations and roles should be explicit, and communication and two-way appraisal among boards should be regular. Micromanagement should be avoided (where possible) and Chairs should regularly remind their sponsoring departments of the value that their ALB adds.

• The efficiency of public bodies is reflected in their ability to: 1) achieve their deliverables with reduced budgets, 2) effectively plan ahead, 3) manage and cope with crises, and 4) share services without devolving responsibility or re-assigning accountability. Overall agreement on the meaning of efficiency is still required.

• ALBs can develop their own tailor-made models for efficiency using the Department’s capability plan as a base-line. This will allow each ALB to have a unique model - Cabinet Office is open to changing current ALB models, providing the change will help achieve deliverables. Effective communication and appraisal between the department and the ALB is paramount to achieving this. Taxonomy will only add value where there are structural issues within the body that can consequently be identified and resolved.

• The development of effective methods of triennial review and reform are most likely to come from the public body itself. Cabinet Office is open to facilitating direct dialogue with bodies to improve the process. Irrespective of method, transformation and growth are essential and require specialised skills that should be developed over the coming months.

• The thought process behind moving economic and constitutional powers to Scotland through a referendum is that re-organisation and consequent strategic coherence will allow controls to be maximised. This will in turn help to achieve better economic outcomes and enable a more relaxed approach to the sponsorship of ALBs without negatively affecting productivity and efficiency.

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