Friday 2nd November 2012 View in browser  |  Forward to a friend  |  Unsubscribe corner
A Message from the Chair
Amy Noonan, PCF Manager
Guest Article: Chris Skelcher & Matthew Flinders
PCF Conference Media Partner
Upcoming Events
A message from the chair
  Chris Banks

Effective relations -
It takes two

Chairs of Public Bodies often tell me that the relationship between their organisation and their sponsoring department is one of the most important factors in their organisation’s performance. Some enjoy a very healthy, positive and effective partnership based on mutual trust and respect. But Chairs of public bodies all too often report problematic relations with their sponsoring Government Department. Some Chairs have complained that their Arm’s Length Body (ALB) is treated with indifference by their relevant Department, while


others have described a constant struggle to escape micro-management. However, recent events suggest that progress is on the horizon and that in the future it may be possible for these extremes to be avoided.

The most recent PCF publication, It Takes Two, co-produced with the Institute for Government, addressed the issue of effective relations between Public Bodies and Departments. This report advocated greater communication between ALBs and Departments, and greater clarification of respective roles and responsibilities. As the title suggested, when creating an effective relationship – it takes two.

There are now encouraging signs which suggest that, at least some, Departments and Public Bodies are willing to think seriously and proactively about how to build more effective relationships. As many of you will be aware, It Takes Two included a ‘relationship web tool’ which departments and ALBs can use to map the effectiveness of their relationship. Since this report was published, The Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has encouraged the use of this tool, and has run a workshop to discuss the findings.


The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has also been taking measures to seek out innovative and effective ways to foster good relationships with Public Bodies. This interest from two important departments suggests that Government attention may be widening from a narrow focus on streamlining the Public Bodies landscape by ‘culling Quangos’. Instead, ALBs and Departments may be entering a new era of conversation and communication.

Going forward

With signs that the ‘conversation starter’ which recent PCF research called for may be becoming a reality, it seems like we have got past the first hurdle on the way to better relationships. The issue is, however, far from solved. Now the conversation has started the onus is on both ALBs and Departments to ensure that progress continues. How we can help this to happen will be a key theme at the PCF’s upcoming First Annual Conference on 21st November. I am very much looking forward to this event, and I do hope to see many of you there.

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PCF manager, amy noonan

This year has been a very busy one for PCF events and the autumn programme looks set to be just as full – if not more so! In October, John Cridland came to discuss the role of the public sector in the national growth agenda. This was a really interesting and topical seminar, and a great start to the season.

We are now looking forward to welcoming Chloe Smith MP, Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform, when she comes to speak to the PCF on 6 November in what promises to be a well-informed discussion about the representation of women on boards of public bodies. Chloe will be joined by a really knowledgeable set of discussants including Ruth Medd, Founder of Women on Boards, a successful Australian social enterprise which has recently been launched in the UK; Anne Watts, one of our own members who was Chair of the Appointments Commission up until its closure this week and who has a wealth of experience in this area, and Denise Keating, who is Chief Executive of the


Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion, the UK's leading employer network covering all aspects of equality and inclusion issues in the workplace.

And then, of course, fast-approaching is the first PCF annual conference. This will be an all-day event held in the Institute for Government offices in Carlton Gardens on 21 November. I am delighted to report that we have some fantastic sessions planned around the conference theme of ‘Public Bodies Reform Two Years On’. This includes, among other highlights, key note speeches to be delivered by Nick Hurd MP, Minister for Civil Society and Sir Bob Kerslake, Head of the Civil Service. We have had a good response for this already, and it is shaping up to be a very exciting and well-attended event.

Finally, on 12 December Dame Julie Mellor is coming to speak in her capacity of Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. Dame Julie will be talking about the role of Chairs in handling complaints and what the

  Amy Noonan

Ombudsman can do to help. This should be a useful and interesting event and a great conclusion to the PCF autumn schedule.

You can find lots of details of all of these events, as well as a preview of the ones which are already lined up for the New Year, on the PCF website and at the end of this newsletter. I am looking forward to seeing you all at many points in the months ahead!

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Guest Column
  Amy Noonan

The NAO report ‘Reorganising Central Government Bodies’, published earlier this year, was the first evidence of the substantial scale and impact of the Coalition Government’s desire to fundamentally reconfigure the way in which non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) operate. While media coverage of the NAO report concentrated on the cost of reorganisation, the changes will also have significant impact on broader questions of accountability, delivery of public services, and the rights of citizens.


Specifically, we identify four challenges for government:

1. Sqeezing the Balloon

Tackling the problem of quangos is like squeezing a balloon, because reductions in headcount in some policy areas go hand in hand with increases elsewhere. This picture is found with the Thatcher administration’s attempts to reduce the quango count in 1979/80, when 32 new NDPBs were created in the first 12 months.

2. Life after Death

The NAO analysis reveals that two-thirds of the bodies being abolished will have their functions transferred, most to central government. These functions are clearly important enough to survive, but will they become more accountable or accessible to the public if they are absorbed into a central government department?

3. Maintaining Citizens’ Rights

Changes in the Public Bodies Act have the effect of reducing the access of some of our most disadvantaged citizens to independent review of administrative decisions. The challenge for government will be to ensure that its reforms do not further undermine the hard won rights of citizens.


4. Sustaining the Independent Voice

The loss of public bodies will reduce the involvement of citizens in the business of government. Public bodies’ boards do not only recruit distinguished experts but also provide an opportunity for ordinary citizens to become involved. This is under threat.

Chris Skelcher and Matthew Flinders are professors at the universities of Birmingham and Sheffield respectively. They are leading a 3 year study of public body reform funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, in collaboration with Professor Anthony M. Bertelli, University of Southern California.

Matt Flinders
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Box of Research

We are happy to announce the Guardian Public Leaders Network as our official media partner for the Public Chairs' Forum annual conference. The Public Leaders Network is an online resource for public services leaders to discuss the issues that are at the top of their professional agenda and share best practice ideas. To become a member is


free and will allow you to be a part of a professional network with the content, contacts and connections that will give you an edge in today's challenging times. Join here today and you'll find the Guardian Public Leaders Network an invaluable source of knowledge and contacts for your professional life.

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Upcoming dates – 2012 / 2013

Programme of seminars and events


6th November, 11.00 - 12.30pm - Women on Boards – a seminar with Chloe Smith MP, Ruth Medd and Anne Watts CBE

The Government has outlined its aspiration for at least 50% of new Ministerial appointments to the boards of public bodies to be women by the end of the current Parliament. In order to make this aspiration a reality, Chairs of public bodies need to play their full part. As well as the challenges, this session will focus on the practical things that Chairs can do to help to improve the balance of women and men on boards of public bodies.

21st November, 11.00am - 5.30pm - PCF Annual Conference – Public Bodies Reform Two Years on

Nick Hurd MP, Minister for Civil Society and Sir Bob Kerslake, Head of the Home Civil Service will deliver key note speeches at the PCF’s first annual conference. They will join other top speakers from government to consider themes such as transitions, effective relationships between ALBs and Departments, accountability in public bodies and new models for service delivery.

12th December, 4.00 - 6.00pm - Handling Complaints in Public Bodies – the role of the Chair

Dame Julie Mellor, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, will be guest speaker at this seminar, where we will consider the role of Chairs of public bodies in handling complaints: what should we be doing, what more we can be doing, and how the Ombudsman can help.

16th January 2013, 4.00 - 6.00pm - Strategic Effective and Efficient Risk Management in Public Bodies

Trevor Llanwarne, Government Actuary, will lead a discussion with Chairs of public bodies on strategic risk management in government. What is the common approach and how can this be improved? Trevor will present a new approach to risk that ALBs can start using in their organisations immediately.



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