Research & Publications

Departments’ oversight of arm’s length bodies: a comparative study

July 05 2016

Departments’ oversight of arm’s length bodies: a comparative study

The National Audit Office looked at four departments that oversee a large number of ALBs: Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, Ministry of Justice, Department for Environment, Department for Food & Rural Affairs, and Department for Culture, Media & Sport.

They found there is no collective understanding of what type of oversight is appropriate and cost effective for different types of arm’s-length bodies; the sector remains confused and incoherent. There is no single list of all ALBs across government nor a common understanding of when ALBs should be used, or what type of ALB is most appropriate for particular circumstances. Different departments define ALBs in different ways and some ALBs are uncertain about how they relate to their department’s objectives. The prevailing inconsistency hampers a coherent approach to overseeing ALBs that is consistent with their purpose, although the Cabinet Office is building on its Public Bodies Reform Programme and taking further steps to address this.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said:

“If one of the main reasons for having arm’s length bodies is to provide a zone of relative independence, the fact that oversight mechanisms focus predominantly on compliance and control means there is almost certainly room for improvement.”

View PCF's response to the report here. 

Download PDF

Making Connections, Shaping Debates: The Unique Role of the Public Chairs’ Forum

May 01 2014

Making Connections, Shaping Debates: The Unique Role of the Public Chairs’ Forum

This report was published by Dr Katherine Tonkiss and Dr Katharine Dommett as part of the Shrinking the State project. It looks at the role of the Public Chairs' Forum and the range of highly useful functions it provides its members.  

The authors highlight that: ‘The PCF has grown from a small and relatively uninfluential network of chairs, into a formalised organisation managing strong relationships with government and other actors, and has become a key resource for chairs to share experiences and learn from best practice’.

Download PDF

Efficiency by design – how public bodies are rising to the funding challenge

January 14 2014

Efficiency by design – how public bodies are rising to the funding challenge

Efficiency by Design: stories of best practice in public bodies, a new report published today by the Public Chairs’ Forum (PCF) and Cabinet Office, shines a light on the innovative ways in which people working in public bodies have improved the efficiency of their organisations’ operations. This practical guide contains case studies which demonstrate how leaders and staff of public bodies have responded positively to the challenge to deliver better public services at lower cost.

Since the Coalition Government’s announcement to reform public bodies in October 2010, Ministers have spoken of the scale of funding cuts and the resulting administrative savings. Efficiency by Design looks beyond the headline numbers and focuses on how these savings are being achieved.

The PCF and Cabinet Office have worked closely with Chairs and Chief Executives to uncover examples of best practice. Five key themes emerged from their research, which was conducted with the Institute for Government: 

  • Working differently.
  • Working in partnership.
  • Improving procurement.
  • Less property, smarter working.
  • ‘Digital by default’.

Chris Banks CBE, Chair of the Public Chairs’ Forum said:

“In recent years, we have seen many different examples of public bodies rising to the funding challenge to deliver better public services at lower cost. Through this report, we have captured some of this good work so that organisations can learn from each other about new ways to improve the efficiency of their operations.

“Our hope is that by sharing best practice in this way, everyone working in public bodies will share in the acknowledgement of what has already been achieved and be encouraged to continue to find ways of working more efficiently. The continuing downward pressure in funding makes improving efficiency an essential part of everyday life in public bodies.”

Nick Hurd MP, Minister for Civil Society said:

“Government has to work more efficiently to adjust to the new economic reality that we face and provide public services that are effective and fully accountable. Public bodies have risen to this challenge and the joint PCF/Cabinet Office report highlights examples of practical and innovative ways in which they are achieving efficiencies and improving performance.

“Together, we are implementing the biggest reform of public bodies for a generation. We expect this to reduce the administrative cost of public bodies by at least £2.6 billion by 2015. At the same time we are increasing accountability, improving public services, and delivering a crucial part of the wider reforms to the Civil Service.”

Examples of efficiency in the report include:

  • Companies House who have streamlined their processes enabling them to half customer turnaround time.
  • Natural England, who have worked in partnership with the Forestry Commission and the Environment Agency to save costs. The co-hosting datasets alone will avoid costs of approximately £0.5 million.
  • The National Archives, who have improved their procurement and secured a net saving of £0.4 million per annum.
  • The Electoral Commission, who have implemented a full accommodation review, achieving a 40% reduction in accommodation costs.
  • The Coal Authority, whose digital strategy has improved online services. They have also in-sourced their IT service support which alone will save £0.8million per annum.

Notes to editors:

The Public Chairs’ Forum (PCF) exists to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the delivery of public services in the United Kingdom. It is a member led, exclusive information sharing and networking resource for chairs of public bodies.

Download PDF

Sign-up to Our Newsletter

Our newsletter features the most up to date news on the work of the PCF, along with guest articles on topical issues. Sign up to it here.

Become a PCF member

PCF Membership is open to all Chairs of Public Bodies, regardless of the size, status or remit of their organisation.

find out more »

Browse by Category

Browse by Date

Relationship Web

relationshipweb application

Relationship Web is a diagnostic self-assessment tool, for both ALBs and Departments to use to test the state of the relationship. It is based on the diagnostic questions within the joint PCF and Institute for Government framework for effective relations and allows Departments and ALBs to identify strengths and weaknesses in their own relationships. The diagnostic statements are divided into five key areas for effectiveness, as identified in ‘It takes two’: accountabilities; strategic approach; financial and performance management; communication and engagement; and relationship management.

After completing the exercise, your results are then plotted on to a 'spider’s web' – the further away from the centre your responses, the more effective your relationship; the idea being to stretch the web over time to improve your performance. You will then be able to download a PDF version of the 'spider’s web' and save this on your computer. There will be an opportunity for individual ALBs and Departments to compare results to see how each party views their relationship. Rather than being the solution to any issues in the relationship, we hope that this exercise will act as a useful conversation starter between Department and ALB.

Cabinet Office Checklist

checklist application


checklist btn

Cabinet Office have recently produced a checklist to help Arms Length Bodies and Departments to ensure that the most important aspects of managing transitions are considered. Inevitably, no one transition is identical to another one and depending on the type of transition you are involved in, there will be certain things within the checklist that don't apply to the specific circumstances of your transition.

So, rather than having to explore which parts are relevant to your circumstances, the Public Chairs' Forum has designed an application that will do this for you. By answering some simple questions about your transition, the application will produce a customised report and checklist, ensuring you focus on the right issues at the right time. We hope that the combination of the checklist and application will help to bring clarity, focus and practical solutions to an often complex process. Download your personalised report here.