Efficiency review programme to examine digital progress at 45 government agencies

A range of arm’s-length bodies will be put under the microscope this year as part of government’s Public Bodies Review Programme, which aims to assess efficacy and identity potential savings

An in-depth review process will examine almost 50 arm’s-length bodies across government in the coming months to assess their progress in digitising services and processes and consider where future progress can be made.

The Cabinet Office has published an updated list of organisations set for scrutiny during 2023/24 as part of government’s Public Bodies Review Programme. Reviewers examining the 45 ALBs in question will consider how each organisation could be made more efficient through benchmarking and shifts to digital channels, as well as how to improve the productivity and efficiency of their workforces.

The process will also analyse the success of previous initiatives to reform service delivery through digitisation or automation – including work undertaken as a result of the Covid pandemic – and to consider whether the agencies could save more money by digitising more services.

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To help them benchmark their performance and efficiency, the review criteria also say ALBs should develop an understanding of how their costs compare to similar organisations; set out how they are using benchmarking data to improve policy or drive efficiencies; and compare themselves to organisations within and outside government – including internationally.

Organisations going under the microscope this year include Oak National Academy – an ALB of the Department for Education that was established the during the early weeks coronavirus crisis to help support online teaching. Also undergoing review are the likes of Ofcom, the UK Space Agency, the UK Health Security Agency, the Crown Prosecution Service, and Companies House.

It is up to departments to decide how best to structure and carry out the reviews, following guidance published by the Cabinet Office.

The review programme ultimately aims to identify savings of at least 5% from the operations of bodies under scrutiny and assess whether there are “more efficient and effective alternatives to deliver the government’s objectives” – up to and including merging or shutting down some organisations.

The initiative was announced last year by then-government efficiency minister Jacob Rees-Mogg, who said that the exercise will build on the government’s so-called “bonfire of the quangos”, which cut ALB numbers by a third between 2010 and 2015, saving around £3bn annually in administrative cost.

Last year, 40 organisations were prioritised for review under the programme, including the Met Office, UK Statistics Authority, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and the Health and Safety Executive.

Beckie Smith and Sam Trendall

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