This report provides three short studies of the fate of three very different improvement agencies – the Audit Commission, the National Policing Improvement Agency and the NHS Modernisation Agency.

There have been dozens of such bodies over the years so this is a far from comprehensive study. But the report examines the more general background against which the lessons from their arrival and disappearance might be debated.

It considers how far inspection should be used to drive policy rather than reflect it, and examines important distinctions between standard-setting, inspection, regulation and improvement. It also reflects on the complexity of the relationship between these organisations and government, particularly when ministers are directly responsible for a service that is being regulated.

The report concludes with some lessons for creating, maintaining and changing improvement bodies.