In our new discussion paper, The Strange Case of Non-Ministerial Departments, we take a deeper look at this obscure category of government bodies, which cover organisations as steeped as history as the 1000-year-old Royal Mint to the newly minted National Crime Agency.
We have argued before in our report on arm’s-length governance, Read Before Burning, that non-ministerial departments are an oxymoronic anomaly which fail our test of relating form to function and the freedom a body needs to perform that function. Some NMDs stress their independence from ministers. At the other extreme, others have dual status – as NMDs and as executive agencies, formally a part of their parent department. In all cases, accountability arrangements are so obtuse that even the government’s own guidance suggests departments should almost always try to avoid creating them.
We argue that government needs to tidy up the landscape through a four point reform programme. That starts with not creating any more and subjecting existing NMDs to the triennial review process that has applied to NDPBs since 2010. It ends with arguing that final reform requires the creation of a new category of public interest body which would be the right way of treating the regulator and watchdog bodies, and putting their governance on a coherent and consistent basis.