Non-departmental public body

In the United Kingdom, a non-departmental public body (NDPB)—often referred to as a quango—is a classification applied by the Cabinet Office, Treasury, Scottish Government and Northern Ireland Executive to certain types of public bodies. They are not an integral part of any government department and carry out their work at arm's length from Ministers, although Ministers are ultimately responsible to Parliament for the activities of bodies sponsored by their department.

The term includes the four types of NDPB (executive, advisory, tribunal and Independent Monitoring Boards) but excludes public corporations, National Health Service (NHS) bodies and public broadcasting authorities (BBC and S4C).[1][2]

In 2010 the UK's Conservative-Liberal coalition published a review of NDPBs recommending closure or merger of nearly two hundred bodies, and the transfer of others to the private sector.[3] This process is colloquially termed the "bonfire of the quangos".[4]


Types of body

There are four main types of body.

Advisory NDPBs

These bodies consist of boards which advise ministers on particular policy areas. They are often supported by a small secretariat from the parent department and any expenditure is paid for by that department.

Executive NDPBs

These bodies usually deliver a particular public service and are overseen by a board rather than ministers. Appointments are made by ministers following the Code of Practice of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. They employ their own staff and are allocated their own budgets.

Tribunal NDPBs

These bodies have jurisdiction in an area of the law. They are co-ordinated by the Tribunals Service, an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice, and supervised by the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council, itself a NDPB sponsored by the Ministry of Justice.

Independent monitoring boards

These bodies were formerly known as "boards of visitors" and are responsible for the state of prisons, their administration and the treatment of prisoners. The Home Office is responsible for their costs, and has to note all expenses.

Contrast with executive agencies, non-ministerial departments and quangos

NDPB differ from executive agencies as they are not created to carry out ministerial orders or policy, instead they are more or less self-determining and enjoy greater independence. They are also not directly part of government like a non-ministerial government department being at a remove from both ministers and any elected assembly or parliament. Typically an NDPB would be established under statute and be accountable to Parliament rather than to Her Majesty's Government. This arrangement allows more financial independence since the government is obliged to provide funding to meet statutory obligations.

NDPBs are commonly referred to as quangos. However, this term originally referred to bodies that are, at least ostensibly, non-government organisations, but nonetheless perform governmental functions.

History, numbers and powers

In March 2008 there were 797 public bodies classified by the UK government.[5] This total included 198 executive NDPBs, 410 advisory bodies, 33 tribunals, 21 public corporations, the Bank of England, 2 public broadcasting authorities and 23 NHS bodies. However, the classification is conservative and does not include bodies that are the responsibility of devolved government, various lower tier boards (including a considerable number within the NHS), and also other boards operating in the public sector (e.g. school governors and police authorities).

These appointed bodies performed a large variety of tasks, for example health trusts, or the Welsh Development Agency, and by 1992 were responsible for some 25% of all government expenditure in the UK. According to the Cabinet Office their total expenditure for the financial year 2005–06 was £167 billion.[6]


Critics argued that the system was open to abuse as most NDPBs had their members directly appointed by government ministers without an election or consultation with the people. The press, critical of what was perceived as the Conservatives' complacency in power in the 1990s, presented much material interpreted as evidence of questionable government practices.

This concern led to the formation of a Committee on Standards in Public Life[7] (the Nolan Committee) which first reported in 1995 and recommended the creation of a public appointments commissioner to make sure that appropriate standards were met in the appointment of members of QUANGOs. The Government accepted the recommendation, and the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments[8] was established in November 1995.

The use of NDPBs continued under the Labour government in office from 1997 to 2010, though the political controversy associated with NDPBs in the mid-1990s for the most part died away. Before 1997, the incoming Labour Government promised to reduce the number and power of NDPBs.[9][10]

See also


External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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