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As of March 2019, 295 public bodies were in operation across the UK government[1]. Most public bodies within the United Kingdom are established and operated by the government, with varying levels of autonomy and ministerial responsibility according to their classification. Concern over the accountability of public bodies and over arrangements for appointments to them, made by ministers, have arisen previously. The role of Westminster Select Committees in such scrutiny has, at times, become a source of debate between Parliament and Governments.

Brexit means that many functions previously carried out by EU agencies will become the responsibility of existing UK bodies. A number of new public bodies are also being created to manage additional responsibilities after EU exit: for example, an Office for Environmental Protection will be established under the Environment Bill 2019-21 and a Trade Remedies Authority under the Trade Bill 2019-20.

The Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition Government (2010-15) undertook reform of public bodies, significantly reducing the number in operation. The Coalition Government also established ‘triennial reviews’, a regular review process for public bodies, which was replaced in 2016 by ‘tailored reviews’, to be carried out once every Parliament to assess the continuing need and function of bodies.

Some of the bodies mentioned in this paper have UK-wide responsibilities, some only relate to England. Public bodies reporting to the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are not included in the statistics given nor the procedures quoted.

[1] Public Bodies 2019, Cabinet Office, July 2020.

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