(Public services) must be responsible to the people they serve – held to account by citizens and their elected representatives.

-          Open Public Services White Paper

Why Accountability?

The Government believes that the more transparent the information is about the services they are receiving, the more able the public will be to make informed choices about the providers they use. This principle is also motivated by the belief that the more accountable services are to the taxpayer, the more efficient they will become in terms of value for money.

Accountability to the taxpayer runs central to the Government’s wider principles of fiscal prudence. From pre-2010 to the present, the Conservative party’s, and to a lesser degree the Liberal Democrats’, main criticism of Labour is that it squandered unsustainable amounts of taxpayer money under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Likewise, the focus on transparency fits in with the Coalition’s capitalisation on public anger over the MPs’ expenses scandal in 2009.

Where has this been delivered?

Education services

  • The Academies Act 2010 requires the Secretary of State to publish an annual report for each academic year detailing academy arrangements entered into during the year.
  • The Education Act abolishes five quangos, the General Teaching Council for England, the Training and Development Agency for Schools, the School Support Staff Negotiating Body, the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency and the Young Person’s Learning Agency and grants new powers to the Secretary of State, thereby simplifying the chain of responsibility.
  • The Education Act also creates more focused Ofsted inspections and gives it wider powers for intervention in under-performing schools.

Local Authority services

  • The Localism Act 2011 reforms the Housing Revenue Account System in order to give tenants the information they need to hold their landlords to account, by creating a clear relationship between the rent a landlord collects and the services they provide.
  • The Localism Act also requires local housing authorities to publish a tenancy strategy.

Health and Care Services

  • The Health and Social Care Act 2012 establishes Monitor as a specialist regulator to protect patients’ interests.
  • The Health and Social Care Act establishes Healthwatch patient organisations locally and nationally to drive patient involvement across the NHS.
  • It provides the underpinnings for Public Health England to drive improvements in public health.
  • It sets out clear roles and responsibilities, while keeping ministers’ ultimate responsibility for the NHS.
  • Finally, the Health and Social Care Act places NICE and the Information Centre in primary legislation.

Welfare services

  • The Welfare Reform Act 2012 introduces a claimant commitment to clarify the requirements claimants are expected to meet in order to claim benefits.
  • The Welfare Reform Act also introduces stronger measures to combat benefit fraud.
  • The Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act 2013 requires landlords to get permission from the court to enforce an unlawful profit order.
  • The Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act also requires, in the event of no unlawful profit order being made, the court to give reasons why none was made.

Law and Order services

  • The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 replaces police authorities with directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners for each police force outside of London.
  • The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act sets out the basic duties of a Police and Crime Commissioner.
  • It empowers the Police and Crime Commissioners to appoint, suspend and dismiss the chief constable of the police force.
  • Finally, the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act establishes Police and Crime Panels to advice and scrutinise the work of the Police and Crime Commissioners in each area.
  • The Police (Detention and Bail) Act 2011 sets out the length of time that a suspect can be detained in police custody after arrest and before being charged or released.
  • The Police (Complaints and Conduct) Act 2012 gives the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) the power to require a serving officer to attend an interview as a witness in a police complaints case.
  • The Police (Complaints and Conduct) Act 2012 also grants the IPCC the power to set aside in ‘exceptional circumstances’ the relevant articles of the Transitional Provisions Order to enable the IPCC to investigate old cases where the Police Complaints Authority had been involved.

Other services

  • The Public Bodies Act 2011 gives ministers powers to abolish or merge public bodies.
  • The Public Bodies Act also gives ministers powers to modify the constitutional or funding arrangements of public bodies.
  • It provides for the Secretary of State to modify the constitutional arrangements and functions of the Forestry Commissioners.