This is entry No.26, first published on 15 February 2011, of a blog on public bodies reform. Click here to view the whole blog.
After a rather lengthy sojourn whilst the Lords has kept busy with the voting reform legislation (and the last entry on this blog appeared as long ago as 28 January) the Public Bodies Bill is now due to re-commence its Committee proceedings in the Lords on Monday 28 February . This is the first day the Lords is back from next week's break, now called the February recess ( it used to be known as the constituency week).
Additional amendments have been tabled by, amongst others, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath for Labour (see here) to add further elements to the proposed Parliamentary procedure for scrutinising orders, including the facility for committees scrutinising orders to recommend that they be amended or even that the proposals should only proceed by way of a bill, and to enable revised orders to be laid.
Meanwhile, as reported widely in the press, the wider public debate on disposal of Forestry Commission assets continues and included an Opposition Day debate in the Commons on 2 February (the Opposition motion was lost and the Government's amendment to it won by 310 votes to 260 and 301 votes to 253 respectively: see here). Subsequently, Defra announced (see here) the temporary suspension of the Spending Review forestry sales until extra protections on access and biodiversity are put in place (whilst making clear that its intention is that, once this has happened, the sales will go ahead).
Generally, it has been a quiet month though there was a joint union lobby on the Bill, organised by PCS, Unite, Unison, Prospect and GMB on 9 February, to ask the government to Stop Listen and Think Again.
In terms of the wider public sector agenda, we have also now seen the Prime Minister re-assert his commitment to the Big Society concept and the Cabinet Office publish its new strategy for the Big Society Bank and announce the first payments from the £100m Transition Fund that is intended to provide vital support to charities. Additionally, we have the Cabinet Office's quarterly status check on public bodies (as at 31 January: see here) indicating that to date 26 of the public bodies reviewed are now either no longer an NDPB, Public Corporation or Non-Ministerial Department. Also, there has been published a new enhanced protocol for departmental boards (see here).
But much of the government's agenda for public sector reform is dependent on the Public Bodies Bill and, so, progress with it remains a necessary condition for many of the proposed changes. Given that it was proposed and Labour did accept on Second Reading that it should be possible to complete Select Committee proceedings on the Bill by 28 February, if the Government had been prepared to agree to a Select Committee rather than a Committee of the Whole House, maybe the Government is now regretting not going along with that suggestion.