Shrinking the state: analysing the reform of arm's length bodies (2012-2015)


Professor Chris Skelcher and Dr Katherine Tonkiss


Professor Matthew Flinders (University of Sheffield) and Professor Anthony Bertelli (University of Southern California)


Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)


ESRCThis three year project is analysing the UK Coalition Government’s major reform of 'arm's length bodies' (ALBs – often called ‘quangos’). Quangos are a frequent focus for public, political and media criticism, regarded as unaccountable, wasteful, and self-serving. But they are also indispensible to modern government, preventing ministers from becoming overloaded, bringing expert advice and management to complex policy issues, and undertaking regulatory and quasi-judicial tasks that need to be politically independent.

The Coalition Government has a strong political commitment to reducing the scale of the quango state in order to improve accountability and assist deficit reduction. It is reforming almost half of the 900 ALBs for which it is responsible. Our research asks whether and to what extent ALB reform will deliver the policy goal of a smaller, smarter, cheaper state, and what can be learnt from international and historical comparisons.

Project aims and objectives

The study asks a number of questions:

  1. Why have arm's length bodies been so durable in the face of political and public hostility?
  2. Why is reform now possible, and is this a distinctly UK phenomenon?
  3. How is the reform of arm's length bodies affected by a climate of austerity?
  4. What are the consequences of reforming arm's length bodies for ministers, Parliament, civil servants, and those organisations and individuals who use their services?
  5. Are there other ways in which delegation of executive, regulatory, quasi-judicial or advisory authority might be designed, and what is the international experience?

The research team will provide independent and informed analysis for those involved in making, delivering, and learning from this large scale governmental reform, as well as promoting wider public understanding. This will contribute to the academic and practical study of government internationally.

The research team are working closely with several policy partners, including the Cabinet Office public bodies team, the Public Chairs' Forum, and a wider group of governmental, academic and independent partners.


Project web site:

For further information about this project please contact:
Dr Katherine Tonkiss (, +44 (0)121 414 4958)