The quangos start to burn

The government has lit the touch paper to start the ‘bonfire of the quangos’ today in announcing that it will axe nearly 200 quangos, reports Katy Mughan.

The government has lit the touch paper to start the ‘bonfire of the quangos’ today in announcing that it will axe nearly 200 quangos. Under the guise of increased accountability but in a bid to further reduce spending, 289 bodies will be re-formed and re-organised, and 192, including watchdogs and advisory agencies, will be abolished altogether. Many more remain under review.

The decision has come following a review of 901 non-departmental public bodies. Unions say many of the coalition’s planned changes will damage public services and cost jobs.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude told the BBC he did not know how many jobs would go as a result. He also said he could not say how much money would be saved, but claimed it would be “significant”.

Although the government claims it is making the cuts to increase accountability, allowing government departments and elected ministers to carry out the tasks of the less accountable quangos, the changes will, in reality, be depriving society of field experts who are arguably far more qualified to execute the tasks that have been removed and handed over to already overburdened government ministers.

Opponents claim the cuts will not result in government savings, as the expense involved in eliminating the high number of organisations will be large, meaning the ‘bonfire of the quangos’ is likely to cost as much as it saves. The news comes in the same week Sir Philip Green published his report on government inefficiency, in which he criticised government overspending, poor financial management and economic inefficiency.

No one can have been shocked to hear the government is a poor property manager. Nor that it has signed some questionable IT contracts. Nor that it pays ludicrously above market-price for supplies from stationery to computers. Green claimed the government can save millions on costs of the likes of travel, credit cards, mobile phones and office supplies.

Green quoted examples of the government paying £1.31 per unit printing costs for a leaflet when the market cost was just 26p per unit. On a larger scale, the government spent up to £2,000 per laptop, even though similar products were available online at around £353. He also gave figures on accommodation (400,000 room nights in London each year at a cost of £38m), and travel (costing £551m annually).

But Green, not the first controversial entrepreneur to be called upon to preach his opinions on the public funds of the government, made a distinct lack of viable suggestions for solutions and ways to improve this so-called ‘inefficiency and waste’.

Nicholas Timmins wrote in the Financial Times this week:

“We have been here before. [Peter Gershon, Martin Read, Martin Jay, and Lord Carter of Coles] all found the same. And it must be said, much of their analysis, and some of their prescriptions, were a good deal more profound than Sir Philip’s somewhat glib 33-page PowerPoint-style presentation. Same analysis. Great headlines. Not a lot of detail on how to tackle it all.”

While on today’s cull of the quangos, the FT’s John Kay writes:

“There are few easier ways in Britain to win the approbation of tabloid newspapers, or the applause of a rightwing political meeting, than an attack on quangos – quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisations. The very name is constructed to invite derision.

“And yet around the world, central banks, supreme courts and other highly respected bodies serving public functions, are run by people who are not elected. Even if such individuals are appointed through a political process, they are generally chosen for their technical skills rather than their public profiles or party allegiance.”

Quite!

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