Saturday, September 05, 2009

Culling the Quangos

Please do read Denis Sewell's brilliant article in this week's Spectator. It's all about how David Cameron won't be able to govern unless he culls many of the 1,160 quangos.

The closer David Cameron gets to the election, the more he may come to realise how short-lived the elation following his victory may be. Defeating an exhausted Labour party will be the easy part. Winning real power will be a separate, longer battle — and one that requires him to outwit an enemy far more cunning and resilient than Gordon Brown. To transform Britain means seeing off the cronies, placemen and political stooges with whom the government has packed the boards of Britain’s quangos.

Over the Labour years these groups have swelled from an irritant into a state within a state. With 700,000 employees and boards that read like a who-was-who of the Blair/Brown era, the quangos will represent Labour’s stay-behind fifth column. Not only are the quangocrats implacably opposed to the Conservatives’ reform programme, but they are better placed than even the wiliest Sir Humphrey to thwart change and mount a guerrilla insurgency against public spending controls.

To go to war with some 1,160 disparate organisations may strike Mr Cameron as a tiring diversion, but he should remember what he has promised the British public: change. It is a word he used no fewer than 20 times at the Tory conference last year and he has used it at every opportunity since then. More even than Tony Blair and Barack Obama before him, Mr Cameron has held out the promise that his victory will inaugurate a thoroughgoing transformation of government in Britain. He will be judged by his ability to deliver on such an emphatic promise.

To postpone picking a fight with the quangocracy will be to surrender to the status quo.

Back in 1997, Tony Blair certainly had no qualms about shooing out yesterday’s men and replacing them with diverse embodiments of modernity.

A new establishment was being created — one exemplified by Dame Suzi Leather. Until 1997 she had been working as a freelance consumer consultant (whatever one of those may be — perhaps the third sector’s equivalent of a personal shopper?). She was then made chair of Exeter & District NHS Trust, thence to deputy chair of the Food Standards Agency, chair of the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority, and via the School Food Trust and sundry other public offices to her present eminence as chair of the Charity Commission, where her avowed Labour party membership alarms the heads and governors of private schools who fear losing their charitable status.

Dame Suzi may have appeared from nowhere, but many senior public appointments have been filled by former Labour ministers. David Clark got the Forestry Commission, Chris Smith the Environment Agency, Geoff Rooker the Food Standards Agency. Larry Whitty, the party’s former general secretary, is chairman of Consumer Focus (where Dame Suzi is a fellow board member — that freelance consumer consultancy experience came in useful after all). Baroness Morgan won a seat on the board of the Olympic Delivery Authority, Lord Warner went straight into a paid NHS chairmanship. The list seems endless.

When not personally pocketing public money, the quangocrats are frequently to be found passing it on to their ideological soulmates in the left-leaning think-tanks. Demos, the IPPR and the New Economics Foundation have all been recipients of large sums from public bodies. Some quangos even retain political consultants to represent them at Westminster. Thus the taxpayer finds himself giving money to a government that passes it to a quango, which in turn hires a lobbyist to press the government to raise more money from the taxpayer to pass to the quango, and so on ad infinitum.

The Tories talk about reducing the number of quangos, but this will not be enough. Their number has fallen under Labour — but only because they have amalgamated and grown stronger still.

The Centre for Policy Studies recently released a compelling manifesto for the abolition of 11 education quangos, which would save the taxpayers some £630 million. This is just the start of questions that can be asked. If we have an Environment Agency, why do we also need an Energy Savings Trust, environmental campaigns, Environwise and an Air Quality Standards? What, precisely, has been achieved by the Regional Development Agencies after ten years and £15 billion of taxpayers’ money?

Seeking to reform quangos is pointless: this is the lesson of the last Tory government. Abolition is the only effective tool and one which would not just save billions and reduce the deficit, but also simplify government. All these things Mr Cameron says he wishes to do. But at some stage he will have to fight to get what he wants. To put off a battle with the quangos now means he will face an even tougher fight later.

This is possibly the most important article you will read this week. The above is only an extract. The message is clear. The Conservatives shouldn't waste their time trying to place their own people in the quangos. Labour has already got the appointments stitched up for years to come. The only way to address the problem is to abolish those quangos which are wasteful and unnecessary. And there are plenty of them.


Scary Biscuits said...

The real test of a Conservative is the Equality Commission. This is a socialist body dedicated to equality of outcome. Most Tories, however, believe in equality of opportunity, logically the diametric opposite (you cannot have equality of outcome without abolishing freedom of choice).

Cameron, alas, shows every sign of believing the socialist version of equality and if he can't get rid of the most extreme of the socialist quangoes, what hope can we have that he'll be any tougher on the rest.

Simon Gardner said...

Reminds me of the abolition of a Welsh quango which was hailed as The Last Quango in Powys.

someday said...

The quangos are part of New Labour's parallel government along with various fake charities like Common Purpose.

Anonymous said...

Quite true.
However I'm not convinced that Dave isn't just T. Blair the second - all style over substance.

'Because he isn't Labour' isn't enough to get my vote.

Pat said...

In my mind there is no justification whatsoever for public money (mine included) to be given to an autonomous body. All quangos should either be privatised, say as charities, or put under the control of elected persons. Those privatised quangos who found private funding would continue, the rest would go bust.
It is a moot point whether to go for directly elected boards, or to place them directly under a minister. By and large I favour the latter, as rival sub-sections of the ministry will likely be asking for a reduction in budgets for ex-quangos in order to save their own.
Furthermore accounting rules should be introduced such that any monies paid by any public body should be in payment for some good or sevice to the people, and above a small amount should be required to be market tested to ensure value for money. Failure to comply should be treated as fraud (because it is). That should get rid of the fake charities.
I tend to agree with you that a hit list for privatisation needs to be drawn up and agreed by the Shadow cabinet prior to election day to enable rapid implementation- and as far as possible the necessary legislation should be drafted prior to election

strapworld said...

I sent a letter to Landsley (and Cameron) about the need to cull the quango's within the NHS, save on their flash HQ's and staff which amount to millions, to date, I have just had an acknowledgent but heard or read nothing which suggests that they are going to do what this report demands- and with which I totally agree.

I reckon Cameron will want to 'talk' to these people. But he should regard them all, as Margaret Thatcher did the Trades Unions, as enemies of the state and quickly return all the powers of these quango's back to where they should be - The Ministers and the Ministries.

But then they should look at the Chief Executives and others in all government departments. I believe that they all have an affinity to Common Purpose. All local authorities, Police Forces, Local Authorities and NHS Trusts have used public money to attend courses run by this 'charity'.

I am not alone in believing this organisation is a danger to our democracy. However Maude and other conservatives are known to be linked to it.

I find it odd that this organisation has not been the subject of any investigative journalism at all.

But it is a battle the Tories, if they are elected, will have to win.Or the tail will be wagging the dog.

Quietzapple said...

Bit of a joke, Iain?

It was Mrs Thatcher who brightened our political arena with more Quangos, because she thought that saving on civil servants would save money.

perdix said...

I believe that the Conservatives have stated that regulatory decisions such as those made by Ofcom should not be outsourced to a quango but be made the direct responsibilty of Ministers.
"Resonsibilty and Accountability."

Anonymous said...

Strapworld - you wrote to Lansley about doing something about the NHS, and all you got back was an acknowledgement? Oh, what a surprise. Lansley has sold out before he has even got in.

True Belle said...

Can we be clear what a quango is ?

Have 'bodies' realigned, are the police an emerging quango?

Scary Biscuits said...

Quietzapple, quangoes were indeed first introduced by Maggie. So was creating disability benefit as a wheeze to reduce the headline unemployment rate.

You yah-boos for Labour just don't get it. Modern Tories aren't here to repeat Mrs Thatcher's mistakes of thirty years ago; they are here to correct Labour's of the past 12 years. Correcting Tory mistakes was Labour's job when they got elected 12 years ago. That Mrs T's mistakes are not just still in place but multiplied many times over says all you need to know about Labour's failure in government.

Anonymous said...

Sean Gabb of the Libertarian Alliance has written a fine book "Cultural Revolution, Culture War: How Conservatives Lost England And How To Get It Back". It explores a similar theme about the dominance of an "enemy class" and advocates a "frontal attack" on it by a future reforming government. Being a book, not an article, it goes into greater depth. You can download it for free at .

Dr Gabb is not a Tory and I will be surprised if Mr Cameron follows his suggestions. Still, I suggest they are worth a read.

David Cox said...

But Iain, remember the ‘quangoaracy‘ was born under the Conservatives. It served to bypass local government, and impose a central policy. I remember defeated Tory councillors getting a quango - not unreasonably, they had the ability and skills, but it did look undemocratic.

Will DC resist the filling the quangos with his placemen as both reward and to get his agenda through? And if we are to have a bonfire of the quangos will power be return to local government.

Matelot said...

It must be difficult for a politician to resist maintaining the quango system - they are ideal for deflecting the fallout from bad outcomes whilst still taking the credit when things work out. Also a tailor-made solution for rewarding toadies. I predict an explosion in quangos if the House of Lords is ever fully reformed.

Anonymous said...

If the financial state of the country is in the dire straits feared, the next government will be forced to launch a cull.

Anonymous said...

As a non-political board member of one of those 'quangos' you refer to, I simply want to point out that not all of us fit the standard categories referred to in that article. I am a consumer advocate, community champion, volunteer and believe in all of the work I do. I am a dedicated professional, and think it is unfair to label us, 'tarring us all with the proverbial political brush'. I think you have to look at the picture from all angles. I have NO interest in politics, and do what I do because I want to, because I believe in what we can achieve and DO help people. End of.
To some of the commentors, in particular Pat, do not judge us unless you know what we do. I freely give my time, both paid and unpaid to 'provide service to the people' and have done for most of my life. I work for a consumer advocacy body, who influence policy decisions which affect the services and lives of consumers. I defy anyone to say that we are not worthy of existence.
I am the other half of 'Dispatches from Paisley', who is now jubilant that he has finally managed to get me to comment on a blog. I may even start mine yet! look out for 'Purple Rhino Patter' coming to a computer soon!
Purplerhino <:o}

Anonymous said...

Number of quangos in 1997: 887.

Number of quangos in 2008: 790.

But why let the facts get in the way? Just keep repeating the same lie over and over again and eventually it will become the truth...