Saturday, 31 July 2010

Last Quangos in Britain?

The Government recently announced massive cuts in the number of quangos The Independent and the BBC report. Possibly a good thing given that there are a lot of them (almost 1,200 as of mid 2008) and they cost a lot (£64 billion if you trust the Taxpayers Alliance).

I will leave it up to you to decide whether this is going to harm the services these quangos have been providing, the question I find interesting is;

How does this fit into "The Big Society"?

Firstly I'd like to look at what a "quango" actually is. They were recently referred to as "arms length bodies" by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, but this makes me imagine the coalition standing around cutting their arms off. According to wikipedia they should really be referred to as "non-departmental public bodies" and quango is an acronym formed of "quasi-autonomous non-governmental organization". This gives a bit of a better understanding, the simplest definition is from The Free Dictionary, they are;
  • Government appointed
  • Government funded
  • Independent
This doesn't seem to make sense, how can a government appointed body act independently?

Anyway, back to the original question, these cuts do not fit into "The Big Society". As far as I have gathered the aim of this nebulous Conservative policy is to devolve power down to individuals and groups, providing them directly with government funding for taking on the jobs of public bodies. Isn't that just a local quango? Okay, they are self appointed, but they still have to be approved.

So the Government is both getting rid of, and creating, quangos.

In addition these cuts are not a devolution of power, this is a centralisation of power. The jobs of these quangos will inevitably go back to the departments they devolved from, into the hands of ministers. This is a bad thing. Minsters meddle, when they are given power over a public service they have to leave their mark. We should not let them get their hands on the important parts, I for one do not want ministers in charge when we have a public health emergency. Even more of a centralisation is the removal of all regional government offices and most regional development agencies.

And then there's the money consideration. The Big Society is a money saving initiative. But the jobs of many of these quangos still need to be done. Someone has to govern the use of human tissue or advise on libraries. So the jobs will just be transferred, meaning staff will be rehired in to different departments and quangos.

So, these cuts were needed, but did the government give their implementation enough thought? Probably not, it is unlikely that this will achieve any aim other than just reducing the total number of quangos.

1 comment:

  1. Lydon B. Johnson had The Great Society
    David Cameron has The Big Society

    Thats either a cheap shot at the increasing waistlines of the British public, or a suggestion that the state should aim for quantity over quality... how very soviet of you Mr Cameron.

    On a serious note I disagree, power to the ministers! And Ministers are the people you want to be involved in an emergency, if not then we should review how ministers are appointed.