Friday, 7 January 2011

Wet camp fire of the quangos

Yet another proof of the dangers of 'breakneck government' came out today (see Public Policy and the Past, passim). The House of Commons Public Administration Committee today launched a pretty fierce attack on the Government's axing of nearly 200 'Quasi-Non-Governmental Agencies' or Quangos.

The new administration moved pretty swiftly last year to axe many of these - or at least to say they had and just absorb them into departments, which is why the exercise probably won't save the GBP1bn promised by Ministers (whatever they say now).

Keep in mind that there are plenty of reasons why Conservatives on this committee, including its chairman Bernard Jenkin (above) might want to embarrass the Coalition. Jenkin, for one, is dead against the idea of the Alternative Vote, on which the Government will be holding a referendum in May. So his committee's views shouldn't necessarily be taken at face value.

But have a look what they say:

This review was poorly managed. There was no meaningful consultation, the tests the review used were not clearly defined and the Cabinet Office failed to establish a proper procedure for departments to follow.

Pretty damning stuff. And another example of what happens when you don't take long enough over things. If you look at the list of Quangos lined up for a quick death, the majority were (a) moved into the charitable sector, (b) absorbed by departments, (c) called something else, or (d) merged.

Only a handful had their functions killed off altogether - testament, once more, to the falsity of the idea that the state had become 'bloated' over the last decade and a half. Someone has to think about embryology regulations; advise about pharmaceuticals; appoint experts to decide on the disbursement of research funds; promote British trade and tourism. Think Ministers should do it? The Committee think this makes government look even less accountable to the public - rather than to Parliament - than did Quangos who at least usually tried to reach out and consult with the world outside Whitehall.

Cut in haste - repent at leisure.

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