14 Oct 2010

Quangos: a bonfire or just a singeing?

Bonfires tend to burn up everything – leaving only ashes behind.

But the government’s doing away with just 21% of the quangos. And if you listen to Taxpayers’ Alliance – who add in the quangos for the devolved parts of the UK and the local and NHS bodies – you come up with 1148 quasi-autonomous public bodies and a fraction of 17% abolished.

Labour MP Tristram Hunt just called this bonfire of the quangos more a “clammy Sunday afternoon barbeque.” Francis Maude said he didn’t know whether it was a bonfire or a barbeque.

Doesn’t sound so insignificant when you talk to a body like Consumer Focus (the merged amalgam of the National Consumer Council, Energy Watch and Post Watch). They are wondering whether the Citizen’s Advice Bureaux will really, as envisaged, be able to take on their work. CABs are charities, so not really accountable, and they don’t currently have the powers to demand commercially-sensitive information from big corporations.

Francis Maude says he can’t say how much money this saves. In the Commons just now he referred to Labour “incontinence” in quango formation. Jack Straw told him that quango formation had its heyday in John Major’s Government.

Francis Maude also says quangos were too often set up for “symbolic” reasons – a response to the “something must be done” outrage after national scandals. So the Human Tissue Authority, which owes its origins to the reaction to the Alder Hey and Bristol hospitals organ retention scandal, goes (powers transferred elsewhere). But here are some others that fit into that category and their differing fates:

– Adventure Activities Licensing Authority (death of school pupils on school trip) – part of Lord Young’s separate review of health and safety

– Gangmasters Licensing Authority (Morecambe Bay deaths of 20 cockle pickers) – no change

– Security Industry Authority (criminal involvement in security industry) – to be abolished

– Football Licensing Authority (Hilsborough tragedy) – to be abolished

– School Food Trust (Jamie Oliver’s Channel 4 expose on poor children’s diet) – abolished – might become a charity.

On its way to the Swiss clinic, as it were, the Hearing Aid Council (1968-2010) has left a note to those facing the end. You can see it on its website here – in fact, it’s all you can now see on its website.

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