27 July 2010

Quangos - a failed expedient

Let us recall that Quasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organizations got their biggest boost under Margaret Thatcher. She had been compelled to buy off the Civil Service with additional pay and privileges because she needed to cover her back while confronting the trades union in Britain's traditional industries, which had long been kept going only by subsidies and tariffs.

Having won that battle, she then had to deal with the privileged Civil Service, many of whose departments were, and had been for some time, "unfit for purpose" - as Labour Home Secretary John Reid judged the Immigration Service to be in 2006. Quangos were an attempt to inject some dynamism into the state sector, while also vastly increasing political patronage.

Taken together, Thatcher's two tactical expedients proved to be a colossal strategic error once the Labour party got back into power. The privileging of the Civil Service over the rest of society was accelerated, while Quangos staffed with the Labourite faithful proliferated. Given that reforming the Civil Service is going to be a long drawn-out battle of attrition, the new Coalition government simply had to dismantle the largely parasitic Quangocracy, much of which duplicated the functions of the formal government departments and was largely staffed by the same sort of people.

The oldest and most influential of them all is the BBC, which most Brits do not see as a Quango at all. If it is to be humbled, it may be necessary to mount a steady campaign to make the public aware of how corruptly self-serving it is while stripping away its many profitable sidelines that compete disloyally with private enterprise. Maybe best not to hold your breath on that one.

The following list from the Independent is remarkable for the sheer number and range of the institutions that are set to be abolished, with voices raised in defence of very few:

UK Film Council
Museums, Libraries and Archives Council
Advisory Council on Libraries
Legal Deposit Advisory Panel
Advisory Committee on Historic Wreck Sites
Health Protection Agency (HPA)
National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA)
National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse
Alcohol Education and Research Council
Appointments Commission (CQC)
Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (by end of this Parliament)
Human Tissue Authority
Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence (to be made a self-funding body by charging a levy on regulators)
NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement
General Teaching Council
Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency
British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA)
Ufi Ltd/Learndirect
Learning & Skills Improvement Service
Institute for Learning
Business and Economy
All eight regional Government Offices: South-West, South-East, East Midlands, West Midlands, East of England, North-West, Yorkshire & the Humber and North-East
Eight out of the nine regional development agencies (the exception being London) and some of their local subsidiaries: Advantage West Midlands, East Midlands Development Agency, Yorkshire Forward, South-West Regional Development Agency, South-East England Development Agency, East of England Development Agency, North-West Regional Development Agency, One North-East
Strategic Advisory Board for Intellectual Property policy (SABIP)
SITPRO (Simplifying International Trade)
Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Advisory Body (WAB)
British Shipbuilders Corporation
Standards and Verification UK
Hearing Aid Council
Investors in People UK
Home Office
National Policing Improvement Agency
Sustainable Development Commission (funding withdrawn)
Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution
Agricultural Wages Board, the 15 Agricultural Wages Committees, the 16 Agricultural Dwelling House Advisory Committees and the Committee on Agricultural Valuation
Inland Waterways Advisory Council
The Commons Commissioners
Infrastructure Planning Commission
Commission for Rural Communities

Arts and Sport
UK Sport with Sport England
National Lottery Commission with the Gambling Commission


Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, English Heritage, Heritage Lottery Fund, National Heritage Memorial Fund – could be merged
Advisory Committee on National Historic Ships (declassified, functions transferred to another body)
Theatres Trust (declassified, so can act as an independent statutory advisory body)
Churches Conservation Trust (could be declassified, pending talks with the Church of England)
Visit England and Visit Britain (status, role and functions will change)
Design Council (under review)
Local Better Regulation Office
ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service)
Local Better Regulation Office
Ofcom (in the short term losing its policy making power)
Food Standards Agency (its responsibilities have been much reduced)
Carbon Trust (could be merged into new UK Green Investment Bank)
Partnership for Schools (school-building)
Training and Development Agency (was facing the axe, may now be spared)
Children's Commissioner for England – under review
Equality and Human Rights Commission – budget reduced, faces further cuts

Eating this one for my post of 11 July (here) lamenting that the Coalition had not moved fast enough against the Quangocracy.

Patience, Ockham, patience. Cutting the egregious crap out of government is difficult, because it is so hard to differentiate it from the rest.

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