Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Monday, 6 July 2009

Bonfire of the Quangos?

The media have had some fun today with the Tories by contrasting David Cameron's rhetoric on Quangos with the fact that they have already pledged to bring in 17 new ones through various announcments. They are:

1. Office of Tax Simplification
2. Office of Budget Responsibility
3. Free national financial advice service
4. ‘Sports Commission’ (Australian model)
5. Office for Civil Society
6. Social Investment Bank
7. Skills advisory service for service personnel
8. Service for families of departing armed forces personnel
9. Military inquest family advisory service
10. International Aid Watchdog
11. Innovative Projects Agency
12. National Foundation for STEM
13. HealthWatch
14. Defence Export Services Organisation
15. All Age Careers Service
16. Voluntary Action Lottery Fund
17. A ‘development agency for libraries’

The most important thing for me about this though is what it exposes about government and bueraucracy. Politicians are always trying to be seen to be "doing something". Whatever crisis comes along, there will be some bueraucratic structure that can be erected which can then be pointed to as the solution to the problem. And from the politician's perspective they are the gift that keeps on giving. Because they are unelected and largely unaccountable it means that ministers no longer need to resign when things go wrong because there will be a Quango somewhere that should have done something (or it will be spun that that is the case). That's how we have got where we are today and as amusing as it is to see Andrew Neil skewer Phillip Hammond with these pledged Quangos, the main point to note is that they are endemic. The Tories have just proven that if anything the problem will get worse under them. I am not trying to make a party political point; it is a systemic failure.

There is no easy answer to this. Some Quangos are doubtless necessary but the problem is their lack of accountability. We need to find some way to change this, otherwise the public will continue to feel that nothing can or will change.

I fear that the "Bonfire of the Quangos" that we have heard called for time and again and the necessary restoration of this accountability will not materialise because of the vested interest in the current system.

Hattip to Guido for the above list which is sourced from the Labour Party press office

UPDATE: Edited to clarify my rather garbled late night first and final paragraphs!


Neil Stockley said...

How do you define "accountability" in the context of quangos?

Mark Thompson said...

Neil - I'm not really sure, hence my comment about us needed to find a way to do it.

Perhaps ultimately if a decent mechanism can't be found then a complete rethink of the political structures that have led to their proliferation is needed.

What do you think?

Voter said...

Speaking from vague recollection, one thing that happens with Quangos is that we get people who actually know something about the field in question (rather than politicians who can be narrow in their expertise).

This is a good thing in my view and I would hope it is not lost.

On the other hand, accountability is important to focus minds and ministers should not get off the hook.

We still have banks which are too big to fail and I would like to see some action on this.

In terms of how to change the quango system, I cannot offer any specifics.

Perhaps an example would help the thought process.

A food and mouth outbreak was traced to lax procedures at a lab.

I wonder if the lab came under the jurisdiction of a quango. I might do a little digging

manwiddicombe said...

The Tories are suffering badly from foot in mouth with this idea. On the Daily Politics yesterday, and again today, Phillip Hammond was made to look foolish and their list of the top 20 'quangocrats' includes many from the BBC, C4 etc, bodies that Hammond agreed were not quangos.

Shame, because spending less of our tax receipts would be a good thing.

Ian Clenshaw said...

As I recall, perhaps incorrectly, it was the Tories who originally introduced the notion of a quangocracy. In the early eighties when the Thatcher administration was hugely unpopular, the electorate insisted on returning Labour councils in protest. In response the Tories stripped local government of much of its remit and handed it over to unelected placemen. Indeed in London, it went further and abolished local government altogether.