Culling quangos

It was good yesterday to wake up to a front page splash saying there will be a substantial cull of quangos. It was even better to hear that the Cabinet Secretary is launching a leak enquiry, implying it was a serious leak and there is substance behind the story.

Labour in Opposition in the 1990s attacked quangos. They rightly thought then that there were too many, that they were increasing in size and power too rapidly, and they needed to be diminished. In government they went the other way, soon abandoning any pretence that they wanted fewer and leaner quangos. Instead every problem had a piece of legislation and a quango or two as the answer. They expanded the number, budgets and powers way beyond anything undertaken by their predecessors in office.

Today the new Coalition government seems to grasp that quangos are the soft underbelly of the overextended state. They are often a needless or excessive layer of government. If a quango has a budget to spend on something worthwhile, let it be spent by the Ministers and officials of Whitehall or the Councillors and officers of Town Hall whose salaries we are already paying. We do not need another bunch of officials to supervise it. If its spending is at best marginal and at worst a waste of money, then close the budget as well as the quango.

If there is overlap, merge and reduce the amagamated overhead. If the quango has some independent regulatory function make sure it is doing it well, efficiently, and that it is a necessary function.

We set out this approach to quango reduction in the Economic Policy review. We saw it as complementary work to deregulation, as often the deregulation initiaitive produced areas of regulation organised by quangos that could be abolished together.

The quango state has allowed the multiplication of Chief Executives and senior executive personnel, large expenditures on corporate overheads, consultants, logo making, marketing and advertising. It has created shadow taxation regimes as people and businesses are charged ever higher fees for the services and regulatory clearances they have to take from the quango state. It is high time there was a good reveiw of how much of this is necessary, and a concerted effort to cut the overhead. If government can do more for less anywhere easily, it must be in quangoland. If government should do less for much less in any area, it is also in quangoland.

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20 Comments

  1. P Haynes
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    But what will all these, friends of labour, do when they cannot have their highly paid Quango or BBC type jobs?

    Before abolishing Quangos they should however first reduce redundancy entitlement to say £400 maximum and introduce a special state sector pension tax say 90% of everything over say £20,000PA to redress Gordon's pension tax and the imbalance between state and private provision.

    I suppose MP's will have to be exempt though to get it through!

  2. forthurst
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    The Commission in Brussells is the worst offender by far, spending the most money and making up legislation intended to mix the pot until nation states and their native people no longer exist in any identifiable form with large numbers of 'deprived' people who have to be constantly molycoddled with infusions of our money and a blind eye to their rebarbative behaviours. Bearing in mind their enormous power and influence, we know remarkably little about the individuals who are concocting this Satanic brew; I suspect that they very much like it that way for reasons that would become apparent once we knew.

  3. ALLAN ROBERTSON
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    The abolition of bodies such as the E&HRC will be a real test of this coalition. If the E&HRC is abolished my respect for this hybrid government will grow and if not then my current relatively low opinion of it will be confirmed.

    • Robert Taggart
      Posted September 27, 2010 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      So long as the legislation stays in place (which it will) why have any quango to 'oversee' it ? There be plenty of 'busy-bodies' out there who would (after they have cried wolf !) take over this function on a charitable basis… leave them to it say I !

  4. English Pensioner
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    It all looks very good at first sight, but when you start to read the details, things are somewhat different. In many cases the responsibilities are being moved back to the parent department, which will no doubt assimilate the staff and need a bigger budget to cope. Some are being privatised; but even privatised organisations can get grants from government and interfere in our daily lives. Some are to be merged or consolidated; jugging by what happened with two local hospitals, this required more staff not less as numerous extra liaison posts were created. The Telegraph says some are to be merged and that a maximum of 129 bodies are to be reduced to a minimum of 57; I hope that they've got the words minimum and maximum accidentally interchanged, otherwise this is meaningless!
    And why not come to an arrangement with the National Trust to take over the responsibilities of English Heritage? Do we really need two organisations doing more or less the same work?
    And I note nothing has been said about all the pseudo-charities set up by Labour with government money, to press the government to take action on things that the public may not want, whilst trying to convince the public that they are totally independent and funded by like minded people.

    A start, but I'd hardly describe it as a flying start!

    • Robert Taggart
      Posted September 27, 2010 at 11:37 am | Permalink

      Not a flying start – just 'taxiing' one hopes !

  5. Alan Wheatley
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    One of the problems of delegating a government function (central or local) to an outside body, such as a Quango, is that it is necessary to retain within the responsible government body the expertise to assess that which the Quango is telling you. This is, in fact, a characteristic of all government procurement. Sadly, from what I have seen and what I suspect, this inside expertise is often lacking. The government body then resorts to procuring "management services" from a different bunch of experts to advise them on the merits of what the first bunch of experts (e.g. Quango) is telling them. For examples I suggest look to the MoD.

    As to the Labour claim that Quangos are needed, for being independent they can hold government to account. This claim fails because if the Quango's terms of reference are written by government, members are appointed by government, and funding comes from government they are NOT independent.

  6. Alan Jutson
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    John

    Your comments spot on.

    Quango's only usually set up when Ministers want to avoid making a decision, it leaves them free to blame someone else if it all goes wrong.

    We have too many expensive discussion forums and talking shops, when what we need is clear cut action by those in control.

    If those in control cannot hack making difficult decisions, then they should get out, and make way for those who can.

  7. Mike Stallard
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    I was wondering, actually, what the Civil Service was for? Isn't it meant to supervise stuff? Isn't it meant to find out and get to know what is going on?
    Silly me! The Civil Service is run by an elected minister who wants to keep her/his job! Much easier to blame the quangocrat.

  8. Antisthenes
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    The left of course will argue that if you cull quangos then not only will public sector workers lose their jobs but the the private sector will as well because services bought in by quangos will dry up apart from which they will say other dreadful things will happen to all and sundry. Now you and every rational person knows that is an oversimplification and and the truth is somewhat different. However the majority of the general public will believe the left and other vested interests when they spout these half truths and doomsday scenarios, hopefully the government spin is up to speed ready to counter this threat if not the government will not be able to carry the country with them and their plans will be thwarted.

  9. Rich
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    But we've heard all this before. Quangos will be abolished. Crackdowns on violent crime. And end to welfare payments for life. No more war on the motorist. More Police on the beat. Every so often these stories get trotted out. I've been hearing them for thirty years. It's amazing anybody still pays any attention at all!

  10. Toby 2
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    Quango's are mostly staffed by friends and relatives of somebody of a Leftoid persuasion.
    Scrap the lot of them say I and give the Civil Service their tasks.

  11. A.Sedgwick
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    … and the two biggest quangos are the EU and the BBC.

  12. THE ESSEX GIRLS
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for picking the Labour party winner for us John.

    We won a few bob so it's trebles all round in Birmingham!
    Hope to see you there.

  13. APL
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    Mr Redwood, if you are so enthusiastic about saving money, do you think paying Mandleson eight thousand pounds per month to, in the words of an unnamed spokesperson, " ease [his] return to the labour market, to maintain [his] independence after their time as commissioner".

    1. Is monthly discretionary stipend likely to maintain Mandleson's independence?
    2. Is Mandleson still working for the Commission?
    3. Are they still paying Kinnock 8K per month?
    4. Is Chris Pattern still taking his 8,000 pounds EU stipend per month?

    Given that Mandleson walked straight back to a job with Gordon Brown's administration, do you think, on the face of it there was any need to 'ease his return'?

    How many people working in the British Government are also in the pay of the European Union.

    Lastly but not least. Why haven't you asked similar questions in the House of Commons?

  14. Alan Johnson
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    I'm sorry John, while I agree with some of your points, as a libertarian defender are you going far enough? I believe all Quango's should be abolished. Why? Because they are not democratically elected or accountable.
    Depressing to see the coalition playing the game of "let's pretend we're doing something". Agree completely with Allan Robertson's comments. When the coalition abolish the Equality and Human Rights commission I'll start believing they mean what they say about Quangos.

    • Robert Taggart
      Posted September 27, 2010 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      Agreed… up to a point… most if not all these quangos could be taken under the wings of government ministries. A saving in administration and other peripheral costs, but, still a lot of paperwork to wade through ! Cut the paperwork… please !

  15. Robert George
    Posted September 26, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    I won't be impressed with anything the government does with regard to Quangos until they have the guts to deal with the BBC. Every single element of the BBC should be sold off except one, the BBC world service, which can continue as an effective propoganda office for UK.

    None of the rest is required at all as the private sector will expand to fill all the necessary gaps. The BBC would also be the ideal entity to force a strike upon because if they were kept out for 12 months we would soon learn how life goes on without them. And that would serve as a salutory example to any other recalcitrant unionists within the civil services.

    • rose
      Posted September 27, 2010 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

      When did you last listen to the world service? It no longer has the high standards it once did.

  16. sm1
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Why have we not insisted in major cuts +25% to the EU budget and our contributions.
    Or is it the last refuge ?

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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