Ministers and quangos

If quangos are not really independent and do have in the end to accept some accountability to people and Parliament, how should the relationship between Ministers and quangos be conducted?

When I was a  Minister with quangos reporting to me I defined my roles as:

1. Establishing aims and requirements for the Agency in accordance with their Statute

2.  Settling budgets with the Agency

3. Reviewing and influencing their policies to achieve their aims

4. Monitoring and reviewing their performance

5. Acting as the customer and taxpayer voice as they were usually monopolies

To do this I established a pattern of review meetings with Chairmen and Chief Executives. The minimum annual requirement was a budget meeting to discuss the following year’s total spending and sources of income, and a Corporate Plan Review meeting to discuss aims, achievements  and performance.

I would conduct my own review of their requests of increases in fees and charges, as often a quango that thought the grant settlement was too mean would simply carry on spending and aim to send the bill to the captive customers. I was there to represent them to the Treasury if there was a good case for them to receive more grant in aid. I usually found that they had generous budgets and what was needed was better financial management to achieve higher value for money.

I found that where I had some professional expertise based on past employment and training I was more likely to be more involved in the detail of  the quango in our private exchanges. I was responsible  for a period for the financial regulators of all the non banks, where it was possible as Minister to have productive discussions about what we were trying to do and how you could best achieve it. Where a quango dealt with something like food science where I have no qualifications I had to take the professional judgements on trust, though could and did still ask questions to expose any inconsisencies, poor performance or areas where professional judgements were divided.

The truth is quangos spend a lot of public money. They have a surrogate tax power in the case of the monopoly regulators. Their independence is subject to Parliament and Ministers telling them their aims and deciding how much they can spend. Ministers therefore need to review them closely, demand improvements, and change managements if they start to fail.

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62 Comments

  1. Arschloch
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 6:06 am | Permalink

    The problem arises because these days there appears to be few diligent MPs such a yourself. Apart from the general problem of most MPs having no real world experience i.e. actually having had a proper job before they entered parliament and thus having the nous so as not to be given the run around by a QUANGO. There are just to many MPs who are not fit for purpose. At the extreme end you have the absurdity of Eric Joyce remaining an MP until 2015. While just too many who want to become reality TV show contestants or having glamour photoshots of themselves taken rather than carrying out their sole role of being a servant of the people.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted February 12, 2014 at 10:47 am | Permalink

      Or taking on endless “consultancies” as euphemistically call them.

      Not many would have the consultancies were they not MPs, the companies tend to be interested in contacts, inside information and influence not expertise I suspect.

      Reply It is rightly against the rules to use Parliament to further a business interest.

      • Lifelogic
        Posted February 12, 2014 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

        Indeed it is rightly against they rules but the nature of the consultancies and numbers of them are hardly likely to be just an unbelievable coincidence. Anymore than the appointments to the house of Lords, quangos, family connections and political donations are likely to be by random coincidence.

        The odds against it being coincidental must be about the same as a 10 monkeys typing the first three poems of “A Shropshire Lad” by chance after a month of random typing.

  2. Arschloch
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    Actually when you consider Ernie Bevin’s saying about effective ministers being those who have the ability “to bang heads together” the MP mentioned above should be put in charge of the oversight of the Environment Agency asap

  3. Mike Stallard
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    OK so I am a democrat. I believe in regularly electing our public officials and in holding them accountable.
    Which means, of course, that I do not like the EU which is neither electable nor accountable because it is run by the Commission which is chosen and which is above criticism because it works in secret.
    Which means that I want an obedient, slimline and professional Civil Service to run the country, chosen by examination and merit, not because it happens to be made up of Mr Blair’s babes or tennis partners.
    Which is why I suspect all quangos who have somehow crept into our politics. In no way are they either elected, professional or accountable.
    The atrocious arrogance of the Environment Agency which has, believe it or not, decided to allow water back into the Fens where I live and which I hold responsible for a lot of the current flooding, illustrates perfectly why democracy is a must.

  4. alan jutson
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    Thank you for your outline, which seems at first glance reasonable.

    Can I ask why such Quango’s are neccesary in the first place, do not the huge numbers in the Civil service, employ and offer much of the so called expertise you outline, are we not doubling up on tasks.
    We never used to have all of these Quango organisations with vast budgets, decades ago, and we seemed to manage ok, why do we have to have them now ?

    You outline the way you worked/managed these organisations, using your commercial skills which were honed in the private sector, but your explanation also surely outlines many of the current problems.
    We now have some Ministers with absolutely no management/business/commercial/financial, or indeed subject experience, being placed in such positions, in so called control of thousands of people, which spend Billions of pounds of taxpayer money
    With a seemingly ever increasing number of politicians having absolutely Zero private sector experience, is it any wonder we get the lunatics running the asylum.

    Not just talking about the present Government here, but past and future as well.

    • Hope
      Posted February 12, 2014 at 9:14 am | Permalink

      We also have the EU experts where they are in charge of the competence, so there are three layers before the local council!

      • Lifelogic
        Posted February 12, 2014 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

        Yet all the government experts so often seem to all agree on totally the wrong cause of group think action. A bit like the ERM and the EURO.

  5. Lifelogic
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    This relies on a good minister with skills in the area, honesty, determination, bravery, one who cares about the level of government spending and waste and one who stays in position for a decent length of time. Rather a rare combination.

    The minister also needs honest, impartial experts to advise him or her on specialist areas and spies and auditors who can check on what the organisation is actually doing on the ground. Above all the staff know that they, in the main, cannot be fired and even if they they are they will get a huge pension and a large pay off and perhaps a new job. The staff often have a positive incentive not to perform. It they performed well, did the work and halved the budget they would usually not be rewarded – more likely they would just just the budget.

    In areas like flood management, it is quite likely that they may not get a huge problem in the say 10-15 years they might have left at the quango anyway. They can also retaliate against the minister politically by embarrassing him politically.

    In general they can run rings round the ministers and usually do. The interests of the public usually have little influence the interest of the staff, their cars and head office position, harassing the public and fee & phone income are usually their main priorities.

    Not helped by the fact the ministers almost always have few skills in science, engineering, maths, risk management or running organisations. They thus then to take the easy option of I took “expert” advice from the quango (who am I as a PPE/ law graduate to know any better) so I just went along with it to cover my backside.

    I see Lord Smith has said something sensible – people who bought homes in flood plains need to think about the “risk that that property faces”. Perhaps not the best time politically to say it though. Why then is the coalition distorting the insurance market to make other pay for their insurance. Just as bonkers as Cameron’s gender neutral insurance drivel.

    Cameron would not say yesterday his position on the AGW exaggeration religion and whether it was to blame, but with Cameron I judge him by his actions. He is still pissing billions of money away on land and offshore wind and PV subsidies so I assume he is still infected by the daft religion.

    • lifelogic
      Posted February 12, 2014 at 8:32 am | Permalink

      sorry “more likely they would just halve the budget”

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted February 12, 2014 at 8:59 am | Permalink

      Well, when we were first looking for a house in Maidenhead we quickly decided against one where the vendor assured us that the last time the river flooded the water didn’t get up that far, it only reached up to about a hundred yards further down the road. I think that was a wise decision at the time, but since then the Jubilee River has been built and the flood risk for that part of Maidenhead has been very greatly reduced, no doubt adding something to the market value of that property and maybe cutting something off the cost of insurance. On the other hand it seems that the Jubilee River has had the opposite effect for properties further downstream, and one cannot really blame someone for buying a house which had a low flood risk until the Jubilee River was built but now has a much higher flood risk thanks to that government action. I think that’s a bit different from somebody buying a house on a cliff which everyone knows has been eroding away for centuries, when it would be possible to anticipate that it would fall into the sea within some decades, even if the precise date could not be predicted.

      • Edward2
        Posted February 12, 2014 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

        There have been stories of people who bought on or near cliffs many decades ago who have more recently been told that there will not be any attempts to mitigate coastal erosion nor any money spent to put in place sea defences, as the environmentally friendly policy is to let nature take its course.
        So it seems we have a national policy of abandoning our precious land and valuable coastal properties to the sea. Something that our ancestors waged a war to stop and in many cases won that battle.

        • Denis Cooper
          Posted February 13, 2014 at 11:00 am | Permalink

          Yes, but if they’d paid attention to their physical geography lessons at school they would have known that for centuries the coast has been retreating in some places and advancing in others, and it has never been the rule that the government must always act to slow or stop those natural processes and attempt to preserve the existing coastline exactly as it is.

          If that had been the rule, all of the Cinque Ports would still be on the sea and none would be some way inland as they are.

          It has always been and must be on a case by case basis: will it be possible to stop nature taking its course, and if so how much will that cost, and what will be the value of the benefits?

          But it is wrong that the cost-benefit analyses should be distorted by laws and policies made outside the country, and our ancestors did fight wars to stop that happening.

          • Edward2
            Posted February 13, 2014 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

            I don’t expect a constant and complete attack on every physical geographic change like coastal erosion, but we have recently developed a policy of non intervention, which is a reverse of our policy held for centuries before.

    • Alan Wheatley
      Posted February 12, 2014 at 9:28 am | Permalink

      RE: I see Lord Smith has said something sensible – people who bought homes in flood plains need to think about the “risk that that property faces”.

      I do not think he is speaking sense. Seems to me he is trying to blame others for his failings.

      There is a general caution to every purchase – buyer beware. But with something as complex as house purchase buyers can not be expected to know all the issues of their own knowledge, and so will depend on advice. I expect that with something as complicated as flooding good advice is intangible.

      Assuming that when the building on the flood plain was authorised a convincing case was made that measures had been taken to ensure the properties would not flood. But that judgement would not have been made with knowledge of what would be done later elsewhere. So measures to ensure a subsequent development on another flood plain may well have undermined the earlier development. One persons flood defence can be another persons flood.

      This is most likely to happen where the river runs through several different planning authority areas. So it seems to me that any planning decision relating to flood plains must be made looking at the river(s) as a whole.

      Only government can take the all-encompassing view. But there is no sign of that happening.

      The sensible thing would be to ban ALL building on flood plains. The previous government had a policy of allowing building on flood plains, and listening to a current government spokesperson that is still the policy.

      If it is government policy that it is OK to build on flood plains then you can hardly blame the house buyer for following policy.

      • Arschloch
        Posted February 12, 2014 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

        Obviously you have not bought a house recently. The risk of flooding is covered by an Envirosearch which the solicitor will do for you as part of his searches.It will show up if it is built on contaminated land etc. If you have not got one you should be looking around for a more competent lawyer. Also are you not twigging that the house is probably “affordable” because the developer got the land cheap because it is on a flood plain? Finally I have no sympathy either for anybody who did not get their property insured.

        • Lifelogic
          Posted February 13, 2014 at 11:57 am | Permalink

          Well insuraning is a bit of a mugs game usually. Cheaper nearly always on balance to self insure as then you do not have all the overheads, profits and insurance premium tax to pay. I tend to take the risk myself and I am very well ahead on it so far. Unless of course you are forced by law to take insurance or if you think your risk is high relative to the premium.

          Also it is always time consuming and a pain making claims against often dodgy insurance companies, usually trying to evade the claim with dubious small print.

      • Max Dunbar
        Posted February 13, 2014 at 12:58 am | Permalink

        I noticed that a neighbour of one of my relatives in France had their house atop a strange artificial motte-like hump. The garage was within the earthen motte with the living area above. It’s a flood plain as it turns out, which is obvious when you look around.

  6. Denis Cooper
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    JR, to highlight a comment I made on the previous thread:

    I see an entry yesterday on somebody’s blog, specifically:
    (making allegations about conduct of the Environment Agency from unamed whistleblower ed)

    It’s noticeable how the Labour party and its supporters have been straight in with their accusations that the problems are mainly down to government cuts in the funding of the Environment Agency, and weaving that into their ongoing narrative about unnecessary “spending cuts”, “cutting too far too fast”, etc, etc.

    And of course without bothering to mention that when their party was in power they ended up having to borrow a quarter of all the money they were spending, and had to resort to the cunning ploy of getting the Bank of England to print £200 billion of new money to indirectly fund the government’s budget deficit, and that could not carry on indefinitely despite the claims of some theorists that it could.

    Reply I have read the piece which does not offer any evidence to support the allegation and has removed the names for legal reasons, so I am reluctant to reproduce it here.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted February 12, 2014 at 9:00 am | Permalink

      Thanks.

  7. Alan Wheatley
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    It is an interesting managerial challenge to have responsibility in an area where where one’s knowledge is limited. Appointing people to manage something because of their technical knowledge, such as a Consultant running a hospital, does not necessarily work because the management task is far broader than the technology.

    I would think Churchill, during the war years, would be a prime example of how to run a very large and complex organisation in rapidly changing circumstances. Seems to me that if ever there was a man for the moment, then he is the prime example.

    I think were are approaching another “moment”.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted February 12, 2014 at 10:55 am | Permalink

      I cannot imagine Churchill plastering England’s green and pleasant land with pointless expensive wind turbines, lagoons and roof PVs. We certainly would have lost the war with that approach. Now we just prevent OAPs keeping warm (and alive), losing jobs, whole industries, money and growth.

      • alan jutson
        Posted February 12, 2014 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

        Lifelogic

        “I cannot imagine…….”

        Indeed, it is rather amazing that in times of real trouble, we can simply cast aside all of this very expensive and time consuming PC nonesense, and find a shortcut, with a can do attitude, to complete almost any task in hours and days, rather than weeks, months, and years as we seem to at present.

        We built temporary harbours, spanned rivers, built railway tracks and roads, all because it was neccessary at the time.

        Why not now ?

      • Arschloch
        Posted February 12, 2014 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

        You need to get yourself a decent Churchill biography. LL you are forever on about the “ridiculous” employment laws in the UK. But do have a guess who introduced those “anti competitive” wages councils.

    • Max Dunbar
      Posted February 13, 2014 at 1:17 am | Permalink

      Remember what happened when the Sorcerer left Mickey Mouse in charge?

  8. JoolsB
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Apparently the numbers are going up, not down, the Environment Agency alone has taken on an extra 900 staff at a cost of many millions, if not billions if you take their gold plated pensions into account. Many, if not most, are still headed by Labour figures who are bound to have a different agenda to the Conservative way of doing things. Yes, they are supposed to be impartial but we all know that’s not possible especially with Labour. One only has to look at Sally Morgan and how she tried to make it political when she wasn’t automatically re-instated.

    Cameron promised us a ‘bonfire of quangos’ When is the ‘Heir to Blair’ going to keep his promise on anything?

    • Lifelogic
      Posted February 12, 2014 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

      When is the ‘Heir to Blair’ going to keep his promise on anything?

      Well the M4 bus lane went and he almost got rid of hip packs, I think that is all he almost kept to so far.

      We await the EU promised referendum, £1M IHT thresholds, the deficit eliminated and does he not claim to be a low tax small government conservative and a man who keeps his word?

  9. Peter Davies
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    As its been alluded to already – we seem to be too focused on electing people as MPs who know the political system and are perhaps good in front of the camera but have little of the real world relevant experience needed to manage Quangos in the manner you describe.

    I recorded Sky News yesterday morning and watched the clip you were on explaining in a quite reasonable manner that there is only so much a small country like the UK can control to which the other “scientist” was all over the place.

    The bit that gets me seems to be that Quangos and Politics seems to attract these odd sorts of people like flies – little wonder we see such a mess in so many areas.

    I am almost inclined to view that perhaps its time to look at abolishing Quangos as they are and employ slimmed down management teams with the appropriate skills who set the tasks and targets in the way you describe, then put contracts out to tender for the task of the day, thus getting rid of huge swathes of management structures that in the

  10. Bert Young
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    You have highlighted the difference between ” strategic ” and ” operational ” roles and also referred to the extra value a skilled and experienced individual can bring to his overseeing role . When a balance of this sort exists the subsequent outcome is far more likely to achieve its aims than not . Individuals who are appointed to oversee who do not have a credible background are more prone to having the wool pulled over their eyes . In day to day operations there are bound to be “marginal” challenges where guidance and immediate decision is required ; it is in such a situation when the right combination of supervisory and operational management proves its worth . The Enviroment Agency today is a typical case of imbalance .

  11. Chris
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    Quangos seem to be an integral feature of the EU as well, and the Open Europe paper (2012) on “The rise of the EU quangos” is, I believe, relevant to this debate. http://www.openeurope.org.uk/Content/Documents/Pdfs/RiseoftheEUquangos2012.pdf

    The cost to European taxpayers for these 52 quangos was apparently £2.17 billion in 2012, with the UK contributing £298 million to the funding of them. Their growth has been rapid, from only 3 in 1990. An evaluation of quangos carried out by Ramboll et al for the E Commission noted that the system of EU agencies “creates an indirect but powerful incentive for spending” taxpayers’ cash.” OE suggest that 10 quangos served no useful purpose at all and should be abolished, and the rest should be cut by 30%. The Ramboll evaluation identified 5 key problem areas: lack of relevance leading to mission creep, inefficiency and duplication, difficult to abolish once established, perverse incentives to spend money, lack of accountability to EU citizens.

    Interestingly two of the three 3 examplesgiven of wasting money are from the European Environment Agency. Excerpt from Open Europe and Ramboll evaluation:
    “The European Environment Agency (EEA) has set a financial ceiling of €250,000 over a four year contract in order to “assess the EEA’s media coverage and the effectiveness of its media related-work in particular”15.
    “The EEA also spent €300,000 on a public outreach programme consisting of a ‘green facade’ or ‘living map’ of biodiversity in Europe, created from 5,000 plants affixed to the outside of its headquarters in Copenhagen. Designed to mark the UN’s International Year of Biodiversity, the facade stayed up for around 5 months in 2010. On its website, the EEA said it wanted to “illustrate the significance of vertical gardens as urban green areas [which] represent a backbone for human health, biodiversity and ecosystem services in cities”.16 “

  12. Bob
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    According to news report on LBC just now, householders in the Somerset Levels are being issued with four sandbags each.

    Meantime we issue £12 billion per year in foreign aid.

    Shouldn’t we have a little more domestic aid?

    • Lifelogic
      Posted February 12, 2014 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      I am sure they are grateful having paid perhaps 50% of their earning in taxes to get these four bags of sand in return. I assume they can then block of the one door and watch the water come in the other!

      • Max Dunbar
        Posted February 13, 2014 at 1:23 am | Permalink

        Well they will be even more annoyed when they discover that the bags are bio-degradable and when the next flood comes they will just have a pile of filthy old sand!

    • Mark B
      Posted February 12, 2014 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

      Yes, Bob. But how do we go about this, when all the political parties are very much the same and, so not give a fig as to what you or I think or want.

      Once elected, they seem to forget those that put them there shortly after and act in a manner that shows contempt for those whose monies they tax and spend.

      Its about solutions, not problems.

      • Bob
        Posted February 12, 2014 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

        @Mark B

        how do we go about this, when all the political parties are very much the same

        Correct, the “establishment” parties all the same and are ignoring the voters (apart from a bit of posturing prior to elections).

        That’s why I support the anti-establishment party. They have already made it clear that foreign aid should be curtailed until we can get our own house in order.

        Farmers on the Levels are currently relying on charity to feed their livestock.

        • APL
          Posted February 13, 2014 at 10:50 am | Permalink

          Bob: “(apart from a bit of posturing prior to elections).”

          Yea, like ‘Whoooho! We’re gonna get 3% growth in the next year!’

          Just in time for the election. What a coincidence.

  13. Martin Ryder
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    I have no problem with QUANGOs providing that:

    (a) the president and CEO of the organisation are required by law to report to a named supervisory minister (either SofS or MofS level, who will carry the political can for the failings of the QUANGO) on budgetary and policy issues every 6 months – the minister should have the power to sack the president and/or CEO if necessary;

    (b) the president is selected in a public meeting every four years by a Commons committee from a published short list of 6 names;

    (c) the CEO is appointed by the supervising president and board from a published short list, which has been approved by the supervising minister;

    (d) detailed, up to date policies, targets and budgets, showing spending and commitments to date, are permanently on display on the QUANGO’s web-site.

    I consider that the main problem with QUANGOs is the lack of properly qualified supervision at ministerial level. Each minister should have a small staff of professionals, chosen by the minister, to oversee the QUANGOs in the minister’s domain. His senior civil servants are likely to side with the QUANGOs, as most probably come from the same background as the quangocrats.

    The minister will also have to have the courage, ability and will to grab the quangocrats by the throat and hold them to the fire. So we have little hope.

    • forthurst
      Posted February 12, 2014 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

      “I have no problem with QUANGOs…”

      Is it not necessary, firstly, to establish the need for its functions to be performed at a national level, and secondly, to produce convincing arguments as to why it would function better, both in terms of cost and performance, if separated from the relevant government department?

      In the bad old days, the Somerset Levels were under local stewardship; in what way was that inferior to a situation whereby a Labour clowness can decide that it should become a Conservative nature reserve without so much as a by-your-leave? I recall the non-tidal Thames being run by the Thames Conservancy whose sole function to adminster that waterway. Where is the benefit in creating an ovearching bureaucracy, swallowing up fully focused local operations, semi-detached from the ministry, to adminster both? Did we need Cobra meetings and some blithering idiot making the rounds of TV studios blaming the people whose homes had been flooded for the devastation that they had suffered?

    • Mark
      Posted February 12, 2014 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

      I think that each quango should be allotted to two or more MPs for oversight – at least one from government and one from opposition. That would give MPs training even while backbenchers in the art of quango (and hence too Civil Service) management.

      MPs could apply to supervise particular quangos, but where there are too many applicants, then only the best qualified would be appointed. Quangos unpopular with MPs might find themselves under scrutiny for winding up. A typical backbencher might end up with 4-5 quangos to help look after. It would provide some indication of aptitude for ministerial office.

    • Max Dunbar
      Posted February 13, 2014 at 1:27 am | Permalink

      I like the sound of the last bit….the bottom line. It makes a change from axing.

  14. oldtimer
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    I have two observations on your approach.

    First it assumes that you, as Minister, are fully in accord with the statutory responsibilities laid on the quango in question. In the current case of the EA they, no doubt, claim that they do act in that way. Thus, they claim, their plan for the Somerset Levels was fully in accord with their statutory duties. It seems that even if you did disagree with their decision to declare option 6 in their plan for the Levels, there is not much that you, as Minister, could do about it. Is this a correct interpretation of the situation?

    It is clear that determined single issue pressure groups have been singularly successful, and even funded by the EU and/or the government, in getting new laws passed and quangos established by those very same Acts, to pursue their respective agendas. How would you tackle this issue if you did not agree with their aims as established by statute?

    My second observation concerns expert advice. Some experts, I am thinking of the current President of the Royal Society, say they believe in “policy driven science”. That raises the question of what and whose policy he is referring to and the nature of the science that is presented to Ministers. Is it policy driven by a democratically accountable government? Or is it policy driven by the scientists/experts themselves?

    The CAGW hypothesis is the prime, contemporary example of science driving policy in the western world. It has attracted £billions of research funding and has succeeded in persuading politicians to impose even more £billions of taxes and other costs on people in the western world. Yet it remains an hypothesis, not a law of science. It signally fails the Feynmann test of exposure to real world experience. Indeed as long ago as 2002, the science chapters of the IPCC reports identified the impossibility of prediction in a chaotic system such as the earh`s climate. Yet the CAGW hypothesis has been relentlessly pushed by some scientists, but only by invoking and relying on the precautionary principle against events they say may occur in 50 to 100 years time. It is time that Ministers took a long, hard look at this advice and started to exercise their own judgment in this matter. It is time they took a long, hard look at the real current costs and the uncertain, future benefits.

    Even to raise such questions is to be labelled a “flat earther” (by G Brown), a “denier” (by all believers in the CAGW hypothesis) and a “headless chicken” (by Prince Charles). Such ad hominem attacks betray the weakness of the CAGW hypothesis – as does its constant relabelling as “global warming”, “climate change” or “extreme weather” to name but three alternatives. The motto of the Royal Society freely translates as “take no ones word for it”. Ministers could usefully follow it themselves.

    Reply The Statutory remit is usually at a high level of generality, leaving plenty of flexibility. If there is a problem with the Statute from the Minister’s point of view then he can change it through parliament.
    The decision of which category to place a given area in lies within the discretion of the Agency. With a big decison like the Somerset levels the Minister would have been entitled to query it, and if not satisfied to issue a public instruction or to change the management.

    • oldtimer
      Posted February 12, 2014 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for the reply and clarification.

    • ian wragg
      Posted February 12, 2014 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

      What areas of flexibility are there when it is a Brussels directive. You write as if ministers are in charge of our destiny when EU law supersedes domestic law.
      We all know that the LibLabCON defer to all things EU.

    • forthurst
      Posted February 12, 2014 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

      The journal of the Royal Society carried an edvertisement for two centuries until the sixties, “… it is an established rule of the Society, to which they will always adhere, never to give their opinion, as a Body, upon any subject, either of Nature or Art, that comes before them.”
      The RS has now degenerated into a political pressure group.

      The motto of the Royal Society is “Nullius in verba” which roughly translated means, “a Fellow of the Royal Society who is a numerate scientist should only hold an opinion on AGW if he has studied all the relevant literature and considered it, of itself, wholly convincing and requiring no further validation through either experiment or observation, whereas a Fellow of the Royal Society who was not a numerate scientist should keep his trap shut, whatever his position in the RS hierarchy”.

      • Max Dunbar
        Posted February 13, 2014 at 11:43 am | Permalink

        I used to read the journals of The Royal Society of Arts. When Matthew Taylor took over as chief executive in 2006 it changed and became aggressively politicised. I stopped reading it.

  15. Mockbeggar
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    There is a tendency in all organisations, large or medium sized, commercial or publicly funded to increase staff numbers. In the 60’s and 70’s we called it empire building. Similarly, budgets were calculated on the basis of what was spent last year plus something for inflation and whatever the empire-building boss thought he (usually he) could cook up for some ‘project’ or other.

    When the first oil crisis hit and life became tougher, businesses suddenly found that they couldn’t carry on like this and ‘axe men’ were brought in to reduce staff numbers dramatically and to slash budgets and introduce annual ‘zero budgetting’. The axes were wielded pretty brutally at first; nowadays bosses are alert to the dangers of empire building and budget creep, so their weapons are more like scalpels than axes. However the lesson of attending to ‘the bottom line’ rather than the size of the organisation in terms of manpower has been well learnt.

    It seems to me that public bodies are only just beginning to realise (thanks to the so-called budget ‘cuts’) that they can actually carry out their duties just as effectively (often more) with much smaller budgets and fewer people (especially middle managers). They are, understandably, resisting hard and hiding their failures behind the ‘cuts’.

  16. John E
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    Am I alone in finding it depressing that in the middle of a serious prolonged crisis the politicians are all busy allocating blame as opposed to showing some leadership?
    We need something along the lines of the US Army Corps of Engineers and we have a bunch of bird watchers, swan-uppers, and professional scapegoat hunters.

    • Bill
      Posted February 12, 2014 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

      No, you are not alone.

      But of course a General Election is not far away. If Cameron comes out of the flood well and pins it on Labour, then he will garner important votes.

    • Mark B
      Posted February 12, 2014 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

      It all reminds me of headless chickens. They do not have the foggiest what to do so, they do what they know best – blame someone else for it !

      And in all this confusion and noise, the real villain of the piece is making their get-away. Namely the EU.

      Like some above, I do not see the need for yet another tier of Government. English Nationalists like myself, are constantly told that England does not need a Parliament and another layer of bureaucracy yet, they can find both time and quite large sums of monies creating and supporting a Quango such as the EA. Amazing !

  17. BobE
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    No public servant in any capacity should earn more that £150K
    All Public pensions should be capped at 50K per annum.
    Think of the savings!!

  18. acorn
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    The more legislation Westminster produces, the more Quangos you get. There are always sections of Acts, that sounded like a little job to do, that finish up with bloody great quangos, to do what turned out to be a bloody great big job. Eventually, you end up with Ministerial Departments like BIS with 49 agencies and public bodies.
    https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations .

    Mind you there is a cull going on. Have a look at the Public Bodies (document) Collection on GOV.UK . https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/274830/PB13_21-jan-14.xls . Its a big .xls file. You will see that government funding of that lot comes to £88.3 billion. Some have higher gross spends due to additional fees and charges, like the big lottery fund and similar.

  19. Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    What I find of concern is that all the heads of the various Quangos and Agencies are political appointees, not experts with a specialist knowledge of the areas involved. Lord Smith apparently has qualifications in poetry and amongst the top officials in the EA, only one has what might be a vaguely relevant qualification, a degree in chemistry.
    No private company would have a board or top executives without appropriate qualifications and experience. Would a company like Tesco appoint a poet without any business experience as chief executive? Would a major construction company have a board without an experienced civil engineer? How many major companies employ the huge number of outside consultants favoured by our quangos because they have no in-house knowledge of what they are doing?
    Quangos and Agencies should be made to conform with company law, publishing an annual report detailing all that information that public companies are obliged to supply, which includes board salaries and other interests.

  20. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    What about Ministers and the EU? In today’s Telegraph:
    ” Over £320 million has been spent on developing European Union surveillance drones without proper democratic oversight and amid concerns over close links between industry and officials, a report from a civil liberties watchdog has found.

    Neither the House of Commons nor the European Parliament has been consulted over the development of EU unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) which are being designed to police Europe’s skies on law enforcement missions.

    The contribution from British taxpayers to the projects is estimated to be more than £46 million despite publicly declared opposition from David Cameron, the Prime Minister, to EU drones surveillance or air force owned or operated at the European level.”
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/eu/10632262/EU-spent-320-million-on-surveillance-drone-development.html

    Are you all just going to sit back and let Brussels do this?

    Reply Could our MEPs sort this one out?

    • Chris
      Posted February 13, 2014 at 11:43 am | Permalink

      Reply to reply: No, the MEPS are simply outvoted. I believe it is the duty of our own MPs to let us know what legislation they are signing off on our behalf, and give us exact details of how it will impact on our daily lives. It seems it is all quietly passed through Parliament, effectively just rubber stamped often without a debate, and we, the electorate only find out through newspapers and the internet. Not good enough.

  21. margaret brandreth-j
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    John , this is how all professionals work . We work ethically, within the scope of our own practice , yet rely on others who we consult to give us advice . We do not check the advice again and again as there has to be a certain amount of trust.There is one problem with this approach. If one for example is bent on improvement, honesty and getting the job done and another is bent on competing for a better position , more money or to simply prove that when they are wrong they are right , then these set of ethical values will be overturned by the liars of this world.
    It has always upset me when bare faced liars accuse others of misdeeds when it is they themselves. I can forgive mistakes by any organisation , but not deliberate lies and manipulation.

  22. behindthefrogs
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    My experience of working for quangos is that they have a common problem.

    They have departments that are often completely redundant. Sometimes with regard to their defined functions but more often as resting place for people whose previous function no longer exists. When staff numbers are cut, these departments seem to be ring fenced while staff is pruned from operational units. After a short term these operational staff are replaced by consultants at threee times the cost.

    When I retired, due to staff number pressures my job was replaced by a full time consultant. Not only that I was offered a part time job helping that consultant. Incidently I would quite happily have carried on for a few years after my 65th birthday in the full time job.

  23. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    In the situation where you yourself are short of the relevant technical expertise, there is a lot to be said for appointing to the board of the quango someone who does have expertise and is sympathetic to the Conservative Party. This is a bit like American practice.

  24. Mike Wilson
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    I may not agree with some of your views, Mr. Redwood, but I am happy to accept that you are a rare politician. Honest and competent. Shame the people in charge of your party don’t give you a role where you could actually be put to use. You understand government, business, accounting, budgets etc. and have the experience. But, instead, you languish on the back benches. It’s not as though your party has an embarrassment of riches in the competence department.

    • Bob
      Posted February 12, 2014 at 7:47 pm | Permalink


      you are a rare politician. Honest and competent. Shame the people in charge of your party don’t give you a role where you could actually be put to use. You understand government, business, accounting, budgets etc. and have the experience. But, instead, you languish on the back benches. It’s not as though your party has an embarrassment of riches in the competence department.

      hear hear!

  25. aunty estab
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    Just the job for JR overseeing the spending of these wasteful Quangos,bet he would give them a good shaking up and save tax payers millions.

  26. Terry
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    Why do we need Quangos? I thought the Civil Service knew everything. And why are they invariably staffed with political has-beens always looking out for a well paid, free ride at tax payers expense.
    And why doesn’t any Government call in professionals as advisers each time they are required, instead of creating a whole Public Sector department of them? The Private Sector does not have Quangos so why does Government insist on them? How much of their budgets are spent on Salaries, expenses and Pensions? Where is the cull that is always promised by a leader before the the election? Why is there no accountability for their mistakes and lack of expertise and why do none of them take any responsibility for their incompetence? This jobs-for-the-boys policy MUST stop.
    I have had enough and I believe I am not alone feeling angry with this blatant rip-off of tax payers cash. Too many MP’s, too many civil servants with high salaries for doing less work work. Is there no end to these grotesque inefficiencies this side of a bankrupted United Kingdom?

  27. Max Dunbar
    Posted February 13, 2014 at 1:39 am | Permalink

    Looking at some of the photographs of our illustrious leaders in action, I noticed that Cameron was sloshing about in a pair of new-looking green wellies, Farage was kitted out for with chest-high waders and seemed to be expecting a gillie to tell him where the best lies (geddit?) were to be found and Miliband’s wellie-boots (?) were under water as he appeared to be out of his depth.

  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood has been the Member of Parliament for Wokingham since 1987. First attending Kent College, Canterbury, he graduated from Magdalen College, and has a DPhil from All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.
    Published and promoted by Thomas Puddy for John Redwood, both of 30 Rose Street Wokingham RG40 1XU
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