More change, more cost, less gain

On Monday we debated the “Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and learning Bill”. We were graced with a speech by the Secretary of State for Children himself, introducing this 225 page blockbuster.

It summed up all that is so wrong about the way our country is governed. The Minister inhabits a strange quango laden world. “Pupils, parents, schools, teachers” and “education” were words that rarely or never passed his lips. Instead we sat through a debate riddled with “Childrens trusts”, “Pupil Referral Units”, “The Office of Qualifications and Exams Regulation” ( a catchy one that, abbreviated to Ofqual which when spoken by some sounds like a branch of the KGB),”The Young People’s Learning Agency”, “The Chief Executive of Skills funding”, “The Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency”, “learning on a young apprenticeship”,”the School Support Staff Negotiating body”, “sampling cohorts” nine regional “Learning and Skills Councils”, “behavioural partnerships”, “the Childrens Plan”, “work based programme led apprenticeships”, with lashings of “piloting” and co-ordinating” to get these quangos and programmes to stick together.

No wonder nothing works very well. No wonder there is such a huge gap between the governing and the governed. No wonder the money does not go very far. Just look at the huge number of these bodies that all need highly paid so called Chief Executives, PR departments to wave their own flags, campaigners to demand more public money, logo designers and slogan makers, glossy brochure authors and media script writers, training and visit programmes, grand dinners, foreign travel to see how overseas quangos claim more money and even a few people to do what Parliament has charged these bodies with doing.

If a Conservative suggests this a tad overdone, that maybe we could provide more young people with a good education if we spent less on this quangocracy, the Minister replies with menaces about “Tory cuts”. If Mr Brown talks to Mr Salmond, he hears from Scotland that even the modest efficiency gains Mr Brown knows are there for the taking are a major assault on the perfections of the public sector. Listening to his School Secretary reminded me just what a rambling and incoherent mess so much of the public sector now is, with schools, Colleges and others suffering under a huge weight of regional and national quangos, regulators and monitors. So Mr Brown, now you accept there are efficiency gains and sensible cuts to be made, have a look at this bizarre world of acronyms, initialese and obfuscations.


  1. HJ
    February 25, 2009

    John – This is the only world that the likes of Ed Balls have ever inhabited. They simply haven’t the experience to comprehend what a huge waste of time, effort and potential the whole thing is. This is what happens when you get people in charge who have never had to persuade a customer to part with money voluntarily in return for what they provide. Reality never intrudes.

    Could you by any chance provide a link to Balls’s speech so that we can read it ourselves in all its inane glory?

    Reply: It will be available through Hansard on the Palriament website.

  2. Stuart Fairney
    February 25, 2009

    Yes, modern day job creation schemes which create the client state. Seriously, if you worked for the “Qualification cohort exam regulator agency partnership” or some such would you vote for the abolition of your own job (especially if you were one of the new brand of uber-civil servant chief executives? ~ political appointee jobs if ever there was one, the new commissars) You start to see why taxes are so high!

    JR How about sweeping away all of this nonsense with education vouchers, full parental choice and all schools to be independent that have to compete for pupils or go bust?

  3. alan jutson
    February 25, 2009

    Just about “sums up” what we now expect from this excuse of a Government.

    Good to hear a Politician thinks its all “too much”

    Big words, big ideas, big cost, big on waste, big mistake.

  4. Stewart Knight
    February 25, 2009

    The Government should say out of apprenticeships. Make it worthwhile for business to train apprentices in the skills they need and which the youngster will find useful. I would take on an apprentice, if it wasn’t for H&E making it non-viable, along with minimum wage etc. etc.

    I can give an apprentice what they need, the likes of Balls can’t, and they refuse to see that.

    1. alan jutson
      February 25, 2009

      Agreed when I did my Engineering indentured apprenticeship we did 5 years training combined with 7 years at college, both on day release and evening school.

      Not the 6 weeks Government training which suggest you are now skilled. Which is a joke as anyone will know who have seen these people attempt to do any work.
      Only Companies can properly train apprentices for the skills required, you cannot expect to increase apprentice places when the very industries which teaches them has been decimated over the past decades.

      Sad fact is with so many manufacturing and construction Companies falling over the years, fewer skilled people are left to pass on those skills.

      1. brian kelly
        February 26, 2009

        I agree with these comments. I grew up, as an engineer, when apprenticeships in engineering firms were the normality and very valuable they were. Their demise is complex but important factors are, of course, the very significant decline in British engineering capacity: another significant factor was the declining profitably of engineering companies starting in the 60’s and 70’s and the takeover of a predominant ‘accounting mentality’ at the top of the firms [‘profits this year mentality’]. I well remember an engineering colleague during the 90’s recession – a man who graduated from being a ‘one man band’ working in a farm hut to become the owner of a small engineering firm of about 50 or so employees [and whose firm suffered cruelly from the the treatment by his bank during that recession] – saying to me in terms ‘the problem is we [firms in general] are not owned and entirely run by us any more, we are owned by the banks.

  5. A man in the street
    February 25, 2009

    But why would Brown want to change direction, the Labour policy through and through, despite Blair’s window dressing, has been to create an ever larger public sector – the perfect client state in thrall to their political paymasters. The message that the Conservatives need to be getting across is that they are not against public services, but they are against the profligate use of taxpayers money to fund ever more non-jobs.

    What is needed is a complete review of all Government funded bodies, agencies to determine which are fit for purpose and are actually delivering beneficial results, the rest should be scapped forthwith – no ifs no buts. Furthermore for all organisations that are retained their structures should be examined and thise areas whic are not delivering front-line services should be dramatically reduced, thus allowing for the removal of deadwood and any navel-gazing internal jobs. This can be done, it won’t be popular with the public sector, but it will reduce our tax burden and allow for more effective and efficient use of taxpayers funds.

  6. Brian Tomkinson
    February 25, 2009

    I sent my earlier post before I heard of the very sad news of the death of David and Samantha Cameron’s son Ivan. Under the circumstances I should be grateful if you do not post it on the blog.

  7. Demetrius
    February 25, 2009

    Just short of thirty years ago I wrote something about the cull of Quango’s that took place at that time to the effect that it was rather like pruning roses or vines. If allowed to then in time there would be rampant new growth. Education is one of the sectors most vulnerable to this with its plethora of interest groups, extensive public sector activity, and complex and varied demands. Moreover for any administration with congenital initiativitis and looking for short term fixes for difficult problems within areas of function that they hope will simply go away or be buried in a bureaucracy the easy option is to create extra agencies, quango’s, and the rest. The situation is now so bad that it is difficult to know where to begin, it is best described in the opening scenes to “Paint Your Wagon”:

    Gotta dream boy
    Gotta song
    Paint your wagon
    And come along

    Where am I goin’?
    I don’t know
    Where am I headin’?
    I ain’t certain
    All I know
    Is I am on my way

    When will I be there?
    I don’t know
    When will I get there?
    I ain’t certain
    All that I know
    Is I am on my way

    February 25, 2009

    JR: “…the Minister replies with menaces about “Tory cuts”.

    Now that Labour – occasionally – appear to recognise the need for reductions in government expenditure, they are termed by them as ‘Efficiency Savings”.
    The Conservatives, of course, are only capable of “cuts in services”.

    Meanwhile Labour’s spending is refered by them as “Investment” while the wicked Conservatives indulge in “spending/wasting taxpayers’ money”.


    Mr Balls’, um balls…perfectly sums up what’s wrong.
    And may we simple taxpayers just ask what are the hidden costs of preparing 225 pages of unnecessary, unloved and unwanted gobbledegook?

  9. oldrightie
    February 25, 2009

    I do fear a new Government will do little to stop this gravy train of Quangos but I live in hope.

  10. Josh
    February 25, 2009

    I used to labour under the illusion that Ed Balls was an intelligent guy. He seemed to have solid economic credentials. But he just seems to be an unreconstructed Keynesian. I remember watching him squirm on the Daily Politics Show last year when Andrew Neil completely hammered him

  11. Robert
    February 25, 2009

    Unfortunately John, the unstated political reality is that the current Conservative leadership is scared to say that it would cut the size of government. A few years ago that would have caused a loss of votes but the public mood has changed. There are now a lot of people who will not vote at all unless the Tories start showing a bit of resolve on this issue, otherwise the Tories will either lose a lot of votes to UKIP or many of their normal voters will not vote at all.

    I live half the year in Australia and half in UK and the Labor government in Canberra is many times more cost conscious than their counterparts in London

  12. chris southern
    February 25, 2009

    All of this double speak has been heard before, when they say it they mearly refraise it and suddenly it’s allowed.
    when someone else mentions it, then it’s obviously wrong.

    The pigs need kicking out of the farm, and their “social engineering” programs removed. It would also be nice to see them in the dock for all of the crimes they have committed.(fraud, war crimes, theft, sedition, high treason)

  13. David Burch
    February 25, 2009

    Which means that it would be fairly easy for a Conservative government to promise to cut entral and local governement expenditure by 5% per year over the lifetime of th parliament. That means by the end these quangos would have gone and most likely the pension schemes would be annuity not final salary.

    My concern is the Conservatives appear not to be committed to this approach and whilst it might not be popular it is probably necessary. I do not want my children and any grandchildren to inherit massive debt which looks very likely at present when we are currently also in charge of the solution.

      February 25, 2009

      We often wonder what happened to, and what was so wrong with the James Report of 2004/05?

      It could well be that its time has come.

  14. James Strachan
    February 25, 2009


    Parliament votes about ÂŁ7,000 per child per year for education.

    Only about ÂŁ4,000 per child reaches the schools.

    And some of that is wasted answering damn silly questions.

    1. StevenL
      February 25, 2009

      That’s scandalous, so not only are the government getting the younglings into an unassailable mountain of debt, they are syphoning off nearly half the dosh supposedly allocated to their education!

  15. A. Sedgwick
    February 25, 2009

    As I have previously written, the blindingly obvious is to free schools from local government, finance each school directly from the Treasury and let the teachers, governors and parents run them. This is how private education operates, it works and has parents/grandparents paupering themselves to pay the fees. The process may take five or more years and need lots of guidance with buddy private schools. The brain of a socialist does not work like this and although there seems to be a similar half baked Conservative policy, if the party means business this is the answer – empower the schools individually and those involved.

  16. Matthew Reynolds
    February 25, 2009

    A simple solution to record spending not reaching the classroom is to give all parents an education voucher. LEA’s can be cut down to size with the QUANGO & Whitehall related waste removed so that bright children from poor backgrounds can have the kind of education that only people such as wealthy Guardian readers & MP’s can afford. The state sector will only get better if it fears losing the money that it gets every year as of right. As Ed Balls attack on academies proves the more a school is run by LEA’s the worse it is – so the solution promoted both by David Davis in his 2005 leadership bid & now by the Lib Dem Schools Spokesman David Laws is right. A school voucher scheme that favors the least well off is a socially progressive way to raise school standards for the many & not the few as education is liberty. Those New Labor sound-bites marry together nicely with what school vouchers achieve in all the countries that have introduced them. So Cameron could be the heir to Blair and be more radical on schools than Margaret Thatcher while winning Lib Dem votes by sticking to the schools policy originally invented by Swedish Socialists. In government he must back Michael Gove 100% on education – if only to dismantle the loony left mess left by Labor. If we want higher social mobility then the welfare reforms devised by Chris Grayling and the Michael Gove inspired schools revolution are a great way to go !

  17. mike stallard
    February 25, 2009

    Under Mr Major, the QCA worked. It was full of people who knew what they were about. The A level worked too. GCSE was then a valid qualification. Admittedly, the Techs had been made into Universities, but they were still free to the students.
    Compare that with the shambles today!
    Michael Gove is a good, imaginative man, and a good journalist too. However, I do not hear his voice. Perhaps it is because I do not read the right newspapers. Can you have a word, please?
    And it is so encouraging that our host can see what everyone else can see: the Emperor has no clothes.

  18. JC
    February 26, 2009

    John, I agree with this post entirely. There are far to many of these bodies taking and waisting huge chunks of the funding and delivering nothing worthwhile in return.

  19. Yarnesfromhorsham
    February 26, 2009

    John – this is on the Ball – but I just dont get the feel that the Tory party – well Tory MPs- have the guts to take on the job of slimming Government. Perhaps there should be a slimming wish list that highlights what the Tories would do when in power – whatever happened to that David James report – now there is a man that can cut costs.

  20. number 6
    February 26, 2009

    As the organic five a day fruit and vegetable intake coordinator for the East Sussex establishments of child centered learning (previously known as schools) I resent the implication that my work and indeed that of my colleauges in the street grafitti art self esteem enhancement group are in any way a waste of tax payers money.

  21. How to Get Six Pack Fast
    April 15, 2009

    This topic is quite hot in the net right now. What do you pay attention to while choosing what to write about?

    Reply: My own judgement based on what the government is doing and saying, what is going on in Parliament, what I observe when out and about, what people writing to the site are interested in and what I hear on the radio.

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