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.