Quangos and independent government bodies

 

There is  no such thing as truly independent government body. In a democracy Parliament and Ministers  can always change the guidance, funding or law applying to any independent body. Governments are held to blame by Oppositions and the public when an independent body makes a big error. In a tyranny or single party state then of course all bodies are  under the control of the tyrant.

In the last three decades in the UK there has been a fashion to pretend bodies can be truly independent, and a wish to transfer more and more decisions and budgets to independent bodies. I accept the case for independence when we are talking about quasi judicial roles or the technical implementation of complex matters under an approved guiding aim or policy that Parliament and people want. The UK system is good at stressing the limit of elected power when it comes to investigating, prosecuting and punishing people for breaking the law. There is a need for politicians to stay out of criminal law enforcement and out of individual cases where businesses or people have violated regulations set  by Parliament and quangos.

The Post Office scandal shows the limits of belief in independence. The Post Office is 100% taxpayer or state owned. It is an independent body with its own Board, Chief Executive, Statutory duties and aims. The idea is to have experts running the service, with Parliament and Ministers largely confined to deciding any financial matters as shareholder owner and setting overall objectives or standards. Ministers however still have to report the results of the Post Office to Parliament, and be willing to answer when the independent Board and management of the Post Office gets itself into difficulty and public controversy. Opposition in Parliament is happier blaming Ministers and demanding answers from them than making CEOs and Board members more famous by naming them as responsible for errors.

Labour, Coalition and Conservative Ministers have all presided over the long period when Postmasters and Postmistresses were being falsely accused and prosecuted by the management and legal advisers of Post Office Ltd. They were  all doubtless told that they should not intervene in these operational and legal matters and should leave it all to the independent Board and management. Now all accept that grievous errors were made the cry goes up that the Ministers should not have respected the independence but should have gone in and demanded a change of attitude and approach and if necessary changed the management.

What this tragedy reveals is the truth of the proposition that in a democracy where Ministers can with the backing of Parliament change the management, aims, budgets and legal frameworks of these bodies the state owns, Ministers do need to be sufficiently hands on to know if intervention is needed. I will write another blog about how I used as a Minister to monitor and influence quangos reporting to departments I served in in ways which respected independence but where important matters were part of government policy and were properly  reported to Parliament. Parliament needed to know how the body was doing , what government expected of it, and if change was needed.

117 Comments

  1. agricola
    April 30, 2021

    Yes, quangos are a way of defering to expertise that does not exist in a ministry. If the minister has a policy or reflects a government policy and stays in close enough touch with the quango to oversee its operational direction it could work.
    One of the weaknesses was that quangos took direction from the EU and the minister had little say in matters. Witness the Somerset levels disaster. The big question is have they been reprogrammed to take direction from a sovereign UK or are they still selling the EU line. What steps have government taken to confirm the new chain of command. In truth the electorate won’t know until something goes horribly wrong.
    .

    Reply
    1. agricola
      April 30, 2021

      There is a secondary question. If the expertise of quangos are indispensible to the running of government policy through the minister, what is the function of the ministry and those in it. Within a forty year career in a ministry there should be a vast bank of residual knowledge and experience, which does not fundamentally change with governments.

      Reply
    2. jerry
      April 30, 2021

      @agricola; Quangos are a way for Minsters and Whitehall to pass the buck, the Somerset levels are a prime example, so is the shifting of blame to the EU, as our host pointed out the other day, there is no EU wide policy that requires low-lands to be left to flood, if that was the case why wasn’t the Fens allowed to flood, never mind half of the Netherlands! The miss-management of the Somerset levels was ultimately a Whitehall created disaster, the only question is why, was it some mistaken eco-hugging back to nature belief (which would suggest the Ministry and/or Agency is not fit for purpose) or simply down to budget (savings) – either way a named Minister, if not SoS, should have to defend their oversight decisions and be prepared to fall on their political sword.

      Reply
      1. Everhopeful
        April 30, 2021

        I have wondered whether ( since leftists have been allowed to infiltrate everywhere) the flooding was “accidentally on purpose” to “prove “ climate change/global warming whatever.
        In prehistoric times people built wooden tracks through the Levels and could ( apparently) scarcely use the area in winter because it was so wet. The Levels weren’t drained until the 17th century and then were managed in the correct way. So flooding was not an unknown hazard, just needed the right management.
        Stop doing the necessaries and lo and behold…it’s global warming innit?
        The same thing is probably being done when destroyers (aka developers) build on flood plains.

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        1. jerry
          April 30, 2021

          @EH; Or, since since ‘rightists’ have been allowed to infiltrate everywhere, “stop doing the necessaries and lo and behold…” whilst other people have their homes flooded the few who could already afford to buy on higher ground get their taxes cut even further.

          “The same thing is probably being done when destroyers (aka developers) build on flood plains.”

          Well not exactly the same but they do make hansom profits…

          Reply
      2. agricola
        April 30, 2021

        Jerry, as I understand it the disaster in the Somerset Levels we a result of lack of dredging. Whether those who declined to dredge were following a misguided green or EU doctrine or spent their budget on other things I know not. However I do know that when it happened, the minister Owen Paterson put a series of measures in place, ensuring that there has been no serious flooding since. Sadly Owen Paterson is no longer part of government being just the sort of minister government needs.

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        1. jerry
          April 30, 2021

          @agricola; Except why did it take a flood for the Minsters to taken action, why did he not act primitively, was he not on top of his brief. If it had merely been productive farmland damaged by flooding would any action have been taken at all?

          When I said “and be prepared to fall on their political sword.”, I did not mean Ministerial swords, I meant resign from the House as one might resign from a company board, and in the same way some comments to this site expect members of quangos and the civil service to act in similar circumstances, not merely climb aboard the merry-go-round awaiting their turn again!

          Reply
        2. Fred.H
          April 30, 2021

          it has rained consistently ever since… yet to become any proof at all.

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          1. Fred.H
            April 30, 2021

            err …..it has NOT rained

      3. forthurst
        April 30, 2021

        The woman in charge was a keen ornithologist with a particular interest in aquatic species; I’m sure she spend many happy hours twitching on the Somerset level as the birds waded through the water-logged fields and nested on the rooves of submerged houses.

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    3. rose
      April 30, 2021

      As civil servants are still serving the EU, it is unlikely the quangos have made the necessary transition.

      PHE could do with a close examination. It is supposed to be independent, arms length, etc., but was regularly called “the Government”, as was the NHS itself, when the forces of opposition were trying to use the pandemic to topple the PM.

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    4. MiC
      April 30, 2021

      That “fashion” to which John refers has been promoted, par excellence, by his very own party and by its thralls such as we read here.

      The fervour with which PHE were blamed for the abysmal failure of this country to provide even basic protection equipment for front-line medical staff was quite outstanding, for instance.

      Let us not forget, that the downplaying of the effectiveness of masks in preventing public infection and death was another prong in reducing the demand for such things, and so attenuating the disgrace in which the Government might possible and rightly be held. That probably cost many, many lives.

      The Government, with a majority of eighty, are also completely unhindered in passing fire safety laws for buildings and for materials, and in setting up a proper, fully staffed Crown enforcement inspectorate, and also in setting appropriate penalties for breaches.

      They simply won’t though, will they?

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      1. No Longer Anonymous
        April 30, 2021

        I don’t recall the BBC criticising PHE. The PPE issue was slammed at the Government bulletin, after interview, after conference day-in-day-out week-after-week.

        Little mention of PHE at all – which begs the question, what on earth were their highly paid execs being paid to do ???

        And interesting to note that we’ve had Remain PMs since Thatcher and yet a few weeks into a Leave (allegedly) Premiership and that dire PPE situation was nothing to do with them and their obsession for caring more for the EU than they did for the health of Britain.

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      2. Peter2
        April 30, 2021

        You missed out the huge expansion of NGO’s and Quangos under Blair and Brown MiC
        And the political appointments into those bodies by Labour.
        Why was that?
        PS
        PHE were blamed because they were the organisation that had the defined role to plan, prepare and procure for epidemics and health crises.
        They failed despite a huge budget to spend.

        Reply
        1. MiC
          April 30, 2021

          Thanks Peter, you demonstrate my point perfectly.

          Reply
          1. Peter2
            April 30, 2021

            How so?

        2. Margaret Brandreth-
          April 30, 2021

          which is why i turned against the corruption which that lot brought.

          Reply
      3. Philip P.
        April 30, 2021

        That’s because the WHO were advising no advantage for mask-wearing against a virus at that point, Martin. The government was ‘just obeying orders’ from its global masters in that respect, as in others.

        When the WHO’s story on masks changed later in Spring 2020, so did HMG’s. Even according to the BBC’s Health Correspondent Deborah Cohen, the WHO’s 180-degree turn was probably for ‘political reasons’. The only large-scale RCT study looking into the efficacy of mask-wearing, in Denmark last year, found it gave no significant protection against catching Covid.

        But this isn’t about controlling a virus, is it?

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      4. a-tracy
        April 30, 2021

        MiC who are you blaming for the ‘downplaying of the effectiveness of masks’ in the uk.

        Last April we were told by the Medical profession e.g 23 Apr 2020 — Deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries has said the issue of whether members of the public should wear face masks is “difficult”, we were told not to bother wearing them and the WHO ‘had not yet recommended mass use of masks for healthy individuals in the community (mass masking) as a way to prevent infection with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus’ on 14 Apr 2020 ‘Public Health England (PHE) has emphasised the importance of masks for doctors but has not suggested widespread public usage. It said last week: “Face masks play a very important role in clinical settings, such as hospitals but there’s very little evidence of widespread benefit from their use outside of these clinical settings.”

        You are right there was poor planning by Hunt’s ministry, however, PHE’s stock control was remiss and there was lots of missing PPE from their stores. Large areas like Manchester were responsible for their own stock purchase and controls.

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        1. MiC
          May 1, 2021

          So why was there a PHE at all?

          Why weren’t their duties under direct, accountable, ministerial control with a suitable staffed department?

          We see absolutely why, don’t we?

          Tories want sinecure jobs in office, to wallow in the trappings of power, but without responsibility.

          To order a lockdown is power.

          To equip those who need it with PPE is responsibility. They don’t want that.

          Reply
      5. Narrow Shoulders
        April 30, 2021

        Thailand is experiencing a surge in infections. Its population wears medical grade masks religiously.

        I have yet to see a picture of film of anyone in India not wearing a face covering.

        The UK population had, for the most part, accepted that they must wear masks by last September when cases started to rise once more and again in December.

        I see no evidence that not mandating masks played a role here. Masks are (mostly) placebos which give otherwise scared people the confidence to go out and about.

        Reply
        1. MiC
          May 1, 2021

          Yes, and despite a population of twenty times that of the UK, India’s deaths total is only some 40% higher.

          The UK media could have flooded its pages with pictures of distraught grieving UK relatives over the past year, but didn’t.

          It was saving itself for Indians et al, it appears.

          Reply
          1. Peter2
            May 1, 2021

            A classic misuse of statistics MiC
            Using percentages after saying one is 20 times smaller than another..

    5. Lifelogic
      April 30, 2021

      The main interest of quangos bosses is how do we get higher pay and pensions, more power, better bonuses and nicer offices while doing as little as possible and avoiding the blame for anything. We see this time and time again. They usually end up parasitising on the private sector with charges, license fees and endless red tape.

      Still some excellent news the dire Sir Simon Stevens (PPE again) is retiring from being the CEO of the dire and appallingly run NHS with all its appalling endless scandals and abject failures. Also the deluded lefty John Snow to retire from channel 4 finally. Alas Sir Simon is off to the Lords. I do not imagine his replacement will be much better, it is a healthcare rationing system that can never be efficient as currently structured.

      I assume Sir Simon ordered or oversaw the dumping of infected patients into care homes and the vast number of CV infections within hospitals. Just as happened to my elderly relative, then dumped into a care home untested to infect others, then returned to hospital and died of Covid next day without any real treatment at all as he was over 80. Well done the NHS.

      Reply
    6. Mockbeggar
      April 30, 2021

      The Somerset Levels disaster was partly caused by the removal off grassland on the slopes surrounding the marsh and planting sweetcorn on deep furrows which allowed the rain to flow easily down to the marsh without being held in the grass. It incidentally caused topsoil to be washed down the hillsides which is why the river ran a deep brown.

      Reply
    7. DavidJ
      April 30, 2021

      Can we be sure that the quangos are not still complying with EU policy and instructions? Given the numbers of Remoaners still in government, and likely also in such bodies, I doubt it.

      Reply
      1. Lifelogic
        April 30, 2021

        Me too.

        Reply
  2. turboterrier
    April 30, 2021

    It seems to be the norm that the majority of these quango organisations once formed are all but untouchable. The taxpayers money wasted is obscene.
    The minister in charge of these departments has to be constently walking the talk to ensure that they are being operated well within their remit.
    That accepted, the head of the quango and their executive team also have the same responsibilities. When things go badly wrong, as they can and do, the failure cannot be seen to be that of an excuse for the removal and elevation to a higher position or place.
    As taxpayers who fund these positions, surely it is not too much to ask and expect that when things go so badly wrong all those involved are held fully responsible and accountable.
    Ministers come and go but the quango’s remain, which really begs the question, are they really needed at all in the first place? Quango influence on matters that are beginning to tear this country apart would suggest not.

    Reply
    1. David L
      April 30, 2021

      “..all those involved are held fully responsible and accountable.” If that were to be implemented no-one would touch a quango post with a barge pole! Expertise in using spin and contrived statistics to exonerate oneself is an art form these days.

      Reply
  3. DOM
    April 30, 2021

    It seems politicians get to choose which scandals deserve their attention and which scandals are best avoided to limit political damage. In the real world populated by moral human beings all abuses are confronted and hopefully corrected. In the cancerous, poisonous world of British politics some scandals are worthy of consideration simply because taking them up exposes politicians to zero political risk. I find that approach immoral and utterly reprehensible bordering on the criminal

    This filtering and grading of scandals according to political risk has caused so much suffering. The contemporary political mindset is psychopathic and without any sense of human concern. British politicians have become a most distasteful group of chancers, charlatans and vagabonds

    Reply
    1. agricola
      April 30, 2021

      DOM, the politicians now concerned have a chance to rectify your last sentence by correcting the damage to peoples lives and reputations done by the Post Office, and the ongoing fallout from Grenfell Tower that impacts financially on those living in tower blocks. If you are correct, government will minimise its involvement. If not everyone will be happy and the minister will retire content that he did a good job.

      Reply
      1. No Longer Anonymous
        April 30, 2021

        And not to forget commuters being killed over the decades on road and rail because they could no longer afford to live in the cities where their work was or because parts of those cities had been made lawless.

        Those killed commuting number many hundreds, if not thousands.

        Let’s not be selective about what a ‘victim’ is here.

        Reply
    2. SM
      April 30, 2021

      What hysterical nonsense! You completely ignore the incompetencies and fraudulent activities that have always existed in private businesses, whether in the UK or globally, plus the corruption in political activities across the world. And in comparison to what is happening in Venezuela/southern Italy/South Africa/Nigeria or other countries too numerous to mention, the world of British politics is certainly neither cancerous or poisonous.

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      1. J Bush
        April 30, 2021

        Yes, some questionable business practice does occur in some of those in the private sector. However, there are 3 points to consider
        1. When found out they are dealt with through the legal system
        2. Quangos are not subject to those same laws, when their questionable business practice is exposed
        3. The taxpayer is not obliged to fund private businesses

        Reply
    3. Everhopeful
      April 30, 2021

      +1

      Reply
  4. J Bush
    April 30, 2021

    Instead of a bonfire of quangos, there has been a steady proliferation of these and NGO’s. I understand there are now over 1000 of them!

    How can they be truly independent, when they have to rely on tax payers money given to them by the government of the day? No wonder the country is broke and governments keep having to borrow.

    With the exception of the politicians who try to claim they are, I suspect the bulk of the taxpayers, who are forced to pay for these cushy jobs, are aware if these bodies did not support the governments (preferred) direction, their funding would cease.

    I would be interested to know just how many of the heads of these bodies (pardon the pun) were not offered the job by some politician pal? I suspect very few to none.

    What is the real total cost of all of these and when will the taxpayer be given a say on whether we want to pay for them?

    Reply
      1. J Bush
        April 30, 2021

        Thank you for providing links, however sadly and typical of government, the list is incomplete. There more than 250 quangos/ngo’s. Hence the question about publishing the real total cost. And what they do publish runs into the billions!

        In 2017 TPA noted there were 1,148 quangos, but the government only abolished 192 and merged 118. The latter only reduces the quangos total, not the total cost. May then created some and so has Johnson. The taxpayers are still waiting for the bonfire.
        https://www.taxpayersalliance.com/quangos-ge2017

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    1. Fred.H
      April 30, 2021

      there are an awful lot of old boys and mates to be found jobs.

      Reply
  5. Sea_Warrior
    April 30, 2021

    Doesn’t the CPS have some serious questions to answer too? And defence lawyers – if they were aware that their clients’ prosecutions were part of a series of prosecutions that made no sense?

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    1. a-tracy
      April 30, 2021

      Yes SW, the CPS does have serious questions to answer to.

      The Post Office is a limited company owned entirely by the government. The Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy holds government responsibility for postal affairs (including the Post Office). Postal Services were devolved to Scotland and Northern Ireland, did Scotland or Northern Ireland prosecute any Postmasters?

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      1. Mockbeggar
        April 30, 2021

        Yes. And who was head of the CPS when the scandal first emerged?

        Reply
        1. Lifelogic
          April 30, 2021

          Me too.+1

          Reply
  6. Alan Jutson
    April 30, 2021

    I guess it comes down to the original remit outlined, which is given to any said Quango or management team by the minister in charge.

    If you are ultimately the responsible minister for any organisation, then you surely should be seeking a relevant and fit for purpose reporting procedure, and information on some sort of regular basis. Likewise it is always sensible to visit the shop floor on occasions to get first hand feedback from those at the sharp end, aware you do not purchase a dog and bark yourself, but you need to make regular visits, some unannounced, to sometimes ask awkward questions, and see for yourself what is going on first hand from time – time, no matter how large or complicated the business.

    A good managing Director or owner, knows instinctively what is going on in their business, because they make it their business to do so.
    Problem we have is too few Mp’s with any actual management, commercial, or business experience.

    Reply
    1. SM
      April 30, 2021

      Alan: you make good points.

      Reply
      1. Peter2
        April 30, 2021

        I agree SM
        I always read Alan’s posts with pleasure.

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    2. turboterrier
      April 30, 2021

      Alan Jutson

      Your last paragraph sums it all up.
      Therein lies the problem.
      Great comment and observations.

      Reply
      1. DavidJ
        April 30, 2021

        +1

        Reply
    3. Lifelogic
      April 30, 2021

      +1 but what if anything do they have to lose. Unlike a business owner!

      Reply
    4. jon livesey
      May 1, 2021

      Yes and no. Certainly MPs don’t have the experience to review Quangos, but should they be doing so? Part of the point of a quango is to be at arm’s length and not to be caught up on day to day politics.

      Reply
  7. Peter
    April 30, 2021

    This article covers three things :-
    1.traditional publicly-owned bodies like the Post Office
    2. the growing numbers of quangos
    and
    3. the notion of independence.

    We used to have a Postmaster General to look after number 1. This went back centuries. Tony Benn was a famous Postmaster General. John Stonehouse was an infamous one. It was high profile. The replacement role for Postmaster General is very low profile in comparison.

    However there is still supposed to be government oversight

    2. Quangoes have multiplied and grown in size in modern politics. They also get used for political patronage. So membership of quangos can be stuffed with unsuitable types. Members are often paid unjustifiably high salaries too.

    3. Independence is closely tied in to the idea of privatisation. It seems to be accepted in some circles that a private organisation will do certain tasks better than a full time paid civil servant. The jury is still out on that.

    It is certainly true that a task that is done by a consultant will cost far more than one undertaken by someone on the civil service pay scale. It also seems to be the case that reduced civil service headcount can mean the civil service has little in-house expertise and becomes increasingly dependent on expensive consultants anyway.

    As for the current Post Office scandal, it was known about for a very long time. Officials chose to try sweeping it under the carpet. Political oversight did not work.

    Reply
  8. Sakara Gold
    April 30, 2021

    It is good to read that the postmsters/mistresses have now been exonerated from the false allegations made against them. However, this is just the latest in a decades long history of miscarriages of justice in the UK. From Stephen Dowding, who was innocent but who served 27 years in prison for the Bakewell cemetery murder of Wendy Sewell, the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four, the Bridgewater Four, the Siôn Jenkins case, Barry George, there are many, many similar cases.

    The difficulties in establishing innocence one convicted are well known. The legal and justice system does not take kindly to protestations of innocence, in most of the above investigative journalists have taken up the case and, usually years after the conviction, have brought new evidence to light that has rendered the original conviction unsafe.

    Very rarely have those who have brought false testimony to court and managed to pervert the course of justice been brought to book – which often means that the guilty remain at large, as the authorities declare that they are “not looking for anyone else in relation to this inquiry” As a result there is no incentve for change.

    Once challenged, the legal establishment has a habit of closing ranks. They know how the system operates, usually those unfortunate enough to be drawn into the criminal justice system do not. The best advice is to remain silent until a solicitor is available. Many of the cases mentioned above involved false confessions being obtained by “oppression”, when the accused had not been allowed to excercise their right to a solicitor.

    Reply
    1. nota#
      April 30, 2021

      @Sakara Gold, Yes it would appear that the WOKE style attitude has been with us longer than we thought, better to prosecute than get it right. The old adage of better that 10 bad people go free than just 1 innocent person goes to prison – is lost on todays generation

      Reply
    2. jon livesey
      April 30, 2021

      “…….have brought new evidence to light that has rendered the original conviction unsafe.”

      Not to point out the completely and blindingly obvious, or anything, but if someone produces new evidence that makes a previous conviction unsafe, that is *not* a miscarriage of justice. Courts can only judge on the evidence before them. New evidence is new evidence.

      Reply
  9. Ian Wragg
    April 30, 2021

    Bonfire of the Quangos.
    We’re still waiting.
    Jobs for the boys.
    Still no comment on the persecution of our boys in Northern Ireland.

    Reply
    1. Everhopeful
      April 30, 2021

      +1

      Reply
    2. Peter
      April 30, 2021

      Ian Wragg,
      ‘Still no comment on the persecution of our boys in Northern Ireland.’

      David Cameron spoke on this matter in 2010:-

      ‘Some members of our armed forces acted wrongly. The Government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of our armed forces and for that, on behalf of the Government – and indeed our country – I am deeply sorry.’

      So, at last, an answer Heath’s pressure on Widgery as part of the propaganda war.

      So it is only right that some of the soldiers responsible are brought to appear in a court of law.

      Those who served in concentration camps in the Second World War are still brought to court. So why not soldiers in Northern Ireland ?

      A shouty MP like Mercer, trying to make a name for himself and build a following, should not make any difference.

      Reply
      1. X-Tory
        April 30, 2021

        So you believe anything Cameron says, do you? For my part, I do NOT accept that our troops did *anything* wrong. For those who did not put their lives on the line and did not experience the heat of battle, to try to prosecute our boys is a cowardly, treacherous betrayal. Boris should be ashamed of his actions – assuming he has any honour at all. British soldiers should NEVER be prosecuted. They are risking their lives to protect us and promote British interests around the world.

        Reply
      2. Fedupsoutherner
        April 30, 2021

        Oh my goodness. What a shallow comment Peter and one that fills me with disgust. Have you any idea what the streets of NI were like for our troops? My brother served out there and was injured in a booby trap bomb. Every corner was a nightmare not knowing what cars had bombs or where the snipers were. The vermin in the riots were out of control. When you are faced with this situation day in day out decisions don’t come easily and you make me sick comparing what they did to people running concentration camps. It is hardly the same thing. Do get real.

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        1. Fred.H
          April 30, 2021

          They sign up believing they will help protect us from enemies and they get sent into hell.

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        2. glen cullen
          April 30, 2021

          Good words that I fully support

          Reply
      3. jon livesey
        May 1, 2021

        Using the armed Forces for policing is always a bad idea, since that is not their training. And that, in turn is exactly why terrorists try to force democratic Governments to use soldiers in roles for which they are not trained – hoping that using soldiers will lead to deaths, which it usually does.

        If people recognized that terrorists have definite strategies for dealing with Governments, and that those strategies deliberately try to bring tragedies about, and also try to put Government in a vice between the desire of the citizen to be safe, and the insistence of the chattering classes that all that matters is abstract rights, they would understand that democratic Governments are trying to do what works, and don’t actually try to bring themselves into disrepute.

        Comparing this to a fascist Government that was actively trying to kill about ten percent of its people doesn’t seem to me to have much to do with real life.

        Reply
        1. SM
          May 1, 2021

          Seconded.

          Reply
    3. Lester
      April 30, 2021

      Well said Ian Wragg

      Johnny Mercer’s resignation showed that there are still MP’s with principles but they’re becoming an increasingly rare species these days!

      Reply
    4. Fred.H
      April 30, 2021

      no matches to be found?

      Reply
  10. Mike Wilson
    April 30, 2021

    Before the 2010 election Cameron promised a ‘bonfire of the QUANGOs’. So, this is a non-issue as he got rid of most of them.

    Reply
    1. J Bush
      April 30, 2021

      Well, if he did, how many were there before.

      In 2017 the year after Cameron left office, the TPA noted there were 1,148 quangos.
      https://www.taxpayersalliance.com/quangos-ge2017
      192 were abolished, but then May added some and so has Johnson.
      Swings and roundabouts – better known as smoke and mirrors.

      Reply
      1. Fred.H
        April 30, 2021

        jobs by rotation?

        Reply
  11. Bryan Harris
    April 30, 2021

    The more I look and hear about these situations, especially as described above, I fear that the parliamentary model is broken. As government has grown, and Quangos have sprouted like weeds, we see more issues relating to daily life and how our bureaucracy operates.
    If a minister is not responsible for what quangos do, then who is? The public have no provision to sack quango executives, and their actions are not scrutinized effectively.

    Parliament is not working well, as recent years have shown. That powers were removed from the Crown to keep Parliament effective, is but one problem.
    The Upper house is no longer effective as a ‘make them think again’ chamber, for all sorts of people with little in the way of political conscience have been rewarded with a seat there.

    The problems relating to quangos will not easily go away until the failings in our current system are recognized and a new contract is made with the public, with active participation.

    Reply
  12. Sir Joe Soap
    April 30, 2021

    It seems to me that these organisations are on the one hand too closely connected to government, with “political friends” being appointed to manage them rather than them being appointed by shareholders to maximise profit and grow the business. On the other hand, inexperienced ministers who should be able to sniff incompetence and misconduct can’t, and once they do they palm responsibility off onto the incompetent manager. They duly resign/are removed/moved on to fresh pastures to tear up.

    The answer I guess is to mutate these quangos into competitive operations where possible, with outsiders appointed to enhance performance. The PO, I would have thought, could be privatised along the lines of the water industry. A necessary service needing professional management.

    Reply
  13. Everhopeful
    April 30, 2021

    Governments should stop devolving power.
    We elect and pay ministers and MPs to organise and direct all aspects of life ( or that was the idea).
    Why should they shrug off accountability and pass the buck?
    All mistakes hidden in a slimy sea of meetings, reports and bogus, time-wasting inquiries.
    And everything slewed to the Left.

    Reply
    1. Bryan Harris
      April 30, 2021

      ++
      Exactly

      We never gave permission to give our power away, whether it was to global organisations or quangos

      Reply
    2. glen cullen
      April 30, 2021

      Unlike our host most MPs are in it for the prestige & jollies

      Reply
    3. X-Tory
      April 30, 2021

      I completely agree. Quangos result in a *loss* of democratic accountability. They should all be abolished and the tasks they perform brought in-house into the civil service. If specialists are required, just recruit them as specialist civil servants, but they should all, always, follow the directions of, and report to, the minister, who then reports at election time to the British people.

      Reply
  14. majorfrustration
    April 30, 2021

    Ah a bonfire of the Quangos those were the days. Are there really over 1000? – what on earth did our MPs do when we were in the EU given so many of their responsibilities were sub contracted to Quangos? The experts may well be in the Quangos but unfortunately the idiots are in Westminster.

    Reply
    1. acorn
      April 30, 2021

      According to the Whole of Government Accounts, there are over 9,000 entities consolidated in those accounts from across the whole public sector.

      Reply
    2. Fedupsoutherner
      April 30, 2021

      Brilliant post Major.

      Reply
  15. Roy Grainger
    April 30, 2021

    The NHS is an example. When something they do goes right (vaccine roll-out) they get all the praise, when something they do goes wrong (PPE purchasing) the government minister gets all the blame. Even when the mistake is plainly not the minister’s fault, like terrible infection control in hospitals, he gets the blame anyway using the catchall complaint of “underfunding”. Given this any arrangement between full privatisation and full direct state-control looks politically unattractive.

    Reply
    1. Sakara Gold
      April 30, 2021

      Ultimately Hancock, the “Health” minister has to accept the blame for the disaster in regards to poor hospital infection control, the shipping thousands of infected elderly out to care homes without being tested to free up beds, the PPE fiasco, the purchase of £900 billion worth of useless and dangerous lateral flow test kits etc etc etc. He was in charge.

      He gets the huge salary, the humungous chauffeur-driven ministeral car, large numbers of flunkeys at his beck and call – and has repeatedly gone on BBC R4 to deny responsibility for managing to kill about 150,000 citizens. Apparently, it was all the public’s fault for “not following the rules” and catching the Chinese plague virus in the first place. There is about as much chance of him resigning as there is of the Army getting new main battle tanks. We blew the money for them (£35 billion) on his useless Test and Trace scheme

      Reply
      1. SM
        April 30, 2021

        The Secretary of State for Health is not “in charge” of the NHS, that is the job of the Chief Executive, currently Simon Stevens, who reports to the SoS Health.

        Reply
        1. Sakara Gold
          April 30, 2021

          Oh you mean Hancock’s fall guy, who has just been forced to fall upon his sword and take the blame? Your statement is comical. Every time Hancock appears on TV he is wearing an “NHS” badge

          Reply
          1. SM
            May 1, 2021

            I do wonder why you and others like you are unable to understand the concept of having a Chief Executive who actually runs an organisation, and Ministers who are supposed to decide on overall policies and finances.

            However, I happen to think blatant obeisance to the beatification of the NHS, whether it is standing outside your home clapping or wearing footling badges, is a big mistake.

  16. nota#
    April 30, 2021

    You do get an overall picture and feeling these invented ‘Empires’ are just jobs for the ‘boys’ who couldn’t hold down a proper job elsewhere.

    Its a natural human instinct that once you attain something you endeavor to hold on to it. If this then means creating an empire and work for others you get protection. We are also the Human Race, and the race is the competition between us. Without constant competition, and the threat of being let behind by others we just get complacent, lazy and don’t care – result is poor to rubbish performance. A Quango

    Quango’s are at the bottom of the pit when it comes to value for money, at the very least they should only exist as long as the Government of the day. With minimum span contracts, reviewed regularly and put out tender on a rotating basis. With at the very least an MP or panel of MP’s providing oversite for the taxpayer, and those individuals held accountable to Parliament and the Electorate for the lack of value achieved. It should never be as now a free ride for seemingly friends of friends.

    Reply
  17. glen cullen
    April 30, 2021

    Quango after quango after quango – Jobs for the boys in transport
    Local councils say they look after transport
    Regional Mayors say they look after transport
    Transport for the North
    Rail Delivery Group
    Highway England
    Northern Powerhouse
    Department for Transport has an additional 14 quango under its direct control

    And no one takes responsibility….just the money

    Reply
    1. DavidJ
      April 30, 2021

      +1

      Reply
    2. steve
      April 30, 2021

      glen cullen

      Just like it was under Blair.

      ‘Tell the voters we’ll scrap his institutions, but actually jump on the bandwagon once elected. The voters are too thick to know they’ve been had ‘

      Reply
  18. formula57
    April 30, 2021

    So if you as a Minister were able to “monitor and influence quangos” whilst respecting their independence ” but where important matters were part of government policy and were properly reported to Parliament” why cannot the muppets we have had since as Ministers cope?

    Let us hope the people’s Blue Boris circulates your forthcoming writing about how you managed to current Ministers.

    Reply
  19. forthurst
    April 30, 2021

    Post Office management were reporting to a Postmaster General on the basis of which, the Postmaster General reported to parliament. What was the basis of the PO management’s report? What gave the Postmaster General confidence that it was correct. JR will know that for a limited company, the shareholders receive their reports from management based on internal audits which can involve stocktakes and then independent verification by external auditors. It is all very well blaming the computer system but the fact that the computer system was not recording the business of the Post Office correctly would have been spotted by auditing unless of course the computer system itself was doing the internal auditing and falsely reporting errors and no external audits were performed. If the computer system was recording that cash was being stolen, then presumably there must have been a cash or other negotiable asset surplus after the phantom losses had been written off. Was this reported to the Post Master General?

    There must be a suspicion that politicians are not competent to receive reports from operations for which they are responsible because their ignorance precludes them asking the right questions. A PPE graduate may know who were the main theorists behind Bolshevism (although not how many each murdered) but can they read a balance sheet or a P&L account or whatever form of presentation public bodies use?

    Reply
  20. kb
    April 30, 2021

    Highways England seems to be a “company”.
    However, anyone with the brain of a pigeon can see there is something very wrong here.
    Long sections of road are chosen (often in bizarre priority order) for works of one sort or another.
    Immediately a massive infrastructure of cameras, cones and restrictions appears. This part of the work is done with admirable speed and efficiency.
    From that point on, the works are used as something to be milked by all concerned. Weeks go by with no workers visible. I suspect there are only about 20 actual workers in the whole country who are moved around to make it look like something is happening every few weeks.
    Anyhow, clearly not fit for purpose.

    Reply
    1. glen cullen
      April 30, 2021

      Is HS2 Ltd a quango or a limited company ?

      Reply
      1. glen cullen
        May 2, 2021

        Its both

        Reply
    2. steve
      April 30, 2021

      kb

      Nothing bizarre about it, just follow the (motorist’s) money and all becomes clear.

      Reply
      1. kb
        May 1, 2021

        I know you are right, I just want to highlight just how “close to their contractors” the various highways authorities must be.

        Reply
  21. Peter2
    April 30, 2021

    The growing pernicious trend is for many of these these NGO’s and Quangos to have prosecuting powers and to be able to impose fines without a Court hearing in front of a magistrate or a Crown Court Judge and Jury hearing the evidence.
    Like Police being able to fine you £10,000 or the Environmental Agency fining companies hundreds of thousands of pounds for a breach of environmental law.
    One company I know had just such a fine when criminal vandals broke in to their premises and as well as stealing things smashed the outlet pipe on the heating oil tank situated safely inside the premises and leading to many gallons of oil getting out into outside drains.
    No court case.
    They said the cost of taking the Agency to the High Court to appeal the fine would have been tens of thousands.
    Or another company I know who had their HGV lorry involved in a crash which damaged the diesel oil tank on the vehicle which spilled onto the carriageway.
    They were sent the bill from the Highways Agency for digging up the whole road area and resurfacing it.
    Years ago they sprayed detergent and washed the road surface clean.
    But no longer.

    Reply
  22. paul
    April 30, 2021

    The government is trying to do away with Judicial Reviews on itself, Quangos, and its institutions, to make them above the law of the land and answerable to no one but itself.

    Reply
    1. MiC
      April 30, 2021

      Yes they are, Paul.

      But the europhobes want that, to prevent anyone – such as Gina Miller – from challenging the perhaps unlawful actions of their europhobic government, when those actions express that europhobia.

      And the xenophobes want it to prevent any foreigners from holding the UK Government to account for unjust treatment.

      Etc. etc.

      You can’t have it both ways.

      Reply
      1. Peter2
        April 30, 2021

        Why should non UK citizens bring court cases against our democratically elected Government?
        Judicial review is just a hobby for the leftist blob.

        Reply
        1. MiC
          May 1, 2021

          So, if you were – for absolutely no reason – beaten up by the police in France, say, you think that you should be denied redress?

          It appears that you’d like Open Season on foreigners, really. But only in the UK.

          Reply
          1. Peter2
            May 1, 2021

            Nonsense MiC and I reject your sly accusation.

      2. jon livesey
        May 1, 2021

        Gina Miller is something of a treasure. Every time she has brought one of her famous Court cases. she has only succeeded in strengthening Brexit, usually by making Parliament vote explicitly for something they previously supported implicitly, or assumed was covered by the powers of the Executive.

        Reply
        1. Fred.H
          May 1, 2021

          disgust turns to big grin!

          Reply
  23. X-Tory
    April 30, 2021

    I disagree about the degree of independence which quangos should have. Quangos operate in the public sector. In a democracy, the public sector is paid for by the public, and is therefore the responsibility of the politicians they elect to act on their behalf. It is wrong to expect the public to pay for something without also having control over it, so either their politicians take full control, or the public are left frustrated when the people they choose to run the country for them are not running it the way they want. Let me give you a concrete example. You said “There is a need for politicians to stay out of criminal law enforcement”. NO. I strongly disagree. Look at the Bristol riots, where the police stood by while criminals toppled a statue and threw it in the water. Politicians (whether local or national) should have been able to instruct the police to stop the riot and arrest all participants.

    The same applies to all other aspects of policing. What resources should be spent on monitoring internet speech, or cataloguing non-criminal ‘thought offences’, or on policing people going 5 miles over the speed limit, and, on the other hand, how quickly should the police move on travellers illegally encamped, or how carefully should they check the road worthiness of their vehicles? These are all issues which concern the public, so, in a democracy, where the public are paying for the police, shouldn’t their elected representatives have control over these decisions?

    The same applies to every other quango: from choosing what special stamps there should be (the post office), to ensuring that the public sector broadcaster, the BBC (a quango in all but name) respects the political views of the electorate (and has a majority of Brexiteers on their programmes, such as Question Time), for instance. We elect politicians to be not just in office, but IN CONTROL. Do your job!

    Reply
  24. lojolondon
    April 30, 2021

    I do remember a fantastic proposition for the “bonfire of the Quangos”. Unfortunately it really was carried out in a most spineless way, not sure we lost any of the deadwood, and all those spared have grown since!!

    One other bugbear, is the Government’s support for “charities”. When the government takes many millions of pounds from taxpayers (under threat of imprisonment) then blows it on third parties that all employ many, many people on six-figure salaries, first-class travel and other expenses, this is utterly wrong and needs to stop.
    Charities are also play politics, because the charities that support the opposition can always be relied on to bash the government, and then our government tries to ‘buy’ or influence them with more and more money. The taxpayer is the loser every time.

    Reply
    1. J Bush
      April 30, 2021

      +1 re: charities. I refuse to give anything to ‘charities’ that get my money (taxes) via the government. I now only donate to local charities that rely on Voluntary contributions.

      Reply
      1. glen cullen
        April 30, 2021

        Same here

        Reply
  25. nota#
    April 30, 2021

    The simple rule if not an actual Law, is if you are on the taxpayer payroll, an elected member of Parliament puts their head on the block and has over sight of the day to day running of any enterprise.

    Having a ‘public enquiry’ after any event is a failure of our Democracy and our Government. If that is what is called for it should really be a GE first then the taxpayer ensures the right people are taking responsibility.

    Reply
  26. nota#
    April 30, 2021

    I find it hard to understand just in a pure public company perspective(which the PO is) why the State is not bringing in criminal charges against those that clearly showed reckless and criminal intent.

    Any owners of private companies or directors of other Plc’s would have already be struck off and behind bars. You also have to call to account those in the legal profession that clearly had very little regard to the law when perusing the case. Due diligence is a responsibility of Company Directors and Officers of the Law.

    Due diligence is the first duty of any accuser its the way we stop miss carriages of justice. Although after reading a statement on the BBC today, they highlight their WOKE credentials and with a ban in all circumstances without proof. This trend is being perused throughout Society, it is a worry and it undermines the Law and Democracy

    Reply
  27. Denis Cooper
    April 30, 2021

    Off topic, some fairly accurate observations from a reader of the Irish Times:

    https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/letters/dup-leadership-and-ni-political-landscape-1.4551518

    “Sir, – Arlene Foster is just the latest victim left in the wake of Boris Johnson’s unprincipled quest for and ascent to power – other notable victims have been Theresa May, Michael Gove and truth in political discourse. Dominic Cummings was also cut off but he appears to have taken out some insurance and to have a few cards still to play.

    Theresa May told the House of Commons that “no UK prime minister could ever agree” to a border in the Irish Sea. She tried to do something about it by negotiating with the EU a backstop arrangement which did not distinguish between the constituent parts of the United Kingdom.

    Boris Johnson voted against this because it suited his ambitions to cause difficulty for his prime minister and party leader.

    Mr Johnson told a Democratic Unionist Party conference that “no British Conservative government could or should sign up to any such arrangement” – that is, a border in the Irish Sea. Arlene Foster believed him and has paid the price. – Yours, etc,

    PAT O’BRIEN,
    Rathmines,
    Dublin 6.”

    It must be about fifteen years ago that I came away from a public meeting in Henley having listened to Boris Johnson and become convinced that he could not be trusted an inch.

    Reply
    1. jon livesey
      May 1, 2021

      I just love it when someone describes a politician as a victim. They work so hard to get the job of victim in the first place.

      Reply
      1. Denis Cooper
        May 1, 2021

        🙂

        Reply
  28. steve
    April 30, 2021

    JR

    “The Post Office is 100% taxpayer or state owned.”

    ……well then Mr Redwood you’d think heads would be rolling for misconduct in publicly funded office.

    Reply
    1. Fred.H
      May 1, 2021

      Just a gentle admonishment after years of promised and then whitewash inquiry !!

      Reply
  29. Mark
    April 30, 2021

    I have long thought that each quango should be subject to oversight from one or more MPs (for the larger ones) from government and opposition. They would act as public ombudsmen, and should call in the quango for public examination annually. Having the responsibility might encourage MPs to develop a more in depth understanding of what the quangos are up to and perhaps to develop their expertise in ways that may prove useful to framing legislation and running departments later in their careers, and providing the scrutiny mechanism might discourage attempts to bury activity away from the scrutiny of committees that examine departments. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

    Reply
  30. Lindsay McDougall
    May 1, 2021

    The Post Office is 100% taxpayer or state owned. I believe that I can remember the Post Office being ‘privatised’, with a great fanfare about the public acquiring shares. There appears to be a contradiction, so what precisely did happen when the Post Office was privatised?

    reply Royal Mail was privatised. Post Office counters etc remained state owned.

    Reply

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