The Prime Minister once promised a ‘bonfire of the quangos’. Although his government has sometimes failed to fulfil expectations, his firestarter in the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, has managed to make a dent in the 1,000+ organisations that flourished under Labour.
The latest figures released by the Cabinet Office today claim that £1.4bn has saved through the government’s quango reform programme. So far, 106 public bodies have closed, with a further 150 merged down into 70. Among the more quirky ex-quangos are the Government Hospitality Advisory Committee on the Purchase of Wines, Advisory Committee on National Historic Ships and Advisory Committee on Packaging. In an article for ConservativeHome, Maude outlines his clear test for burning a quango:
I’ve introduced three simple tests that each and every quango must pass to survive. One: does it perform a necessary technical role? Two: does it need to be politically impartial? Three: does it need to act independently to establish facts? If it doesn’t meet these tests we will either scrap it or bring its functions into government.
Once the reform programme is finished — saving a total £2.6bn by 2015 — he has promised to ‘continue to review all remaining quangos to ensure that never again will we end up with so many of these vast bureaucratic and unaccountable bodies’.
But the programme is only on track to close another 100 or so bodies. This leaves 900 quasi-autonomous organisations employing 110,000 workers. The quango cutting should include redundancies, but so far it appears only 16 per cent of quango staff will lose their jobs. Instead, many of the axed employees are shuffling into government departments. The Daily Mail cites the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission, which has officially been abolished. In reality, its functions have been nationalised into the Department for Work and Pensions.
Labour’s John Trickett went on the attack this morning, claiming that the government is creating more quangos through its NHS reforms. There is a whiff of hypocrisy here, as Labour was responsible for the rocketing costs of quangos when in office. The bill for the non-departmental government bodies was £18.6 billion in 1997 but by 2009, this had rocketed up to £38.4 billion .
Although Maude and co may be limited by how many more organisations they can carry out, there are plenty of costs left to tackle. As the Telegraph investigated last year, some quango bosses are still earning as much as £700,00 a year. With public sector spending on the rise, it is more important than ever for Francis Maude to keep fanning the flames of that bonfire of the quangos.
PS: Kiran Stacey makes the good point on the FT’s Westminster blog (£) that we don’t know how much quangos are currently costing. Therefore it is difficult know how ‘good’ these savings are. The last clear indication was the 2009 Cabinet Office report and if the costs of quangos are on along those lines, then the impact Maude’s slash and burn is minimal.