Boston, Balls and the Committee

April 22, 2009 6:59 PM

No-one expected Sir Ken Boston's session with the Commons' Children, Schools and Families Committee to be dull, but few probably expected him to go as far he did. Ed Balls (the DCSF secretary of state) was accused of 'sexing up' evidence given to an inquiry into the SATs fiasco, and the department's general claim that it was at a distance from important decisions and monitoring was summarily dismissed by the former head of the QCA.

For a video of Sir Ken Boston's session, please follow this link:
http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/VideoPlayer.aspx?meetingId=3928&rel=ok

For a summary of some of his remarks, please follow the link to the Times below:
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/education/article6146805.ece

But while much of the news from Sir Ken's remarks will focus on his accusations about Ed Balls (as the Times does above) , what was more interesting for a Better Government reader was his analysis of the problems with the quango system; remarks which could have been, in many respects, lifted directly from past posts on this page.

When available the formal minutes of his remarks will be linked and reproduced here, but till then suffice to say Sir Ken rubbished the notion that 'independent arms length bodies' were either independent or arms length. He identified the unworkable dynamic between DCSF and the QCA as significant factor behind the SATs fiasco last year. While designed to be politically and administratively independent, the QCA was nothing of the sort, with Departmental (and more importantly political) control a constant feature. However, while actually part of the Department (functionally and politically), when it came down to responsibility, all the blame fell on the QCA. He observed that the arrangement between DCSF and the QCA worked simply to enable the Government to continue to control every aspect of the system, while shielding them from accountability when things went wrong. 

Such an arrangement defines modern British government. It is an arrangement that serves the Government first and the taxpayer second, affording ministers political cover at the expense of proper service delivery. There is a strong case for independent authorities carrying out the responsibilities of the state. But these must be genuniely independent, directed by the people through the House of Commons, not by the politics of the party in Government. Sir Ken Boston stressed repeatedly this morning that any future education quangos must be accountable only to the House of Commons, not the Department for Children, Schools and Families. We agree. Only then can we hope to avoid the political meddling that dooms are public services to unacceptably poor performance.  

No-one expected Sir Ken Boston's session with the Commons' Children, Schools and Families Committee to be dull, but few probably expected him to go as far he did. Ed Balls (the DCSF secretary of state) was accused of 'sexing up' evidence given to an inquiry into the SATs fiasco, and the department's general claim that it was at a distance from important decisions and monitoring was summarily dismissed by the former head of the QCA.

For a video of Sir Ken Boston's session, please follow this link:
http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/VideoPlayer.aspx?meetingId=3928&rel=ok

For a summary of some of his remarks, please follow the link to the Times below:
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/education/article6146805.ece

But while much of the news from Sir Ken's remarks will focus on his accusations about Ed Balls (as the Times does above) , what was more interesting for a Better Government reader was his analysis of the problems with the quango system; remarks which could have been, in many respects, lifted directly from past posts on this page.

When available the formal minutes of his remarks will be linked and reproduced here, but till then suffice to say Sir Ken rubbished the notion that 'independent arms length bodies' were either independent or arms length. He identified the unworkable dynamic between DCSF and the QCA as significant factor behind the SATs fiasco last year. While designed to be politically and administratively independent, the QCA was nothing of the sort, with Departmental (and more importantly political) control a constant feature. However, while actually part of the Department (functionally and politically), when it came down to responsibility, all the blame fell on the QCA. He observed that the arrangement between DCSF and the QCA worked simply to enable the Government to continue to control every aspect of the system, while shielding them from accountability when things went wrong. 

Such an arrangement defines modern British government. It is an arrangement that serves the Government first and the taxpayer second, affording ministers political cover at the expense of proper service delivery. There is a strong case for independent authorities carrying out the responsibilities of the state. But these must be genuniely independent, directed by the people through the House of Commons, not by the politics of the party in Government. Sir Ken Boston stressed repeatedly this morning that any future education quangos must be accountable only to the House of Commons, not the Department for Children, Schools and Families. We agree. Only then can we hope to avoid the political meddling that dooms are public services to unacceptably poor performance.  

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