Weeding the quango garden

July 27, 2010 2:38 PM

As the summer recess draws nearer, Government departments have been busy announcing quangos to be abolished. We've written extensively on quangos before, and have produced the most robust surveys of the semi-autonomous landscape, so the TPA's stance on the issue is pretty well known. There are too many bodies (1,148 at our last count), some perform the same function, and some even perform competing functions. Some bodies do things that the state should simply not be doing. All in all, we believe a thorough rationalisation is needed - invariably, this involves abolishing some bodies.
 Home Secretary and faces further cuts

Which bodies? Well, our book How to cut public spending suggested some to start with. Below is a list from today's Independent of which bodies have been scrapped - we've highlighted which ones we have proposed in the past. But there are still some more that are prime for the chop, like the EHRC and the Carbon Trust (on the 'Under Threat' list below).

There's a crucial question at the heart of this, which I discussed yesterday on Radio 4's PM programme (29 mins in). Ministers are taking the opportunity to show just how robust they are being, that they will deliver more for less in their departments. But take DCMS, for example: after announcing they would scrap several bodies yesterday, they have yet to decide how much this will save them, how many people will lose their jobs, or if the functions of the scrapped organisations would be transferred elsewhere. And therein lies a crucial issue: when ministers flex their muscles, is it all show? Are they simply going to move things around a bit, re-brand certain bodies and carry on as normal?

A prime example are the RDAs, whose abolition we’ve blogged on before. And yesterday DCMS were unable to provide coherent answers for the fall-out of their abolition plans; there is a worry that they are simply going to shift functions around. Like the UK Film Council: its remit may be taken over by the British Film Institute. But as I said to Eddie Mair yesterday, if a British production is going to be profitable, then you can bet that a shrewd investor will see that opportunity. To accompany the news of their abolition, I've seen pictures of The Constant Gardener and In The Loop as UK Film Council backed productions - can anyone honestly say that without them these films wouldn't have been made?

The body received £30 million from government in 2008-09 - there are bigger bodies so why don't we look for bigger scalps? Because that would be dodging big questions about what the state should and shouldn't be doing. The government need to be open and honest about what functions it wants the state to perform. If they are going to scrap bodies to please deficit hawks but then move functions around to please establishment-types then they are clearly creating more problems than they are solving. If a minister wants to get rid of 5 bodies and have 2 perform the functions more efficiently, then they should say so - along with how much will be saved, implications for staff and other important details. But if the state thinks it shouldn't be performing a certain function any more, then they should stop doing it immediately, and explain why clearly. And as our book shows, there's some low-hanging fruit to pick.

Below is a list of quangos that have been abolished, merged or are under threat, according to today's Independent. Those in bold are bodies that we recommended scrapping, may of which featured in our book How to cut public spending.

Update: The Learning and Skills Improvement Service are not going to be abolished, as previously posted here. We have amended the list accordingly.

*UK Film Council
*Museums, Libraries and Archives Council
*Advisory Council on Libraries
*Legal Deposit Advisory Panel
*Advisory Committee on Historic Wreck Sites

*Health Protection Agency (HPA)
*National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA)
*National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse
*Alcohol Education and Research Council
*Appointments Commission (CQC)
*Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (by end of this Parliament)
*Human Tissue Authority
*Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence (to be made a self-funding body by charging a levy on regulators)
*NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement

*General Teaching Council
*Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency
*British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA)

*All eight regional Government Offices: South-West, South-East, East Midlands, West Midlands, East of England, North-West, Yorkshire & the Humber and North-East
*Eight out of the nine regional development agencies (the exception being London) and some of their local subsidiaries: Advantage West Midlands, East Midlands Development Agency, Yorkshire Forward, South-West Regional Development Agency, South-East England Development Agency, East of England Development Agency, North-West Regional Development Agency, One North-East
*Strategic Advisory Board for Intellectual Property policy (SABIP)
*SITPRO (Simplifying International Trade)
*Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Advisory Body (WAB)
*British Shipbuilders Corporation
*Institute for Learning
*Standards and Verification UK
*Hearing Aid Council
*Investors in People UK

*National Policing Improvement Agency

*Sustainable Development Commission (funding withdrawn)
*Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution
*Agricultural Wages Board, the 15 Agricultural Wages Committees, the 16 Agricultural Dwelling House Advisory Committees and the Committee on Agricultural Valuation
*Inland Waterways Advisory Council
*The Commons Commissioners
*Infrastructure Planning Commission
*Commission for Rural Communities


*UK Sport and Sport England
*National Lottery Commission with the Gambling Commission


*Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, English Heritage, Heritage Lottery Fund, National Heritage Memorial Fund – could be merged
*Advisory Committee on National Historic Ships (declassified, functions transferred to another body)
*Theatres Trust (declassified, so can act as an independent statutory advisory body)
*Churches Conservation Trust (could be declassified, pending talks with the Church of England)
*Visit England and Visit Britain (status, role and functions will change)
*Design Council (under review)

*Local Better Regulation Office
*ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service)
*Local Better Regulation Office
*Ofcom (in the short term it is losing its policy making power)

*Food Standards Agency (its responsibilities have been much reduced)

*Carbon Trust (could be merged into new UK Green Investment Bank)

*Partnership for Schools (school-building)
*Training and Development Agency (was facing the axe, but may now be spared)

*Children's Commissioner for England – under review
*Equality and Human Rights Commission – has been accused of wastefulness by Home Secretary and faces further cuts

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