by Harry Fone, grassroots campaign manager at the TaxPayers' Alliance
As our chief executive John O’Connell noted last month, the quangocracy is out of control. It’s high time we cleaned up the state. But which quangos should be first on the chopping block? Finding a definitive list of these public bodies is far from easy. For example, data from last year by the Cabinet Office doesn’t include taxpayer funded organisations such as the BBC. But with literally hundreds to choose from, there is no shortage of options. This is a selection of 10 of the most aggravating consumers of taxpayer money that should be part of the next effort to reignite the bonfire of the quangos that former PM David Cameron started back in 2010.
British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)
It’s nothing short of ludicrous that owning a television means you have to pay £157.50 a year for the privilege of watching it. The BBC’s place as a tax-funded quango is anachronistic and no longer fit for purpose. Viewers should be free to opt out of the Beeb, just like every other broadcaster.
Its effective monopoly on regional news has helped to kill off countless local media outlets. Rapid technological change has given rise to innovators such as Netflix and Amazon, while the BBC has trundled along at a snail’s pace, struggling to keep up. No wonder that more and more households are choosing to forgo their licence every year. That’s why we launched our Axe The Tax campaign to scrap the TV tax. Brits shouldn't be forced to support the BBC every year.
British Film Institute (BFI)
The BFI receives funding from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to “support film production, distribution, education and audience development”. There was maybe some justification for this use of taxpayers’ cash when it was established by Royal Charter in 1933 and the film industry was in its absolute infancy. But 87 years later there is certainly no shortage of films to watch. One could dedicate a lifetime to watching privately-funded films and never run out. When, thanks to modern tech, it’s never been easier and cheaper to make films, spending over £23.5 million on the BFI no longer makes sense.
Part of the Foreign Commonwealth Office, Wilton Park was established in 1946 to “to help restore peace and democracy in Europe as part of an initiative inspired by Winston Churchill”. While probably a worthwhile venture after World War Two, these days it seems to be nothing more than an opportunity for foreign dignitaries to enjoy lavish conferences at taxpayers’ expense. In 2018-19 it held 68 conferences which included gems such as, “longstanding events on Nuclear Disarmament, Digital Health and Inclusive Citizenship, as well as new partnerships on tackling Marine Litter with Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) and abating the harmful use of alcohol with the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking.” Clearly some of these have nothing to do with peace and democracy.
In 2017-18 alone it cost the taxpayer nearly a quarter of a million pounds. Peace is obviously a noble aim but with international groups such as the UN and NATO helping to prevent World War Three, Wilton Park is long past its sell-by date.
Sports Ground Safety Authority (SGSA)
Remarkably, the quango in charge of safety at sport pitches is separate from the one in charge of sport! Yet another quango that receives DCMS funding, the SGSA describes itself as “the UK Government’s advisor on safety at sports grounds and a world leader in safety.” Do we really need a bureaucratic body when any new sports ground has to comply with planning regulations and existing safety standards?
Also, no stadium owner wants any injuries to befall spectators. Alongside any moral quandaries, the legal and reputational costs can ruin them. Things have come a long way since it was set up in 1989 following the Hillsborough disaster. It might have made sense then but it doesn’t now. Attending sporting events is safer than ever, with many clubs using their own initiative to ensure high standards.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) oversees 19 quangos. NHS England is the largest of these (and indeed in Europe, funded to the tune of over £100 billion per year) but the quango to scrap should be the hated nanny-state body Public Health England, which costs the taxpayers around £300 million every year. It’s recent poor performance during the pandemic has done little to suggest it is using funds wisely.
TPA research has shown that by abolishing and merging unnecessary bodies the government could reduce the number of health quangos from 19 to just 7. This would save taxpayers around £800 million and clean up what has become a bureaucratic mess of turf wars between management arms of the health service.
High Speed 2 Ltd (HS2)
This abomination of an organisation has cost taxpayers a pretty penny; combined capital and resource expenditure in FY 2018/19 amounted to just over £2 billion. A recent report by the Public Accounts Committee was absolutely damning of HS2 Ltd, saying they “have been blindsided by contact with reality”. The government should have scrapped HS2 long ago, but despite spiralling costs and a business case that has hit the buffers, they are persevering.
But if they won’t scrap this potentially £150 billion white elephant then they must at least properly scrutinise this mega-quango. Clearly HS2 Ltd can’t be trusted to look after the purse strings. An independent commission should be set up to monitor project costs. We may not now be able to throw this quango on the bonfire, but HS2 minister Andrew Stephenson must stop it burning through taxpayers’ cash.
Commonwealth Scholarship Commission (CSC)
The CSC seeks to attract “outstanding talent” from across the Commonwealth to Britain’s universities. Given hundreds of thousands of overseas students fight to come to British universities each year, it seems especially ridiculous for the government to subsidise a select few. Overburdened British taxpayers should not be paying £25 million a year to provide foreign students with free or subsidised education.
Office for Civil Society
Much like the CSC, this quango has well-meaning goals to “enrich” lives. But it should be abolished. It’s aim to encourage “social action and [to build] social capital” can be achieved naturally and without taxpayer subsidy by politics, private institutions and voluntary donations. Provided the nation is free, civil society will always exist, rendering a quango for that purpose especially pointless.
Health and Safety Executive (HSE)
There are already far too many burdens placed on businesses in this country. The HSE places major hurdles in front of businesses - particularly small and medium sized ones which do not have the flexibility or resources to conform to constant enforcement of new rules. Spending over £135 million on this bureaucratic quango is helping no one. Remember, there are already laws setting out safety standards firms have to meet. And even when these rules are clear and necessary, as we saw recently with covid-19, HSE are just about the worst people to try and enforce them.
Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner
An unclear, unnecessary quango that there is no need for given the variety of legal bodies and regulators that already exist. All it does is add another layer of bureaucracy to our immigration system and costs the taxpayer £3.6 million in the process.
What else should we throw on the pyre?
There are countless other quangos that deserve to be culled.. It is clear that in post-pandemic Britain, prudent financial management of the public purse will be essential and massive interventions should be quickly reversed. Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak must trim back the endlessly increasing size of government, and that includes the quango sub-state. Let’s get the bonfire lit again!
Cabinet Office Public Bodies 2018-19 Report https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/786954/2017-18_ALB_Financial_Datasets_.xlsx