When Eric Pickles announced he was to scrap the Audit Commission earlier this year it certainly didn’t signal the end of stories of waste by the quango. The Daily Mail carries a story today about some of their spending over the last few years – revealing just a few of the reasons behind his decision to axe the body.
The Daily Mail reports that over £4.8 million was squandered on lavish parties and highly questionable workshops for their staff. The £4.8 million included spend on things such as a gay rights workshop, £8,000 spent on events at Newmarket races, and £20,000 on a senior stakeholder briefing held at the new Connaught Rooms. In figures released to MPs over £730,000 was also spent on hospitality in its own offices, with a further undisclosed amount on landscaping the grounds surrounding their offices.
One of the organisations who arranged workshops, Steps, explain what the £15,025 paid to them was spent on:
“Steps Drama is helping the Audit Commission to embed a culture of respect amongst its 2,100 employees by co-delivering a training workshop which aims to raise awareness of diversity and encourage individuals to challenge discriminatory behaviour. Called Managing Change for Diversity & Equality, the workshop combines presentations from senior managers at the Audit Commission with drama scenarios, delivered and facilitated by Steps that bring the issues to life. It has been delivered 32 times, in off-site locations throughout England, with around 30 Audit Commission staff attending each session. Three actor-facilitators from Steps run an initial drama scenario, portraying employees in a parallel workplace who have narrow views and negative attitudes to issues such as work-life-balance, sexual orientation and disability. The delegates, as a group, question each character and give advice on how they might change their behaviour in the future.”
For a body that was supposed to audit accounts, this a huge waste of time and money. In our paper on unnecessary jobs we explained that public bodies often have statutory requirements to fulfil, as they do with diversity and equality. But this example shows how above and beyond some organisations went to promote this policy agenda. The result is always spending more taxpayers’ money.
We would welcome the spending of all quangos revealed to this extent. Waste like this has slipped under the radar for years but with transparency we have accountability. And that is something taxpayers’ find so infuriating about quangos – they’ve been too distant for too long. They must be called before their relevant Select Committee annually so that elected politicians can scrutinise previous budgets and approve future spending plans.