Conference season is a time for debate and discussion. Groups want to have their say and lay out their stall. Which is fine, as long as that stall isn't at the taxpayers' expense.
Yet last years conference's were so overwhelmed by quangos and public bodies that it was easy to forgot that any other type of organisation existed. Taxpayers' money was being spent by bodies trying to win the support of politicians, or guarantee themselves future funding. That alone is serious mis-allocation of precious resources, but such also spending constituted a back-door way of funding political parties with taxpayers money.
TPA research successfully revealed that RDAs alone had spent over £250,000 in their efforts to lobby politicians at last year's Conference (see here). It was an embarrassment for the Government, and back in January 2009, Sir Gus O'Donnell (Cabinet Secretary and the country's most senior civil servant) responded to our revelations by making it very clear to all departments that public bodies, particularly quangos, needed to have very good reasons for spending money at any of this years' Party Conferences.
But some still persist. Below are some photos we've taken of quango or council stalls in the Conservative Conference hall. Each of these stands will cost hundreds, probably thousands of pounds. Wonder what their very good reason for being there really is?
Financial Services Authority (FSA)*
* While the FSA doesn't rely on taxpayers directly, it is funded through a mandatory levy on all the financial companies it regulates. That's a job which, if the Conservatives come to power, may be under threat; indeed Tories have said they would abolish the FSA outright. Is this stall at Conservative Party conference just a well intentioned effort to spread the 'money-made-clear' message? Or are they, as the sceptics might suggest, up there to lobby the Tories into changing their minds about the future of the FSA?
** Another quango that has recently felt under threat. The think-tank Demos has recommended that the whole organisation should be scrapped, and even Vince Cable has taken issue with some of the Audit Commission's functions.