For a healthy balance of views in public life, it's important that a range of opinions are represented. Groups like the TaxPayers' Alliance and Greenpeace refuse to take taxpayers' money, but there are a plethora of groups in receipt of it – many of which then openly campaign against the elected government of the day and/or lobby for even more cash.
Since 2009, the TPA has called out publicly-funded bodies and appointments for inappropriate political activity. We have stood against groups raging a guerrilla war against the taxpayer, dragging the public discourse to the left when that’s not where voters have necessarily been.
While we’ve been talking about this important issue for a long time, our specific “Clean Up The State” campaign started in earnest back in February 2020.
We need to clean up the state by:
- ending taxpayer-funded lobbying
- balancing public appointments, with diversity of opinion paramount
- holding to account the web of quangos and public bodies that quietly dominate every aspect of our lives
To kick things off, our chief executive wrote a piece for The Telegraph, outlining the problem with public appointments - they are skewed to the left and towards those who think there isn’t a problem that can’t be solved with taxpayers’ money.
Top people doing difficult jobs deserve to be paid well. But too often there are those in the public sector that are awarded salaries that they simply wouldn’t get in the private sector. Not to mention the pensions and other perks. We expanded our Public Sector Rich List series this year to show where else the largesse lay.
- BBC Rich List
- Trade Union Rich List
- City Hall Rich List
- Town Hall Rich List
- Nanny State Rich List
- University Rich List
Elsewhere, the team put flesh on the bones of the opening op-ed from February. Searching through records of public appointments, they found that of those who declared political activity, 47.4 per cent were Labour party supporters, 31.6 per cent declared an affiliation to the Conservatives, 10.5 per cent to the Liberal Democrats and 10.5 per cent supported other parties.
And what does that look like in reality? We did more research to find out. Our survey of who sits on quango boards found that there were at least 4,345 positions on the boards of quangos in 2018-19, and many of course sat on multiple boards across a dizzying range of topics.
We also examined the issue of taxpayer funded lobbying and political campaigning. Organisations known to attack the government or lobby for changes in public policy received £39,584,172 from that same government between 2017 and 2019. It’s important to stress that any person or group should feel free to criticise the government - Lord knows, we do it all the time - but we must turn off the supply of taxpayers’ money to those who simply go and lobby for even more of it.
Government inquiries often drag out, with issues kicked into the long grass and real accountability simply delayed and delayed. Our note found that inquiries over the last five years have cost a whopping £300 million, and we called for the covid inquiry to be thorough but swift and decisive, to ensure real accountability for taxpayers’ cash.
There was of course a huge focus in the summer months of 2020 on how the loudmouth wokeism that we see online was seeping into public life. We found that civil servants had to take compulsory ‘unconscious bias’ training courses online. But on top of that, we discovered that government departments spent an additional £400,000 on face-to-face training over the last two years. The story ran on page 2 of the Sunday Telegraph, and later that morning the government was in touch to say that it was reviewing these courses.
This is part of an increasing blurring of the public and private sector, as taxpayers' money is used to pursue political aims. As smaller energy firms folded thanks to spiking prices and people facing huge increases in their heating bills, we revealed the millions lost by the council-owned firms that blur the line between the public and private sectors. Thirteen energy companies in receipt of council investment had a net loss of over £74 million between 2016-17 and 2019-20. Eight of which were council-owned and their losses totalled £114 million in the same period. Authorities thinking about risking public money in the energy market must heed our warnings. Their grand visions for publicly-owned energy companies that will supply cheaper energy and plough profits back into frontline services rarely materialise.
Online and in the media
We launched a petition on the back of the revelations of ‘star’ pay at the BBC - and nearly 8,000 supported the campaign. And when we heard that Harry and Meghan had signed a blockbuster deal with Netflix, we launched another petition demanding they pay back taxpayers for Frogmore Cottage. Just two days later, and after thousands joined our call and shared our petition, they announced they would refund taxpayers.
In the wake of recent political scandals over some MPs acting as paid political consultants or lobbyists, we also launched a petition on the right to recall. The electorate should ultimately decide whether to recall their MP. But as it stands, other politicians have too much say in the process. Parliamentary protections should not prevent politicians from facing their constituents. Voters should have the right to recall their MP for any reason - not just when parliament gives permission.
Tackling Woke Whitehall is very much part of our efforts to Clean Up The State. Our political director wrote a piece for ConservativeHome, examining the industries that have been spawned from woke ideology that rips off the taxpayer.
We revealed that a total of 327 public bodies paid over £3 million of taxpayers’ money into Stonewall's Diversity Champions scheme. Stonewall is a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights charity. Its Diversity Champions Scheme faced criticism for controversial views which essentially amounted to taxpayer-funded lobbying.
Consequently the Rt. Hon Liz Truss MP urged government bodies to withdraw from the Stonewall Diversity Champions scheme. As a result a significant number of public bodies have ended their association from Stonewall.
And you can’t Clean Up The State without improving the structure of government. There were two significant campaign wins for us this year - the decision to abolish Public Health England after its tragically poor performance during a public health crisis; and the merger between the Foreign Office and the Department for international Development to bring strategic coherence to our foreign policy. Our chief executive also penned another piece for the Telegraph spelling out some of the quangos that could be abolished to help save £15 billion.
We held an online event on our Clean Up The State campaign as part of the Spectator’s ‘Alternative Conference’ in 2020. You can catch up with the video here, if you haven’t seen it.
At our 8th annual ThinkTent in 2021, we hosted a panel discussion on "Just how big is the quango state?" with George Greenwood (Journalist, The Times and Sunday Times), Dr Catherine Haddon OBE (Senior Fellow, Institute for Government), Rt Hon Lord Maude of Horsham, and Nick Timothy (Columnist, Daily Telegraph).
In the 2022 Queen’s Speech, the government committed to ensure that public bodies conduct procurement and investment activities are in line with official government measures on both policy and sanctions. This is big step in the right direction to tackling inappropriate political activityand taxpayer funded lobbying.
We will be continuing this campaign, so keep an eye out for new research and exposés.
If you’d like to have a look back through our previous work on cleaning up the state, a list is below.
Quangos report 2006-07: the unseen Government of the UK
The case for abolishing regional development agencies
Regional development agencies: having a ball at the 2008 party conferences
Quango spending on communication soars
Funding surprises from the EU grant list
Taxpayer funded lobbying and political campaigning
ACA to YJB: A Guide to the UK's Semi-Autonomous Public Bodies
Members of the board: holding quangos to account
The expansion of the EU quangocracy
Regional development agencies exposed
Taxpayer funded environmentalism 2010
Taxpayer funded environmentalism 2012
Members of the board 2016
The quangocrat rich list
Independent NHS, simpler quangos
Nanny state rich list 2018
Taxpayer funded lobbying and political lobbying 2020