A Quasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organisation, or quango, is an organisation that is funded by taxpayers, but is not controlled or overseen directly by an elected official. Before the 2010 election, the TPA issued a manifesto that highlighted the presence of 1,148 quangos spending £90 billion a year. Whilst the coalition government promised a ’bonfire of the quangos’, abolishing 192 and merging a further 118, too many unnecessary groups remain, costing money and causing inefficiency.
The proliferation in quangos over the past few decades, spurred on by successive governments’ refusals to take direct responsibility for mistakes or controversial policy areas, has spread the scope and size of government.
Their reduction should be done in a constructive fashion and not based around the number of quangos disbanded. Scrapping a large number of smaller advisory bodies could actually be counter-productive – the concept of a small group of experts meeting periodically to assess the implementation and impact of government policy is no bad thing and such bodies seldom have many, if any employees.
In our Spending Plan, we argued that there are over 400 such organisations that need disbanding or moving into a ministerial department. This would save substantial amounts by removing unnecessary functions and duplication of back-office operations.
There is also the question of the accountability of quangos. While they are all notionally accountable to a parliament or assembly, the excessive cost involved in monitoring such bodies means that, in practice, accountability is minimal. Quangos are often used by ministers to avoid taking responsibility for failure, so select committees should have to approve quango budgets and major appointments improving accountability.
Whilst not an exhaustive list, the measures below should save almost £400 million a year by 2019-20.
- The Commonwealth Scholarship Commission in the UK should be abolished because it should not be a function of government to decide on behalf of taxpayers how much of their money should be taken from them to spend on providing foreign students with free or subsidised education in the UK. This can be achieved by private institutions and voluntary donations.
- The Health and Safety Executive should be abolished as it places undue burdens and costs on businesses which do not have the flexibility to accommodate new rules.
- The Office for Civil Society should be abolished as its functions, namely to encourage “social action and [to build] social capital” can be achieved by the private and voluntary sectors.
- The Sports Ground Safety Authority should be abolished as the vast majority of sports grounds already have suitable safety measures and new planning applications have to comply with existing safety standards.
- Employer based award committees within the National Health Service clinical excellence awards scheme should be abolished. These awards were held by over 50 per cent of the consultant population in 2012, and are applied for by the individual concerned.