This morning's announcement on quangos

The media were very keen on the “bonfire of the quangos” line this morning and the Government were equally keen to distance themselves from it. And the Cabinet Office’s release seems to have disappointed them somewhat; it’s not a bonfire by any means but there are some significant changes afoot.

We recommended many of these changes in our book How to cut public spending:

  • Gone are the Development Corporations in West Northants, Thurrock Thames Gateway and London Thames Gateway – their responsibilities will devolved to local authorities.
  • British Waterways will become a charity, as recommended in the book.
  • The National Policing Improvement Agency is no longer a NDPB.
  • The School Food Trust is no longer a NDPB – it is set to become a charity.
  • Standards Board for England is no longer a NDPB.

We also wrote letters recently to ministers calling for the Carbon Trust, the EHRC and Consumer Focus to be abolished. The Carbon Trust does not count as quango according to the Government but we will still pursue its abolition. According to today’s report the EHRC will be drastically reformed – we await more details on this. Consumer Focus, however, will no longer be an NDPB, which is great news.

There are also many bodies “under consideration” that we have called for scrapping:

  • Office for Fair Access
  • Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment
  • National College for School Leadership
  • Office for the Children’s Commissioner

We still await full details, as extensive as the Cabinet Office’s list is. There are mentions of functions being transferred but not always to where and nothing of how many of the legacy authority’s staff will go with them. As Fiona McEvoy said this morning on the BBC Breakfast sofa, there are some huge questions to answer about what the state should and shouldn’t be doing. There have been numerous speculations on potential savings and indeed costs of scrapping certain bodies but this kind of issue is just as important for taxpayers in the long-term.

Equally, scrapping a body can save money elsewhere and this has to be considered. A proliferation of bureaucracy inevitably breeds more bureaucracy: the Audit Commission cost councils millions of pounds in compliance. Star ratings and red or green flags mattered little to the taxpayers who paid for them.

All in all, it’s an encouraging start and it’s also great to see many of our recommendations taken up.

But we’ll keep a close eye on further details as and when they arrive.

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