We've found out what quangos do

They write in to newspapers justifying their own existence, apparently. Guy Attenborough, the Head of Communications for the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board has got a letter in today's Daily Express in response to Patrick O'Flynn's excellent article about our Unseen Government report.

Mr Attenborough correctly points out that the British Potato Council and the Milk Development Council are both funded by levies on their respective industries rather than from central taxpayer funds. That is rather a distinction without a difference, though - if I was a potato processor I would find it hard to take comfort in the knowledge that the BPC is funded not through central taxation but through an industry levy I am forced to pay. A levy that is exactly like a, erm, tax.

Fundamentally these "levies" are taxes on selected industries, as the Government effectively runs a closed shop - pay your subs to the British Potato Council or your crinkle cutting days are over.

Beyond that, it's important to remember that the point of the report was not just the direct cost to the taxpayer, but the problems caused by the sheer quantity of these unaccountable bodies, and the chaotic structure of government in general. Even if, by some miracle, the British Potato Council was run with no overheads, or its bills were paid voluntarily by a potato-loving benefactor, it would still be a burden both in regulatory terms on its industry and especially in terms of the ministerial department which has to oversee it.

Government ministers are besieged by the range and number of different organisations that report to them on a myriad of different topics. It is not just the Potato Council's bills that we are concerned with, it is the snowstorm of paperwork, reports, consultations and other documents that they and their 1,161 fellow quangos produce. The essential services of this country are struggling at least in part because their are so many other calls on ministers' time. No matter what Mr Attenborough says, these quangos are a burden on taxpayers.

It's also worth noting that the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, for which Mr Attenborough works, is a new quango covering the field broadly occupied by the Milk Development Council, British Potato Council etc. Excellent, you might think, they're scrapping little bodies and consolidating their responsibilities. Sadly, it's not so; the BPC, MDC and all the other little ones are still there, living inside the AHDB which is in fact just a whole new level of quango. And so it continues.