Daily Archives: August 16, 2010

QUANGO WATCH

New report calls for reform

Comment

The Government have already announced plans to abolish the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency and the General Teaching Council for England. The coalition agreement also announced plans to abolish the Government Office for London, the Standards Board and the Infrastructure Planning Commission. It announced too that regional development agencies would be replaced with local enterprise partnerships. The list of remaining quangos to be abolished is not yet finalised although rumours abound that the Partnership for Schools which manages the BSF programme is under threat.  Other Quangos look likely to have their budgets significantly cut and there are calls to make those that remain more transparent and accountable. Some are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act and are often reluctant to disclose important financial information. On 24 May the Chancellor and Chief Secretary to the Treasury announced that savings from these reforms, plus additional savings from departments, will total around £600 million in 2010-11.There is also a Public Bodies Bill in the wings .Its primary aim is to increase the accountability of public bodies, but it is  also expected  that abolitions and mergers arising from the Bill will create savings in future years and departments will be incorporating initial savings into their spending review plans.  Professor Matt Flinders of Sheffield university has written much about quangos quite a lot of it critical, mainly  about their duplication and waste. But he has also said that some are indispensable.  “You can’t just get rid of all of them,” he says. “Some fulfil important tasks. What’s needed is a master plan for them.”

A report, called Read Before Burning, backed by cabinet secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell,is aimed at ministers  and details the muddle and waste surrounding quangos but it also comes up with some constructive  suggestions for reform that could apply across the board. The report claims there are nearly a dozen different types of quangos, that nobody knows how many there are or how they operate; nobody, least of all the public, knows who is accountable for what they get up to. Indeed many are simply unaccountable and operate in a secret garden. Moreover, quangos and their sponsoring departments have different ideas on where the buck stops. The report is an indictment of the way the quangocracy has been allowed to grow. The report was written with the help of the Treasury and the Cabinet Office  and says that as a first step the vast array of quangos should be boiled down into four types: constitutional quangos; executive agencies; departmental quangos; and independent public interest bodies. Some quangos even pretend that they are not Quangos- the SSAT springs to mind-because they have Charity status-but if they get grant funding , are subsidiised by the taxpayer and carry out tasks on behalf of Government Departments they are quangos. In   the SSATS case Academy schools which it supports will be shortly subject to the Freedom of Information Act, but it will remain outside its disclosure requirements. That makes no sense at all.   If they look like quangos and act like quangos then they probably are quangos.  And  frankly they  should all  be subject to the Freedom of Information Act and its public disclosure requirements- otherwise they are not transparent in their dealings. Lack of transparency- equals lack of accountability.