Ok, the last few days there has been quite a bit of hectic attention given over to cutting quangos and yours truly has been called in to the studios to comment – see our media section. So I thought I’d summarize in a few points here what I’ve been saying;
1) Whilst they may be no more expensive than using a government department, quangos are not always the best vehicle to deliver public services – in an age where the no. 1 problem is a lack of money, competing companies driving down costs are. There really is huge scope for marketising public services.
2) The Cabinet Office has not produced a proper report on Public Bodies since 2006 which then said that the total government funding for Public Bodies was over £120 billion and their combined budgets were £167 billion. Even then, the 2006 report only had a smattering of bodies from the devolved administrations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. So the actual figure now for spending using that 2006 report as a baseline is almost certainly higher today. Consequently cutting £500m from the quango budget is very small beer.
3) Don’t focus on the number of quangos (around 1200 right now) – they can easily be merged. Instead look at the functions they perform and see if that is something that can be outsourced.
4) Don’t hold your breath for a bonfire of the quangos – all previous bonfires tend to be small conflagrations quickly extinguished by a new minister’s latest penchant for action. The test is will the Coalition continue the quango rollback in years 2, 3 and 4 and will it exceed the new ones they create themselves?
5) Politicians like to bash quangos because they are the only part of the public sector that the general public like to see attacked with impunity. It also helps that they are largely non-unionised.
6) We need much more fluidity between the public and private sectors to break down the them and us ethos. Quangos, working under competitive pressure to deliver public services are a not a bad way to do that. It’s just that they don’t.
7) Advisory Bodies are a cheap way of government getting in outside expert opinion. They tend to make up most of the quangos in numbers terms.