So, the much-vaunted ‘bonfire of the quangos’ is finally upon us. Francis Maude, minister for the Cabinet Office, today announced the abolition of 192 quangos, the merger of 118, and the as-yet undefined “reform” of a further 171. That leaves 380 which will remain in their present form.
In answer to the allegation from Trades Unions that a lot of these plans would damage services and cost jobs, Maude said he did not know how many jobs would go, or how much money would be saved by the exercise. Maude, in fact, attempted to make the argument that these changes were about increasing accountability more than saving money, which is odd when the main governmental departments are being told they have to put up with huge cuts. Doesn’t quite stand up as sound reasoning.
Another odd thing about this ‘bonfire’ is that not all quangos are going to be cut, merged, or reformed to the same schedule. Some will be immediate and others, like the Office of Fair Trading, will have consultation periods.
In the same week as Philip Green published his report saying the government was inefficient and had poor financial management, Maude is bringing in this cull of quangos which will actually have a high cost due to the expense of closing organisations down. Doesn’t seem like the best of timing.
As well as the actual cost of shutting organisations, there is the problem of losing a lot of experts in their fields who have done jobs which will now pass back to the relevant government departments and their ministers. This is something else they don’t seem to have thought through.
Until now, when an MP wanted to know some particular statistic/information, they would query the relevant quango. Now, they will in fact be posing direct questions of the relevant Whitehall department’s minister. Which is going to mean a LOT more work for the current cabinet. Imagine the reams of questions someone like Tom Watson will ask of Eric Pickles, Michael Gove, Danny Alexander, et al!